In a crowd of around 50 and a panel of at least a dozen administrators, 20 or more University of La Verne students raised their hands when asked if they had experienced microaggressions on campus.
Student concerns about the treatment of minorities on campus were raised to administration during this recent Town Hall meeting in Morgan Auditorium. And the conversation around the mistreatment of minority groups at the University continued after the meeting.
Halfway through the town hall, one student asked when they could expect there to be mandatory diversity training for faculty. Many students are currently facing regular racial microaggressions, the student said.
Microaggressions are subtle, derogatory statements that seem small to the person making them but are hurtful to the subject of the comment, said Assistant Professor of Psychology Christine Ma-Kellams.
Chief Diversity Officer Beatriz Gonzalez said creating new mandatory training policies would take time, but the administration would work on getting those policies this year.
Gonzalez added that there is an expectation of faculty that they attend the optional diversity training the University now offers.
According to the ULV website, “the University supports a diverse and inclusive environment where students recognize and benefit from the life experiences and viewpoints of other students, faculty and staff.”
The most common form of microaggressions are comments or jokes from people toward minority groups who do not understand the impact of their words, Ma-Kellams said.
Ma-Kellams said researchers refer to the impacts of microaggressions as a “death by a thousand nicks.”
“If you ask someone where they are from, there is an assumption they are going to say another country when that might not be the case,” Ma-Kellams said. “Over a lifetime these individual microaggressions can make people feel isolated, unwelcome or out of place.”
Daniel Loera, director of multicultural services, said mandatory training would be a benefit to everyone working at the University, regardless of their competency level.
“When we have blind spots, we are likely to be committing microaggressions,” Loera said. “Not out of malintent, but out of a lack of understanding.”
Loera added he would not be trustful of someone who said they were totally socially competent in working with all groups on campus.
Loera said that while the town hall was probably too short to address students’ concerns, there is nothing like person-to-person interaction to listen to other perspectives on issues.
“I find it insane that this is the only meeting we have this semester to address concerns like microaggressions,” said Preston Parker, senior broadcasting major.
Parker criticized the reception that was scheduled to take place after the town hall.
“There is an intimidation factor that exists between students and faculty,” Parker said. “One-on-one meetings hinder the process.”
“I do not think that we as an institution live up to (our diversity) value as I wish we did,” Reed said after the show of hands.
Reed added that there is no silver bullet to immediately solve these problems, but bringing it up to leaders was an effective approach to address issues.
Reporting to administration is problematic since they are responsible for some of the microaggressions minority students face, said Jasmine Marchbanks-Owens, a graduate student studying social justice in higher education.
Arman Agahi, junior history and political science major, criticized the manner in which students were addressing administration.
“You guys are coming at them very aggressively,” Agahi said.
“Change is going to happen over time. If you were in the South, this conversation couldn’t be happening.”
The audience then erupted after the Agahi’s comment, arguing across the room as they ignored the microphone.
“That hurt my feelings,” Marchbanks-Owens said after the event. “As someone who has had family who have been lynched in the South, that is not okay in any circumstance.”
“It felt like he was saying the experiences we have (at La Verne) are nothing compared to the south,” Marchbanks-Owens later added. “In California, you are always on high alert. I don’t know when people genuinely accept me.”
“If we are coming at you aggressively it’s only because we are passionate,” Parker at the meeting. “That was not my intention, especially since all my life I’ve been (perceived as) the aggressive black man.”
Reed said they understood the passion the students had and did not take their concerns as aggression.
Shortly after the comment, ASULV President Jackie Ku closed the town hall, but a group of roughly 15 students, which included Agahi, stayed behind to discuss Agahi’s comments and why they were problematic for close to an hour outside the Morgan Auditorium.
Agahi said what he was trying to convey was that the diversity education he has received at ULV has given him more perspective on issues with minorities than he had before attending.
Marchbanks-Owens, who also attended ULV for her undergraduate degree, said their concerns are often lost if administration hears a student praise them for the current state of affairs on campus.
“There is a system in place that tells us as people of color that there is no problem,” Marchbanks-Owens said.
“I didn’t understand that,” Agahi said after speaking with his fellow students. “But now I do.”
At the reception President Devorah Lieberman said the concerns that were raised by students were not lost because of Agahi’s comment.
Students who were speaking with Agahi stressed that the blame was not on Agahi, but on the failing system at ULV.
“I don’t blame you. I blame your professors,” Marchbanks-Owens said.
“We have people with Ph.Ds who said nothing,” said Anayeli Dominguez, educational counseling graduate student and ULV undergraduate alumnus. “They don’t want to stand up when they see it happening.”
Dominguez said the events in the Morgan Auditorium were good examples of why these discussions are needed.
“What we saw in Morgan Auditorium was bravery,” said Arianna Browne, senior history major and president of the Historical Honor Society.
Lieberman said this meeting would be a jumping off point for dealing with these issues, not a one-and-done event.
During the town hall Lawrence Potter, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said many of the University’s policies are outdated.
“(Current) policies were created in a vacuum that did not consider those sitting in this room,” Potter said.
Ruby Montaño-Cordova, deputy chief student affairs officer, followed the students as they continued the open dialogue on race relations on campus and offered herself as a resource to help address these issues.
“What do I need to do to make you understand that I am here to advocate for you?” Montaño-Cordova said. “It’s not just one office, it’s all of our responsibilities.”
Christian Shepherd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.