SGA hosts Administrators’ Forum: Concerns raised about racism, COVID-19, life on campus

By Dan Fuentes, Asst. News Editor

By Haley Hadge, Staff Writer

A board of 14 FSU administrators met with students over Zoom to address their questions and concerns during the Administrators’ Forum held by SGA March 23. 

Attendees could submit questions anonymously.

A number of students and anonymous attendees brought up issues regarding the current racial climate, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and concerns about student and academic life.

Racism

SGA President Olivia Beverlie raised a question regarding the state of anti-racism initiatives on campus.

“I would like to know what each individual department on campus is doing to incorporate anti-racism in their curriculum,” she said.

Constanza Cabello, vice president for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, said her office has asked every department to report on their strategic planning efforts with the goal of creating a catalog of anti-racist work completed throughout the year.

There have been campus-wide departmental conversations on anti-racism where they have been developing a “common language” and a “shared language around this work,” said Cabello.

She said a question that needs to be asked is, “What are our policies or practices that unintentionally favor white students and create disproportionate outcomes for students of color?”

Effective change is enacted when policies and practices are assessed, she added. These meetings are “leading us to a place where we can engage in some really thoughtful policy review.”  

Her department has received a $62,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, which will fund a racial equity policy institute this coming summer where these departmental conversations on anti-racism will be continued, said Cabello.

“If we don’t understand race and racism, then we can’t be anti-racist,” she added. 

Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, said she has received feedback from students that there is a need for more faculty of color that represent the student body. 

There are three methods of response the University is implementing to address this “legitimate desire to have more diverse faculty,” said Zimmerman. 

In order to broaden the search pool, Zimmerman has directed all of the departments to conduct a “full search” of those positions, she added. 

In April, there is a four-day conference of the “largest gathering of minority doctoral scholars in the country,” where the deans will be recruiting for the open positions, she said. 

There will also be one person to serve as the “equity anchor,” said Zimmerman – someone who is “dedicated to making sure that the search committee members are always looking at all of these materials through an equity lens, so that we don’t advantage certain candidates over others.”

One anonymous attendee asked, “Why do some [FSU police officers] wear Blue Lives Matter masks on campus,” and what kind of message does that communicate to students?

Community Resource Officer Katelyn Kelley said, “In terms of whoever is wearing [that], I can’t answer for them. I would say maybe they’re taking pride in being a police officer. That’s just that’s my guess.”

Dale Hamel, executive vice president, said, “While that’s a statement that people are free to make – not while they’re on duty and in a uniform here on campus. So, the police chief did follow up on that individual, and they truly are taking it seriously.”

COVID-19

Another anonymous attendee asked, “Is there any information on how the fall semester will look in terms of getting back to some sort of normal, especially in terms of clubs and how they’re able to operate in the fall?”

Ilene Hofrenning, director of Health Services, said, this depends on what percentage of the community is vaccinated. “The more people we have vaccinated on campus, the more we can have gatherings and classes and that sort of thing.”

Students can pre-register on the FSU COVID-19 page and will receive the vaccine when they are eligible, said Hofrenning. 

“April 19 is when everybody in Massachusetts will be eligible for the vaccine,” she said. 

Hofrenning added, “It sounds like over the next month, supplies could increase. There might be a possibility that we could administer vaccines before students leave for the summer.”

SGA Senator Eryca Carrier asked, “How can we decrease anti-vax rhetoric on campus? I’ve heard of one professor in particular implying that students ought to be skeptical of the vaccine.” 

Hofrenning said, “Vaccine hesitancy is pretty common. We saw that even with the flu vaccine when the flu vaccine was mandated this year for the first time. There was a lot of pushback about that.”

She added, “Starting in April, we’re going to be spearheading a campaign about the vaccine with facts so people can understand its safety, its effectiveness, and why it’s important for them to get it.”

Lorretta Holloway, vice president of enrollment and student development, said, “We’ve also talked about, in both the COVID oversight team as well as the COVID testing logistics team, the specific resistance to vaccines by communities of color, because of the historical systemic racism in the health industry.”

Student Life

Another anonymous attendee asked, “Has there been any progress on more funding being put toward the Counseling Center? The hours do not work for every student’s situation. I would love to see that department have more help in funding and for students seeking counseling services.”

Holloway said the Counseling Center funding last year was increased.

“We were able to add a contractor that we did not have before,” she added. “We can include the contractor, for example, to be able to do some telehealth appointments in the evenings, to try to accommodate some of the needs. I know there was concern about the restriction of the hours.”

Student Trustee McKenzie Ward brought up concerns about the emergency blue light towers on campus. “If students feel like they have found places on campus they would like a blue light to be placed, who exactly should we be contacting?”

Hamel said, “Usually it’s a combination of Facilities and Campus Police, so maybe do both.”

Hamel also suggested having a campus safety walk.

Ward asked about “planning for classes for the fall” and class registration.

Zimmerman said, “More than three-quarters of the fall classes are going to have at least a component of on-campus classes. Most of those will be fully face-to-face, actually.”

She added, “We had 12% of our classes on campus this spring, and it’s going to be at 84% in the fall. So, you know, it’s a huge difference.”

Zimmerman said that this is provided “the vaccine rollout goes well.”

[McKenzie Ward is the Opinions Editor of The Gatepost.]