Editor provides commentary on administration response to recent letter, town hall, “Activism to Action”

By Alex Pinsk || Editor-in-Chief

Today, November 12th at 11:30pm, the F&M Administration held a Town Hall meeting, “Activism to Action,” open to students, faculty and professional staff of the College. The Forum was held in Mayser gymnasium and was attended by a huge portion of the student body and staff of F&M. Speakers at the Town Hall included Barbara Altmann, President of the College, Griffin Sneath, Diplomatic Congress President, Margaret Hazlett, Vice President & Dean of Student Affairs, Cameron Wesson, Provost, Ryan Trainor, Assistant Professor of Physics, and Amy Mulnix, Director of the Faculty Center. The Town Hall was meant to address the “Open Letter to F&M” published in The College Reporter just yesterday and the demands addressed by students within that letter. The Letter was written by Sandra Sanchez, senior, and Marcy Pajares Berger, junior, and was crafted on behalf of a multitude of student groups on campus and reflected the concerns, realities, and demands of much of the student body. The letter can be found here: http://www.the-college-reporter.com/2019/11/10/open-letter-to-fm-concerning-incidents-of-racism-need-for-change-in-administration-steps-that-can-be-taken/

Barbara Altmann, President of the College

The Town Hall began with President Altmann addressing the crowd. Altmann claimed that what needs to be fixed is greater than just Halloween costumes. The College is behind on diversity, equity, and inclusion—behind other colleges and universities, even behind many high schools. The issues that we are encountering now are not new, rather, they have been pressing for a long time. Altmann noted the exhaustion, fear, and frustration that has been present among students and agrees that we can no longer simply make quick fixes and throw “bandaids” on the wounds created. Systems and structures need to be changed for the long hall. Altmann affirmed that she received the letter, noting it as a “living document” and explaining that its contents are a huge step yet still do not encompass the range of issues that need to be addressed. She announced that the Town Hall was meant to address immediate action steps that will be taken. 

Griffin Sneath, Diplomatic Congress President

Following President Altmann, Griffin Sneath spoke about the role of the Diplomatic Congress in the issues at hand. He first stated his support for the student body and commitment to the work of student activism. He acknowledged his privilege in the institution and Dip Con’s place in the process. Dip Con is currently working on the expansion and funding for multicultural clubs and organizations at F&M. On Thursday, November 14th at 7:30pm, location TBD, Dip Con will host its weekly meeting and will address proposed changes in policies for the student code of conduct and potential change in the code of the dean of students. The topic of allowing different multicultural groups and clubs on campus to be voting members on the congress and have more funds through the student activities fee will be discussed at this meeting. The meeting is open to everyone. 

Margaret Hazlett, Vice President & Dean of Student Affairs

Following Griffin Sneath, Dean Hazlett addressed some specific requests made in the Letter. Dean Hazlett mentioned that the Administration is dedicated to making F&M a more inclusive environment and is energized to continue working and making the community stronger. First, she addressed programming with respect to diversity and reporting. Orientation, beginning Fall of 2020 will implement new programming, working with HAs. This will go hand in hand with rethinking the Office of Multicultural Affairs. The College will continue to diversify counseling options and do a better job of making referrals outside the Wellness Center. While the counselors at the Wellness Center are highly qualified, more diversity in staff and accessibility for students could be found. With respect to the student conduct process, Hazlett confirmed that all students go through the same student conduct process outlined in the Student Life Manual. The athletic department has its own student athlete code of conduct; however, athletes are not exempt from the overall process outlined in the Student Life Manual. The office of the dean hopes to be more transparent about the conduct process moving forward and made some clarifications today to jumpstart that process.

Q&A: Listed below are a few of the questions asked of the Administration by members of the student body. (These Questions and Answers are not verbatim but should encompass the statements made.)

Q: What are the specific dates at which we plan to have these new policies enacted? Please address the tangibility of these dates and changes.

A: In the spring feedback from the student conduct committee will be addressed, January will be a time to launch reform.

Same question asked again because no concrete answer was given:

Q: What are the numbers and dates? Please respond and let us know, because we believe that you know, and it is important that you make us aware of when all of these changes and new policies will be enacted.

A: Programming will be identified by the end of January 2020. In March there will be revisions of the committee of student conduct. By June there will be data through the committee of bias reporting. By March 30th, athletics will renew their code of conduct.

Q: What will the college do to eliminate the communication barrier between domestic and international students?

A: F&M will be looking more closely at how international students are introduced to F&M’s community, examining how the college house system can contribute to fixing this barrier and exploring more meaningful ideas from within the community. The Administration plans to take better advantage of living spaces and work with house deans, dons, and HAs. Perhaps international students eventually will be able to participate in other pre-orientation programs as well. 

Q: What clubs will be receiving funding for being minority-based or multicultural groups?

A: All clubs are currently funded through club council. There are conversations happening about agency status in Dip Con. There is an institutional role in the advocacy work and the way that student government happens on campus, so there will be more discussions about how agencies need to be added to the Congress and the ways in which that can happen. There will likely be an increase in the student activities fee that will help with the funding. As far as which specific clubs, Griffin Sneath and Dip Con are meeting with individual clubs and will meet with Sisters soon. 

Q: An ex-Department of Public Safety officer resigned from his position at F&M because the university ignored reports of people of higher socioeconomic status due to their social standing. “Whistleblower” complaints occured, if you will. 

