By Megan Palumbo & Holly Feola – Co-Editor-in-Chief & 1851 Staff
On Jan. 31, Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a follow-up discussion to last April’s race forums. The conversations updated the community on how the school has addressed the racial climate on campus. Students, faculty and administration came together in de Witt Hall to hear panelists from different areas on campus who are involved with the diversity and inclusion activities.
The discussion was introduced by SGA President James Kappatos in an email sent to the entire Lasell community. In this email, SGA encouraged students to send unanswered questions in advance through Twitter using the hashtag “LCWhatsNext” or by emailing the student organization directly.
Vice President of Academic Affairs Diane Austin began the discussion summarizing last year’s issues and introducing the panel speakers. Panelists included Kappatos, Associate Professor of Sport Management Dr. Dwayne B. Thomas, Campus Police Chief Officer Robert Winsor, sophomore Vanessa Rose, VP for Legal Affairs and Title IV Coordinator Jennifer O’Keeffe, and VP and Chief Diversity Officer Jesse Tauriac.
Upon each speaker’s introduction, they gave a small speech about their efforts since April, and ongoing events for this spring. Dr. Thomas began by asking the crowd, “How do we measure the golden rule?” He spoke about the values people at Lasell measure themselves by and how leaders should prepare to educate others.
Chief Winsor addressed how embarrassed he was to hear the comments about Campus Police made last April. “I want equality and compassion,” he said.
Under mandate, every officer took part in two Campus Police workshops in August, focusing on interculturally competent responses to student reports of bias. Officers have been spotted on campus in more casual settings like welcoming new students during move-in in September, serving food at midnight breakfast and setting up coffee and snacks in the library during finals week last fall, all to be more involved with the community.
Kappatos said SGA was blindsided in April. In response to the forums, they created and implemented an online bias incident report portal. He wanted attendees to know that SGA is a resource for the student body and is there to bridge the gap between students and administration. “I want everyone to be comfortable and thrive like everyone else, no matter who you are or where you come from,” Kappatos said.
Rose sees many different viewpoints being so involved on campus. She is a Resident Assistant, Orientation Leader (OL) and part of the Lasell College dance team. Rose said her main goal is to make students feel safe and included. She’s promoting unity on campus by running bystander trainings, performing with the Mass Transit Theater group, and completing Safe Zone and diversity and inclusion trainings as an OL.
Junior Orientation Coordinator Kate Kennedy echoed Rose talking about a new interactive diversity and inclusion program that OL’s provide incoming students with. “They are presented with ‘you’re coming to Lasell now, and it’s a new environment. It’s a place for you to start over and it’s a place for you to be welcomed into an accepting community,’” Kennedy said. “[We’re] trying not to drag on issues that were in the past and move forward with the resolutions, with the new classes as a part of that.”
As the Title IX Coordinator, O’Keeffe has been an active member of the Bias Education and Support Team. She mentioned the legal team takes action on every complaint received, and they don’t investigate in groups. “I’m proud of Lasell for having [these] conversations in a respectable way,” O’Keefe said. “Lasell cares deeply and takes [diversity and inclusion] seriously.”
Tauriac, who has been involved in tackling racial climate issues on campus from the beginning, stressed how important it is to be proactive and not reactive. He believes the new workshops are “fostering an environment for people to want to come work and stay at Lasell,” but they’re still ways to go. Tauriac also informed the crowd on Lasell’s “Leading for Change” team that is working on a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion and completing monthly projects with the REJ Institute to enhance educational outcomes for students of color.
After the panelists spoke, microphones were passed around in the crowd to ask remaining questions. People who decided to speak, shared their opinions, asked the panelists questions or said their response to what was shared in the open discussion.
One of the questions that the crowd asked the panel was if the investment of the Intercultural Community Cottage (IC3) was beneficial because it was listed as part of the efforts to help inclusion on campus. Kappatos answered by saying how it’s a great place to have celebrations and has a range of use. Rose added many clubs host events there and have meetings which makes it a great place for people to gather.
Many attendees wondered if there should be any changes made in the classroom. Vice President of Academic Affairs Jim Ostrow talked about how there have been changes since last spring. He mentioned they are further discussing ways to help by establishing objectives in the curriculum and how they have added understanding different perspectives in 101 and 102 courses.
Another point raised by professors was if there is a way to heavily encourage students to participate, since student participation has been low. One professor mentioned they do not hear enough from the students. Only about 22% of students responded to the student satisfaction survey, according to Tauriac. Professors and students attending agreed that real change needs to come from the students.
Senior Cederic Long agreed that change needs to begin now with the students, “Now we are getting more of what we want, now we can socialize more, talk more and come together as a group,” he said. “We can finally start doing something and making some actual change.”
First-year student Akin Green Jr. said he feels welcomed at Lasell, but thinks there will still be issues no matter how it’s addressed. “It’s just a people thing,” he said. “A lot of students come with the, “I deserve this” mindset and you can tell once you explain the whole situation to them, they’re understanding, but you can explain it to other students and they won’t care.”
Many people that attended the forum shared similar beliefs that there has been great progress on campus, but there is still more that needs to be made and it is on the students to take action.
Photo by Megan Palumbo – Panelists at the recent forum include (L-R) Dr. Dwayne B Thomas, Chief Officer Robert Winsor, VP Diane Austin, James Kappatos, Vanessa Rose, Jennifer O’Keefe and Jesse Tauriac.