By Colin Froment & Megan Palumbo – News Editor & Sports Editor
Open forums discussing racism and the campus climate took place on April 9 and 10 in the Athletic Center. The meetings were hosted by President Michael Alexander, Director of Donahue Institute and Associate Professor Jesse Tauriac, and a student panel, who shared their experiences with racism on campus to a mass audience of students and faculty. The forums were established in response to recent reports of racist incidents occurring on campus.
“Hearing all these stories breaks my heart…I want to cry,” said President Alexander. “It is not acceptable. It is not who we want to be.”
Five students spoke on stage both days to recount personal attacks against them or people they know. Their goal was to inspire other members of the community to take action against inappropriate behaviors they witness and to stand up for the diverse number of students with different ethnic backgrounds.
“A lot of us have this conflict where we don’t want to fit some stereotypes that people have of [African Americans],” said junior panelist Tamara Fils-Aime.
“If I’m being insulted or physically assaulted, I don’t want to fit stereotypes where people think how I’m going to react,” she said.
After each panelist spoke, President Alexander and Professor Tauriac opened up the discussion for students to share their opinions on how racism is handled on campus. Several students explained there were incidents of prejudice from students, faculty, and departments towards students of color, where consequences have been non-existent.
Junior panelist Jabari Courts believes these incidents were not immediately dealt with due to a lack of involvement from others.
“If you see these things going on and you don’t stop it…you’re complicit with it,” said Courts. “What that tells us is that they are comfortable with allowing it to happen.”
Courts says that this ignorance is a worse offense than blatant racism.
“Walk in their shoes for a day and see what happens to you,” said junior panelist Christa Augustus.
The audience found the forum discussion insightful, while students made a pledge to improve diversity themselves. “From going to both events, I think it hopefully opened up the eyes to people who might not necessarily experience these situations,” said sophomore Skylar Diamond. “Making sure that people are aware of these issues around campus is super important, but making sure while people hear these issues, they actually take action about them.”
“I didn’t realize it was such a prevalent issue until it was addressed,” said junior Cailin Flannery. “Being classmates and friends with a lot of these people speaking out, and not realizing to the full extent what they were going through – it was awful – I want to make a difference.”
At the end of the meeting, President Alexander and Professor Tauriac highlighted solutions that will be implemented to effectively shut down any further occurrences. Within the next two weeks, an online confidential bias reporting system will be available where students can immediately report a problem they have encountered and will hear a response within three days. There will also be Intercultural Competence Training for all faculty members to partake in. Next year, Keever House will be the Social Injustice and Intersectionality House on campus. It was also said that a Bias and Educational Support Team was established in reaction.
Senior panelist Briana Brown hopes students will be required to take a race and intersectionality class and the organization of a full diversity and inclusion team soon. While there has been an increase in students of color over the past few years, Fils-Aime believes these students aren’t welcomed once they arrive on campus.
“We all don’t walk the same shoes, but we’re all fighting the same fight,” Brown said.