A: “It pains me to hear that” (Hazlett). The College intends to hold everyone to the same standards across the board. The College means to be equitable and treat everyone equally. Whenever there is enough evidence to move forward on a report, F&M will do so. 

Ryan Trainor, Assistant Professor of Physics

Ryan Trainor addressed the Bias Incident Reporting System and the role of the reporting team in its ability to run smoothly. Trainor explained that both students and faculty are involved in the process and that it is just “one piece of the larger puzzle.” There are certain subsets within bias reporting that will be addressed well and certain pieces that will need more time and work. The reporting system will go live by the first day of classes in January 2020 and feedback regarding the functioning of the system will be welcome. The goal of the reporting system is to be informational and address issues that cause unequal and unsafe spaces on campus. The system will receive reports and act on that information. The idea is that the students and the college will better understand the nature of the incidents reported and how they impact the campus community. This information will become publicly accessible and the system will address point by point notes written in the Letter from the students to the Administration and the student body. The website will soon have a detailed explanation of the process. The team trained to review and address these issues will work in conjunction with student groups on campus. Trainor also mentioned that the Campus Climate Survey is also an important tool to figure out what exactly is going on that is of major concern.

Cameron Wesson, Provost, Dean of the Faculty

Cameron Wesson first addressed his email that was sent to the faculty last week. He asked the faculty to be lenient, compassionate, and understanding with students, acknowledging what exactly is going on with respect to campus climate. There was some concern about how faculty response to the issues at hand would impact tenure promotion. Wesson made it clear that all faculty know and understand that no action will be taken to harm any faculty member’s position. A joint letter from professional standards says that no faculty involvement in the recent events will take away from tenure promotion.

Amy Mulnix, Director of Faculty Center 

Amy Mulnix addressed the ways in which the faculty are working toward demands set out in the Letter. She said that the College is already doing so in a few ways. F&M faculty and administrators sit in on sessions for diversity, equity and inclusion, add courses with diversity and inclusion in mind, hold workshops, collaborate with the College Library, and are addressing issues of Ableism, International student success, sexual harassment, and first-generation student success—to name a few. Dr. Johnson will come to F&M on January 17th to work with senior administrators for three hours in the morning and afternoon, in order to help them find respect and value for members of campus. Additional details and ideas from students for future work in this area are welcome, according to Mulnix. 

Barbara Altmann, President of the College

Space is a huge issue at F&M. Altmann addressed these issues of space within the Black Cultural Center. She mentioned that within the next three weeks a tour will be done of the House to address students’ concerns. The search for a director of diversity, equity, and inclusion will be soon underway. That position will be filled by Summer 2020. 

Q&A: Listed below are a few of the questions asked of the Administration by members of the student body. (These Questions and Answers are not verbatim but should encompass the statements made.)

Q: Within the Bias Incident Reporting System can other students see what is reported?

A: While the intent is to be as transparent as possible, there is a certain confidentiality that comes with reporting. It is important to protect people who report incidents of bias and those included in the reporting of bias. The goal is to ensure that there is clear information about what has occurred and what the follow up was. 

Q: Does the Bias Incident reporting system involve reports against faculty/professional staff?

A: No, faculty misconduct would go directly through the Provost.

Q: It would be helpful if the new director for diversity, equity, and inclusion was a person of color. This is necessary in order that the representative not only be empathetic but also feel on a daily basis that which students of color feel here at F&M. Can we make this happen? 

A: There will be a community search committee, and students will have input as to who is selected for this position. 

Q: Why was Ryan Trainor asked to speak on behalf of hate Bias Incident Reporting System? 

A: Trainor answered and said that he was the only faculty member on the committee.

Q2: He is not tenured. Why did he speak rather than a faculty member in a more protected position. A tenured faculty member should have addressed these issues, not someone who has the potenial not to gain tenure.

Q: Why were the soccer players that were involved in the racist costume incidents allowed to play in their game on Sunday?

A: The students involved are going through the process, and the outcome is confidential. All outcomes of the student conduct process are confidential.

Q: Why does administration ask minority students to come up with all of the solutions? Our job is to be students and scholars, that should be our primary position on campus—not fixing what should have been fixed a long time ago in order to ensure that all students feel safe. 

A: We understand that you’re trying to balance everything, we want to know where you want representation. Altmann says that she is here to do the work and wants to do the work. She just wants to know how she can help and what she can do. 

Q: What is being done to deal with the issues/incidents that happened this semester as opposed to just the future?

A: Closure will soon be brought to the racist epithet in Schnader. Discussions are happening about the new incidents brought to the attention of the Administration. The conduct progress is ongoing. 

Q: How about another answer other than pending investigation!? Discusses an incident when DPS conducted an “investigation” freshman year which yielded no results. Someone yelled the n word in a dorm, and the student asked for help and support in feeling safe on campus and in her dorm. Nothing was done about this.

Dean Hazlett concluded that tonight, up on website, there will be a lit of specific point people, dates, and accountability measures. 

Overall, students were disappointed with the results of “Activism to Action.” Some deeming that the forum was a “waste of time” and that responses to students questions were “vague.” Some have called for another Town Hall to re-address these issues. While there was controversy over this forum in particular, this was also just the beginning of the conversation with the administration, one that many students feel should have begun long ago. 

Senior Alex Pinsk is the Editor-in-Chief. Her email is mpinsk@fandm.edu.

Photo Courtesy of Alex Pinsk
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