Conversation on inclusion and diversity

Utica College officials field questions regarding Bell Hall hate crime

Samuel Northup, Online/Social Media Editor

 

As an institution that prides itself on diversity, members of the Utica College community were rocked after learning racially insensitive and homophobic graffiti were found in the Bell Hall residence building.

Nearly two months later, students, faculty, staff and administration of the campus community convened in the Ellen Knower Clarke Lounge in the Strebel Student Center on April 5 for a community conversation on diversity and inclusion.

The event was moderated by the Dean for Diversity and Student Development Alane Varga and Professor of Psychology R. Scott Smith and began with remarks from UC’s President Laura Casamento and Student Senate President Ann Ciancia. The event drew a large crowd, including sizeable turnout from members of the Black Student Union.

Both Casamento and Ciancia both addressed the incident that occurred in Bell Hall. As the highest-ranking member of Student Senate, Ciancia announced the body voted to condemn the acts of vandalism.

The conversation changed hands to Director of Campus Safety Wayne Sullivan, Dean of Students and Campus Life Robert Perkins and Vice President for Student Affairs Jeffery Gates to give updates on the investigation into the Bell Hall incident.

Sullivan assured those in attendance that the graffiti was immediately cleaned and that his department increased patrols of the area. At the same time, Sullivan also asked students for help with the investigation by giving the department any information they have.

Following the update, students, faculty and staff voiced their concerns with the situation.

Paula Gortman, president of the Black Student Union, said a lot of students are turned off by “structured meetings,” but a more regular dialog would help the community as a whole.

During the meeting, Gortman expressed concerns about the minority community feeling unsafe on campus and was afraid their fears were not being taken seriously.

“We want action,” Gortman said during the meeting. “We don’t feel like a part of the community.”

Provost John Johnson empathized with students by explaining how he would feel if his daughter were in the same situation while also expressing his desire to have a dialogue with students.

“I want to hear from you,” he said when addressing students. “This needs to happen on a regular basis.”

Administration members acknowledged student concerns, but also emphasized the need for more involvement from the student community in promoting diversity and acceptance.

Director of Student Counseling Alison Franklin explained that after reaching out to numerous diversity-based clubs and organizations regarding the Bell Hall incident she only received a handful of responses.

Students echoed a push for more involvement among their peers to promote diversity and acceptance.

Senior Juwan Wilson spoke passionately about the issue, drawing from his own experiences and challenging students in the audience to reach out to each other.

“It starts with us,” he said when addressing the meeting. “Things don’t just happen right away.”

While many opinions were expressed over a long period of time, some concerned students came away pleased with the conversation.

“I definitely think this was an amazing start,” Gortman said. “This is exactly what we needed. We definitely should have more (of these meetings).”

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