Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services Mentha Hynes-Wilson and Assistant Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion James McShay hosted a student forum Oct. 18 to address recent instances of racism on campus.
This event — as well as many future events to be organized jointly by Student Involvement Services and Equity and Inclusion — comes after organization officers from the Asian Pacific Islander Student Union used the N-word multiple times. One student who lived with APISU Co-President Melissa Atienza and APISU event marketing coordinator Madeleine Sifford in Court 17 felt uncomfortable with the continual usage of the N-word in their presence. Members of APISU have also been reported to have started a money jar last year where members put money in said jar when they wanted to say the N-word.
The forum opened with a message from McShay and Hynes-Wilson about understanding where they have failed and how they will move forward to ensure that students feel safe and that they belong on campus.
“Over the course of the past couple of days, I’ve become painfully aware of the fact we’ve fallen short,” Hynes- Wilson said at the forum. “We have not done and been properly equipped in so many different areas: that there are students who are being hurt daily, there are students feeling this is not a place for them, that they are outsiders who are here visiting, there are individuals being challenged, and there are other folks who innocently do not know and do not understand.”
APISU officers stood along with Co- President Dannis Thompson as he delivered a statement on behalf of the club. Atienza spoke during the student forum as well, but declined an interview with The Ledger afterward.
“Recently, it has come to our attention that rumors have been circulating about APISU and its members,” Thompson said during the forum. “Regardless of what our members may or may not have said, past or present, we do sincerely apologize to all that have been offended, hurt or affected in any way during this whole situation. However, these actions do not represent APISU as a whole. We want to make it clear that what had happened was unfortunate. We have learned from our mistakes. We do not condone the use of any derogatory terms or racial slurs.”
Organization officers from the Filipino-American Student Association, the Vietnamese Student Association and the Black Student Union — all of which represent the interests of students from their respective backgrounds and heritages — made statements about the matter and denounced the usage of derogatory terms and slurs. BSU Co-Treasurer Byron Ragland spoke out on how BSU does not stand for the usage of the N-word by people not of African-American heritage.
“We talk a lot about standards, how we are going to treat ourselves and the kind of respect we’re gonna demand from each other,” Ragland said. “There is a level of standards and respect we’re going to require not just from other [Registered Student Organizations], but from everybody in general in the community … We really want to stress standards. There is stuff we’re not going to accept, and things being said or done as a joke — if they even are a joke or not — will not be accepted on our behalf.”
Officers of BSU have expressed their dissatisfaction with how the situation has been handled so far. They are calling for a formal, direct public apology from the APISU officers involved, and reassurance that steps are being taken by both campus administration and APISU to inform students and prevent future instances from occurring. They are also calling for the removal of the APISU officers involved from their positions of leadership.
“They haven’t reached out to us,” BSU President Amari Hill said. “They haven’t tried to contact us, let alone apologize. I just feel that, being both social organization on campus, that they should at least start a conversation with us, and that hasn’t happened.”
During the forum, multiple students remarked how the usage of racial slurs reflects a bigger community problem and not just a problem with an individual or group. In response to this, the Division of Student and Enrollment Services and the Office of Equity and Inclusion are reviewing the policies currently in place and figuring out how and where the system can be fixed.
Some organizations have taken it upon themselves to review their own guidelines and expectations and have a discussion between staff and students. The Center for Student Involvement community — which encompasses ASUWT, RSOs such as BSU and APISU, and the Student Activities Board — will have a meeting Nov. 6 to review policy and gather input from students on how to further promote the CSI as a place where everyone can feel welcome and supported.
A follow-up to the Oct. 18 forum will be held Nov. 7 in JOY 215 12:15– 1:15 p.m. At this forum, students will be able to learn more about current campus policies, how to access resources such as making reports of racial bias, and comment on the next steps in promoting a campus climate of unity and success for all students.
“We have a lot of work to do,” McShay said. “We definitely have a lot of work to do. But I am hopeful because I think we have an amazing group of students — an amazing community of students — on our campus. That was evident from the forum. They’re passionate. They’re caring. They want to create a community that supports the success of all students.”