Group discussions concerning diversity, racism and inclusivity continued for a second consecutive day at Dickinson College.
A gathering of about 500 people, including students, staff and faculty met for an hour-and-a-half Thursday evening at the Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium. The event’s stated goal was to produce a list of demands regarding issues that could be presented to the college’s administration.
Dickinson College sophomore Alyson McAtee and first-year student Jacqueline Amezcua led the discussion at the event following Wednesday night’s “blackout” protest in the college’s cafeteria, an event where students shared stories of discrimination and racism on Dickinson’s campus.
“This is a dialogue in response to the demonstration and a call to action,” Amezcua said Thursday.
“This is not a black issue, this is a Dickinson issue, and it’s important,” McAtee added.
McAtee and Amezcua prompted students attending the meeting to fill out index cards that were passed out upon arrival. Students were asked to write down an issue on the college campus, possible solutions, methods for those solutions and people who can help. On the reverse side, they were asked to write specific demands to give to the administration.
“We all stand ready to do the hard work of making Dickinson a more inclusive and respectful community,” Dickinson College President Nancy Roseman said prior to Thursday night’s event.
“Dickinson is committed to creating an inclusive and respectful campus community, and we have grown more diverse in recent years,” said Christine Dugan, director of media relations for the college. “Last weekend, three senior administrators, including the president, and eight students attended a national conference on diversity in higher education.”
McAtee and Amezcua opened the floor for people to share their demands at the meeting. People’s comments ranged from issues of racism on campus, attitudes toward the homeless, marginalization of groups such as international and gay students on campus, and the stigmatization of mental health issues.
Most students were in agreement that there have been numerous incidents of racism, most notably on the anonymous social media platform Yik Yak. Students were divided about the role of free speech versus creating an inclusive environment.
Student Paulina Alexis Vidanez said that one of the first steps the campus should take is the removal of sources of tension such as Yik Yak.
“We need to remove sources that people can use to bring these topics back up behind the face of anonymity … and move toward petitioning Yik Yak from our campus,” Vidanez said. “I urge you to try to make that change. You just physically have to remove yourself.”
Fellow first-year student Zachary Butler, however, raised the issue of free speech.
“Where do we draw the line as to what is allowed to be said and what is not allowed to be said?” Butler asked. “It’s our right as American citizens.”
Junior Brander Suero responded, “It’s not about drawing a line and censoring. It’s about eliminating ‘they and them’ and ‘us and we.’ We’re all here right now because we acknowledge there’s a problem. We’re all human and capable of understanding.”
Brendan Birth, senior, offered a new perspective to the discussion.
“The issue of freedom of speech does exist (with Yik Yak), but it does not mean freedom from consequence from whatever you say,” Birth explained.
Birth also stated that Yik Yak “opened (his) eyes to hateful things.” He questioned how he would continue to be aware of these issues without a platform such as Yik Yak.
Staff on hand
Dickinson College staff and faculty members in attendance also weighed on the topics.
“In the ‘60s we had a saying, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” Michael Reed, vice president of Institutional Initiatives, said. “I encourage you to continue to ask yourself that question. If you’re not part of the solution, then you know what to do.”
Reed also encouraged students to continue to press the administration.
“As an administrator, we respond to what we hear, especially when it’s hot. So hold our feet to the fire, hold our feet to the fire, hold our feet to the fire, and you will see it come to fruition,” Reed encouraged.
Similarly, psychology instructor Kiersten Baughman expressed her support for the students. “We are faculty, we hear you, we feel you, we stand with you and we will carry on this mission,” Baughman said.