Students demand action following hate crime

(President Cevallos addressed attendees following the weekend’s hate crimes. Photo by Corey McFeeley.)

During an open forum held to address the hate crimes that occurred on campus over the weekend, students voiced their opinions on the University’s approach to bias incidents.

The forum began with administrators and a representative from FSUPD addressing the crowd regarding the incidents and what the plans are going forward. Two microphones were set up in the center of the auditorium facing the administrators, who were sitting in the front, for students to use during the open forum that followed.

FSUPD briefly updated the crowd on the investigation. However, he said they cannot share specific details as the investigation is ongoing.

The forum was held instead of a previously scheduled All University Meeting regarding the University’s five-year strategic plan. President F. Javier Cevallos informed the community of this change in an email on Oct. 15.  “Now, more than ever, it is important that we come together as a community to condemn this behavior, address your questions and concerns, and show our support for one another,” he said.

Millie González, interim chief officer of diversity, inclusion and community engagement, made a handout for audience members to ensure the Bias Education Response Team was being “as transparent as possible” about the crimes and how they are being handled.

“I want to hear what you have to say to help us heal,” said González.

She added, “See if you can come up with ideas so we can fix this problem.”

Linda Vaden-Goad, provost and vice president for academic affairs, spoke during the forum about the University’s mission statement after taking a panoramic photograph of the crowd. Copies of the mission statement were distributed to members of the audience.

“We seek to encourage a supportive, diverse, collaborative and cohesive environment in which we learn from each other through informed, clear and open communication,” read Vaden-Goad.

In the spring of 2016, 88 faculty and 145 courses participated in the Black Lives Matter teach-in, said Vaden-Goad. She added since the University has focused on diverse hiring initiatives, the percentage of diverse faculty members has increased from 8.1 percent in 2012 to 18.7 percent today.

Some students questioned the relevance of the topics Vaden-Goad brought up.

“It’s different when the cameras are rolling and you’re reading from a script about all of the good things you’ve done in the past. … Because when you’re telling us, ‘We’ve done great. In the past, we’ve done great,’ that does not speak for now. It doesn’t,” said one student who spoke at the forum.

While DPAC was filled with students, faculty, staff and administrators during the universal free period on Monday, Oct. 16, many students pointed out the need to reach the entire campus community about this issue.

“This room holds four or five hundred people. There are 5,000 people on campus,” said one student.

Senior Deron Hines asked administrators, “If you look around the room, there is a large portion of this campus that is not here. How do we reach those people?”

President Cevallos responded to the question by saying, “A lot of people cannot be here because they have different challenges.”

He added the only way to reach those who were not in attendance was by “keeping engaged, by sharing, by communicating.”

Cevallos said he was responsible for asking the news cameras to leave before the student voices portion of the forum. “I will take all of the blame. I just felt that students would feel more comfortable knowing that they were not being recorded.”

Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, said she was one of the administrators who suggested cameras be turned off during the open forum.

Holloway said she wanted to prevent students from getting doxxed online.

“Doxxing is this practice of seeing somebody on the news or seeing somebody in some internet story and spreading their face to basically troll them,” she said.

She added, “My concern was the safety of the students. I didn’t want a student who came to an open forum to be able to say perhaps something sensitive and have their faces plastered everywhere, perhaps [getting] picked up by one of the racists websites or groups that has happened in the past and make them a target.” 

Sophomore Kelly Taylor said, “I do think it was wrong that you automatically assumed nobody wanted their voice to be heard.”

She suggested in the future, in these situations students who weren’t comfortable being on camera be asked to hold their comments until after students who wished to be heard had spoken. “I think a lot of the points that were made today should have been televised.”

Cevallos did remind students that reporters were still present even though the student portion wasn’t televised.

Students also addressed the need for stronger support from faculty.

Sophomore Jazmin Howard said, “It upset me to see how many people left at 2:20. I understand that professors came to support and stuff, but how important is it for them to see a change? Because my professor is right behind me and he cancelled class since one o’clock and he’s still here.”

Another student said, “Not saying anything means that they don’t care.” She added neither of the two classes she attended before the meeting discussed what had happened.

One professor, LaToya Tavernier of the sociology department, said, “There are faculty members that do care. I was not working today and I brought myself here from the other campus that I work at. … To the faculty members here – I encourage you, I challenge you, I dare you to give your students a chance to talk about these issues.”

Junior Nataliee Dubon said, “I hear a lot of you saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ and I hear you loud and clear, but I’m tired of the I’m sorrys because you keep saying them, and then you keep doing the same shit over and over again.”

Senior Kayla Otten said students should not condone racist jokes. “Little acts of racism for humor is what makes people writing racial slurs on doors seem like an OK thing to do, but obviously it’s not.”

Junior Erin Casey said, “Too often, on the topic of racism, I see people of color voicing their opinions and voicing their voice, but it’s the white people that need to speak up. Racism is a white people’s problem.”

One student addressed the administration saying, “I don’t think anything you’re saying is going to happen. I don’t believe what you’re saying means anything to you, personally, or the staff. … I want to see action. Action speaks louder than words.”

In response, Cevallos said, “I understand your anger and frustration. … I do care and we do care deeply. We have to keep educating people because racism is the result of ignorance and we have to combat that ignorance.”

Senior Tokeyo Alabi had suggestions for the school, including opening an online suggestion box.

Alabi said, “I think there should be stricter anti-discriminatory policies on campus. I don’t think they’re strong enough, and I think that the ones that we have right now are very ineffective and that is why things like this keep happening time after time. I feel like there should be more cross-culture learning. We don’t learn about our black history. … There needs to be less police and more student oversight. We don’t trust the police, especially with what’s going on right now. … There needs to be more resources for black mental health.”

Hines also made a suggestion for the school to incorporate bias education into the required sexual assault and alcohol education incoming students complete.

Cevallos said, “We have to keep talking about these issues, we have to keep bringing them up.”

Following the forum, González sent a campus-wide email summarizing students’ remarks and the resources available in the Center for Inclusive Excellence.  She also attached the handout she distributed for those who were unable to attend.

The list she provided with the email included, “Many students urged each other to stand up against racism. Many students expressed that white students should educate themselves about issues of racism and should not expect black students to educate them. … Several students felt that the media should have been allowed to be present for the entire forum. Some express that emails are not enough.”

At the end of her email, González said, “I encourage you to share your ideas and feel empowered to create change. Most importantly, we want you to feel welcomed, respected and safe.”

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