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University-wide workshops address diversity, campus climate

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University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner addresses students, faculty and staff during Thursday’s event, “Continuing the Campus Climate Conversation.” The workshops took place in response to last week’s racist social media threats and case of arson. / photo by Ariel Torres

University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner addresses students, faculty and staff during Thursday’s event, “Continuing the Campus Climate Conversation.” The workshops took place in response to last week’s racist social media threats and case of arson. / photo by Ariel Torres

Alondra Campos
Savannah Dingman
Staff Writers

Student leaders who helped open Thursday’s “Continuing the Campus Climate Conversation” event said the University is stuck in the century it was founded, that students should not be responsible for fixing the University’s diversity problems, and that we as a community must do better.

Classes were canceled Thursday afternoon to address the aftermath of the apparent hate crime incidents that shook the University community to its core last Thursday and Friday.

A series of sessions on the theme of diversity and inclusivity were scheduled for students, faculty and staff to attend and express their opinions regarding the current campus climate.

The opening ceremony was led by University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner, President Devorah Lieberman and Provost Jonathan Reed.

“This ceremony and these sessions are only a part of a long-term process that we will continue in order to listen to our students,” Lieberman said.

Classes were canceled last Friday after Campus Safety received a report of arson and theft in Parking Lot H2 beside the Oaks dormitories. This followed a report Thursday of racist threats made against students via an anonymous Instagram account. The message included a photo of students protesting racism on campus, and indicated that the sender knew students’ routines, including where they live and where they park their cars.

On Thursday, Lieberman said the program was for intentional learning for the faculty, staff, and students as well as a time for reflection on the tension of the previous week. She highlighted the importance of listening and rebuilding trust.

Along with the University’s administration, five students, all Interfaith Fellows, provided a student perspective regarding the tension and overall climate on campus.

Sofia Borbon, junior education major, said the administration has been perpetuating a student versus student approach to conflicts as opposed to a student versus administration approach.

The student speakers also emphasized the importance of faculty holding themselves accountable and serving the students’ needs. Lack of attention from faculty regarding the students’ demands makes them question where the authority stands, they said.

The opening was followed by concurrent breakout sessions that included student, administrative and faculty tracks.

Niki Elliott, co-director for the Center for Neurodiversity, Learning and Wellness, held one of these sessions to speak about how to create a culture of safety through mindfulness.

Elliott explained how everyone’s nervous systems communicate to one another’s non-verbally. She explained how these non-verbals ignite a physiological response in the nervous system, thus making some feel unsafe and exhausted.

She urged everyone to practice mindfulness and stressed the importance of getting their nervous systems on track to be able to come together to learn and think clearly.

“At the end of the day, we are just wounded and bouncing off against each other,” Elliott said. “Then we’re all wondering why everyone isn’t able to come to a greater understanding about how to get along.”

Elliott wanted the faculty in the session to ensure they redesign their space to make everyone feel safe, loved, and good enough.

During a faculty session, participants were given the opportunity to share their ideas about their role in improving the University climate. The conversation included five main questions that addressed the barriers keeping faculty from talking openly about these issues and also how faculty can create “brave spaces.”

Faculty said that the lack of information and support with these issues regarding the campus climate is a major barrier in being able to have open conversations with their colleagues and students. They feel when they do reach out to get support for their students, there is not a designated protocol that provides any follow-through or check-ins.

Faculty felt that a forum for students and faculty to discuss these issues openly would be very beneficial for all.

The fear of jeopardizing their job security and receiving professional scrutiny were also brought up as concerns for the faculty. One faculty member said that colleagues who have spoken up in the past have been shamed and punished professionally.

Issues raised during this discussion dealt with the lack of adequate funding for proper faculty training.

While Thursday marked a step forward for University climate, some students still felt their voices needed to be heard.

As Lieberman walked up to make closing statements, a student rushed passed her to the podium to share her own personal concerns about the president and University faculty.

Savannah Dingman can be reached at savannah.dingman@laverne.edu.
Alondra Campos can be reached at alondra.campos@laverne.edu.

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