Assistant News Editor
Fall 2017 marks Fredonia’s most diverse year for incoming freshmen, with more than 30 percent from underrepresented minority groups, according to Fredonia’s Right Serving, Right Sizing final report. Even so, students and staff have become increasingly critical of the school’s intentions.
If anyone has been truly listening, minority students, especially student leaders, have been shouting loud and clear that we should all love and embrace the various differences that we all share on this campus, but they have also said that sufficient action has not been taken in setting the foundation for an atmosphere that would make this possible.
With the advent of the various incidents of blackface and the countless numbers of other discriminatory acts that have been performed on and around campus, it would only be a matter of time before this much-needed conversation would rear its ugly head.
On Nov. 14, President Virginia Horvath and Fredonia’s Chief Diversity Officer Bill
Boerner, held an open forum titled “Supporting Diversity at Fredonia.” They acknowledged the issues occurring on and around campus, and encouraged everyone at the event to talk with each other to brainstorm possible solutions.
“Thank you so much for being here,” said Boerner. “This is an opportunity for Ginny and [me] to help facilitate some conversation. This is a unique time for our university, where we’re seeing unprecedented growth in our student population, [but] I’ve had lots of conversations with people about the fact that our inclusivity isn’t necessarily changing.”
Horvath added, “I’m hoping we can generate some ideas — some ideas about what we would ask for. We have some suggestions already coming in, but that’s what our goal will be for today: for you to have a chance to give some suggestions.”
Horvath encouraged guests to move towards the middle so that way it would be easier for them to form smaller groups during the group discussions that would be held later on. She and Boerner also handed everyone a blank card. The purpose, according to Horvath, was for guests
to anonymously “write down an example of
something that you’ve seen, heard, or that you’ve heard of or that has happened to you personally that shouldn’t happen in a culture of respect across our diverse identities.”
As Horvath and Boerner read the cards aloud to everyone, it was very hard for staff and students to hear. Many of them were shaking their heads and groaning in disgust. It was hard to believe for many, and a stark reality for some.
One anonymous claim read: “I heard about a situation where the N-word was used in a text to describe a group of students involved in a campus protest.”
There was even a claim relating to an incident involving Fredonia’s radio station, where the ethics of its leaders were called into question.
“The Fredonia radio systems case, in which discussion of race caused someone to be uncomfortable . . . led to a physical altercation. Instead of support, the victim of the situation was suspended and then conditionally asked to rejoin as long as they did not speak about their race.”
After Horvath and Boerner finished reading the list of alleged incidents, student leaders and staff members spoke up.
One guest, Jelissa Samuel, senior political science major and president of Black Student Union said, “I’ve had students come up to me as recently as the last couple of weeks with the
blackface incident, asking me, ‘How do you deal with that?’ I’m a student myself and I wanted to be with them and cry and ball up, but you always have to be strong for them, and sometimes that’s very difficult.”
She added, “I think the idea is that it’s not a problem that Fredonia doesn’t acknowledge
that it needs diversity. It’s that you have to create an environment in which the people that you’re bringing in, whether it’s through Multicultural Weekend or any other type of recruitment, feel safe and welcome. For this reason, you can’t complain about retention rates for students of color.”
Mam Deng, senior molecular genetics major and president of African Student Union,
expressed his opinion, too. “Students are coming into college having separation automatically.
They need to understand why it’s an issue, and I think that the faculty should work as a whole
to lead by example. That means diversity in your staff, too. It means promoting a kind of mutual understanding about things.”
According to these student leaders, it is quite
clear that minority students don’t just want to see other minority students. They don’t want to form cliques and stick to their own race, but at the same time, they feel compelled to do so because it’s hard to be a part of an all-encompassing community of primarily white students that know little to nothing about their culture.
During the group discussion, solutions were proposed by social workers Annette Franklin and Michael Clarkson Hendrix. Both posited that it would be a good idea to push diversity classes into Fredonia’s student core curriculum.
“It invites individuals, if you have a professor that is knowledgeable in all of these areas, to make it comfortable for people to talk about,” said Franklin. “You could have assignments associated with experiences, or assignments where students have to go to a certain ethnic or cultural event.”
Hendrix added, “But I also wonder if there’s an issue of the process of teaching that includes diverse awareness. Some people may learn best through immersing themselves in an experience related to culture, and some people may get immersed through reading.”
According to Franklin and Hendrix, what might be considered the right kind of educational experience to one staff member or student could very well be considered detrimental to another.
That is not to say that professors should mitigate the rigorousness of their courses and appease students.
Rather, professors should take into consideration that students with different cultures, ideologies and backgrounds are all likely to learn differently, and the best way to handle this is to be more understanding, to listen more closely to the interests and pedagogical needs of their students.
Horvath has made it clear that she too is aware of this, and she is doing her part to tackle these issues the best she can.
“Our point here was to say we have to tackle this head on. We have to look at this issue and say, ‘This is real here.’ This is the experience of so many students, faculty and staff on our
campus, and it’s extensive,” she said. “We have to be frank in talking to one another about when things do not live up to the intentions we have, and then ask each other, ‘What do we do about
e figure these things out, then actual
ogress can be made.”