Students and faculty came together Thursday for an open conversation about the university’s plan of action to address racism in the light of events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month.
The event is one of many conversations taking place over the next couple of days, addressing topics such as racial violence and exercising free speech.
This conversation in particular allowed students and faculty to talk about the university’s plan of action to address racial violence in a calm and open space.
The week’s events are sponsored by the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, as well as the Center of Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement.
The events in Charlottesville outraged many as a white nationalist rally was held in protest of the removal of a Confederate statue. The protest turned violent when a car drove into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring more than 30 others.
The panel was led by visiting assistant professor Jaime Cantrell and Associate Dean of Students Valeria Beasley Ross.
Cantrell shared her experiences with violence on campus.
“I certainly have been in a situation in the spring of last semester when a combative student resorted to using misogynistic slurs in my classroom,” Cantrell said.
She also discussed how education can help facilitate better conversations.
“I think when we are considering these difficult conversations that are already here on our campus, we need to look systematically at the ways in which we educate not just our students but the ways in which our faculty and staff can be better educated and well-prepared to meet the needs of our students,” Cantrell said.
Ross encouraged students to develop relationships with mentors so they could have someone who could provide advice in an uncomfortable situation.
“If you have a situation where you are feeling uncomfortable and feeling unsafe, I hope you will have a faculty or a staff member to have a conversation with,” Ross said.
Ross also talked about how the university’s LiveSafe app allows campus community members to report non-emergency tips including threats, disturbances and assaults.
She covered various methods on how to deal with hate speech and negative comments on campus, saying that people have the right to know the university’s plan.
“I feel like we have a responsibility to help students, faculty and staff know what we are doing and make it as transparent as possible,” Ross said.
Throughout the discussion, students and faculty asked questions about how the university’s policies and plans were different from those in Charlottesville.
Ross gave her opinion about the events that took place, explaining how freedom of speech may turn into something even more important when there is violence and loss of life.
“I’m certainly sad for my colleagues from other institutions who’ve had to witness that experience,” she said. “Freedom of speech is certainly a way that our students can learn about situations they’ve never been exposed to.”
Some student participants said they’re glad the university is being proactive and doing something to help prevent racial violence and hate speech on campus. On the same note, those students said they wished more of their peers would attend these types of events in order to create a broader and more diverse conversation.
“I wish that it was more well known because these conversations need to be happening on a larger platform,” senior psychology and English major Correl Hoyle said. “More students need to know about the LiveSafe app, and more students need to know that we have policies in place.”
Hoyle said he had his doubts about how the university would handle this conversation given the school’s checkered past with racism. He also said that knowing the university has a full-scale idea of how to handle negative commentary and that its main priority is the safety of the students is reassuring.
“For the few people who were here, I’m glad we got to come together and have a constructive conversation,” Hoyle said.