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SU holds inclusion forum

October 27th, 2011

Student Union held “A Conversation on Becoming a More Inclusive Campus Community,” during the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 19 in the Jardine Room of the Lombardo Student Center.

“Since the beginning of the semester, posters and chalkings have appeared on campus describing acts of intolerance and bias and calling for action to end discrimination,” read the Inside JCU write-up for the event. “At the Student Forum students are encouraged to share their concerns and issues related to discrimination and harassment and to consider ways we can eliminate exclusion and intolerance on our campus.”

The forum, which was sponsored by the vice presidents for academic and student affairs, was attended by approximately 70 students, faculty, staff and administrators. FSA in attendance came from departments such as Campus Ministry, Campus Safety Services, the Office of Residence Life, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, the University Counseling Center, the athletic department, and the Office of Student Activities.

After the forum, a small group of people, including students and student leaders, met in the Multicultural Lounge to further discuss problems and ideas for solutions to issues of inclusion on campus. Student Union President Rita Rochford said the small group meeting provided them “a way to be more frank” about issues, including helping improve the student-to-Student Union relationship.

“We discussed ways in which the Student Union could be a more effective voice for the entirety of the student body,” she said.

Vice President for Student Affairs Mark McCarthy said student input was important for the event.

“I am grateful for the turnout of students and their courage to share painful experiences,” he said. “I am also encouraged by the student leaders who continued to meet long after the forum to explore ways they can improve the overall climate and make suggestions for the institution as a whole.”

John Day, the University’s provost and academic vice president, said that paying attention to the full range of a student’s experience at JCU is important.

“What we tell our faculty, staff and administrators is that whether they’re in daily contact with students, or whether they work behind the scenes, everyone who works here has something to contribute to the educational experience of students,” he told attendees of the forum. “So, when something doesn’t seem quite right in some part of the educational experience, it’s something that all of us who have responsibility for the educational experience of all students to be aware of, and to think about what we can do to improve the situation and to take actions that will, in fact, improve the situation.”

The posters referenced in the forum’s Inside JCU announcement were hung in several campus locations early on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 6, according to an email sent by Dean of Students Sherri Crahen later that evening. The information on the posters referenced past acts of intolerance that occurred on campus.

“The information on the flyers is understandably upsetting and is not reflective of the type of welcoming community that we are working toward,” Crahen wrote in the email.

The chalkings, which appeared all over campus earlier this month, included phrases such as, “No justice, no peace,” and “JCU – Action = No Change.” Senior Jevon Page admitted to forum attendees that he drew the messages.

“I stayed until about three in the morning doing this chalking and I was caught … but it didn’t really matter to me because this is something I wanted to fight for,” he said at the forum. Page said he probably will be fined for breaking the chalking policy.

“They said, ‘You should have asked for permission first’,” he said. “OK, if I’m going to ask for permission to write these things down, would they [administration] have granted me this permission to say what I wanted to say?”

Page added, “It’s not like I’m saying, ‘Down with John Carroll,’ ‘Kill John Carroll.’ I’m not saying those things. I’m saying things to try to move forward, to try to talk about what we need to talk about.”

A lack of specifics is hurting the process of changing the culture on campus, according to Page.

Lauren Bowen, a JCU political science professor and associate academic vice president for academic programs and faculty diversity, told the forum that the Diversity  Steering Committee has been working hard behind the scenes.

“It’s hard to wrap our hands around everything,” Bowen, who also chairs the steering committee, said.

She said the current goal of the committee is to create a centralized bias reporting system for acts of intolerance on campus. Currently, she said, multiple reporting methods exist.

“Some of them are effective [and] some of them are not effective in some moments,” Bowen said. “So we’re working to centralize it and figure out the best way to roll it out and make it visible and known and meaningful.”

According to Rochford, who moderated the forum, the discussion last week was the first of many to happen.

“The quality of students there made up for the quantity we may have been lacking,” she said of the forum. “It gave us a starting point to address the issues from a student standpoint.”

Senior Michael Daniels, who spoke up at the forum and attended the small group session afterwards, echoed Rochford’s sentiments, saying it was a positive meeting.

“It was definitely a step in the right direction,” he said. “That was just a first step.”

McCarthy said the University’s student affairs division is putting in place professional development training focusing on issues of diversity and working with students of diverse backgrounds.

“We are also looking to enhance all of our student leadership and student employee training programs to increase knowledge and understanding of cultural differences and to build confidence among students to confront and report acts of intolerance on campus,” he said.

McCarthy also said that he appreciated the work of students throughout the evening to take the first step towards confronting discrimination on campus.

“I am grateful for the turnout of students and their courage to share painful experiences,” he said. “I am also encouraged by the student leaders who continued to meet long after the forum to explore ways they can improve the overall climate and make suggestions for the institution as a whole.”