Campus-wide forum addresses incidents of racial bias

 By Elizabeth Zakaim and Gianna Melillo
Managing Editor and Nation & World Editor

 

As a response to the recent incidents of racism at the College, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs and Student Government hosted a panel titled, ‘I Am TCNJ’ at noon on Nov. 28 in Kendall Hall to address concerns about inclusivity on campus.

While the campus community crowded into Kendall Hall to take part in the event, coverage was also transmitted live to audiences in the Brower Student Center and in the Education Building Room 115.

The panel included College President Kathryn Foster, Ivonne Cruz, director of the Equal Opportunity Fund and Center for Student Success, Winnifred Brown-Glaude, chair of the African-American Studies department and Eashwayne Haughton, senior philosophy major and Student Government’s vice president of diversity and inclusion.

Foster relayed the College’s failure to properly deal with instances of prejudice both recently and in past years. She offered specific directives to help ensure more immediate changes both at an academic and administrative level.

Foster engages with the audience at the forum. (Miguel Gonzalez/News Editor)

“Many on campus labor consistently to make this campus a healthy, safe, welcoming and inclusive place … but our racist incidents reflect that we are not yet healthy, safe, welcoming and inclusive to the level that we aspire to and must demand,” Foster said.

Foster spoke of her plan to appoint a vice president for inclusion on campus and elaborated on the need for an individual in administration to take charge on responding and preventing incidents of racial bias on campus.

“What’s important is that we have a person sitting on the cabinet that is reporting to the president, crafting and implementing a strategic agenda and waking up every day to work on these issues,” she said.

She went on to ask each member of the panel what they would expect from such an individual.

Cruz responded to Foster’s inquiry by emphasizing the need for protocol in situations of racial bias.

“We need to make sure the staff and faculty know where to go,” Cruz said of future incident reporting. “We have blurred the lines between feeling uncomfortable and unsafe on campus.”

Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Sean Stallings, the moderator at the forum, opened the floor for questions and feedback while Foster took diligent notes.

Many students and faculty members were adamant about having comprehensive training sessions for students, faculty, administration and Campus Police, that would address the importance of racial sensitivity.

Marcus and his father listen to suggestions on how to improve inclusivity on campus. (Miguel Gonzalez/News Editor)

“You can’t have one office holding the responsibility of changing the climate,” Brown-Glaude said. “We all have to be responsible. We’re going to need anti-racist training on this campus. It has to start from the top, all the way to the bottom.”

Community adviser Vanessa Jimenez, a senior history and secondary education dual major, felt that Residential Education’s student-staff also needed more deliberate training to help CAs better respond to incidents involving hate crimes or racial bias.

“I can attest to the fact that our training isn’t as valuable as it could be with inclusion and diversity,” she said. “It was a little better this year but it was more of a conversation about what inclusion and diversity is, less about how to handle conflict situations.”

Furthermore, as McKenna Samson, a sophomore English and African-American studies major and Secretary of the College’s NAACP chapter, pointed out that the College’s student conduct code does not include explicit information or guidelines about hate crimes or instances of prejudice.

The legal definition of a hate crime in the U.S. is one that “involves threats, harassment, or physical harm and is motivated by prejudice against someone’s race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical or mental disability,” according to USLegal.com.

When asked how she thought the forum went, Samson said she was filled with mixed emotions.

“I think it’s very productive that we’re having this conversation,” she said. “I wish it was longer — they should dedicate an entire afternoon to this discussion.”

Another audience member happened to be the father of one of the students, junior African-American studies and journalism and professional writing major Marcus Allen, who was recently verbally harassed on campus. Aaron Allen, who said he worked at the College as a building services employee for about 15 years, gave an impassioned speech, demanding that the College take action so that his son would not have to feel unwelcome on his own campus.

“I pay this college and Campus Police way too much money for my son not to be protected and safe,” his father said, addressing the panel directly amid cheers and standing ovations from the audience. “You keep talking about words and all this, it looks pretty, it looks nice, but where are the actions at? I don’t want to hear about tomorrow, or next week, or ‘we’re going to have a meeting, we’re going to get a group.’ The group is right here. Look at all these people. These people are your group.”

He then stepped forward closer to the stage to address Foster directly, saying that administration in charge during his time at the College did little to change the attitude of racism on campus.

“I’m telling you face to face,” he said. “You know what you did? You did what you’re doing now — you sat down and never stood for nothing.”

The members of the panel promised that this forum was only the beginning of a longer discussion of inclusiveness on campus.

“We will have action,” Haughton said. “This will not end here. I feel it with you. I can promise you we will continue to fight. This does not stop here. As students, as your peer, I feel you and I understand you. Keep holding us accountable. We will not allow this to be brushed under the rug.”

Students in attendance were glad to have the open forum, but felt that more time could be dedicated to such discussion. Other students felt that more needed to be done to hold the students who spoke the racial slurs accountable for their actions.

“I expect to see a punishment,” said sophomore biology major Damion Anglin. “I expect to see something implemented to prevent this from happening again.”

The forum was held in response to racial tensions on campus and two incidents of bias in particular.

On Friday night Nov. 16 three African-American students and members of Alpha Phi Alpha Inc. were the targets of racial slurs that came from the third floor of Wolfe Hall.

In addition, a police report filed last month details a racial incident that took place in the Art and Interactive Multimedia building. A racist slur was written on the stall in the third floor women’s bathroom, with an arrow underneath pointing to a toilet overflowing with feces. According to police records, officers currently have no leads on the suspected perpetrators of the vandalism.

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