In an attempt to make it easier to discuss race in a safe environment on this campus, the Office of the Dean of Students hosted an open student dialogue on racial tensions last Wednesday in response to the recent events at the University of Missouri and Yale University. To coordinate this discussion, the Office of the Dean of Students collaborated with the Lucy Katz Dialogue and Resolution Program, a program named for the late Fairfield professor and the Robert C. Wright Chair in Business Law, Ethics and Dispute Resolution.

The event began with videos rehashing what has recently occurred at Yale University and the University of Missouri.

At Yale, there have been recent allegations that some black students were turned away from a fraternity party because of their race. This and other allegations of racism at the university resulted in protests which had hundreds of student and faculty participants.

Also headlining news outlets were the incidents at the University of Missouri. Students on the football team demanded that President Tim Wolfe resign,because according to them, he has not been doing enough to fight racism on campus.

These nationwide issues, along with issues closer to home at Fairfield, were discussed at the event on Wednesday.

“At this school, we kind of live in a bubble,” said Joe Harding ‘18 who took part in the discussion. “Here, a lot of students are ignorant about what’s going on, not only at Yale and Missouri, but also here.”

The objective of dialogues such as this one is to inform and educate students about racial issues, so that they may become involved in ending racial discrimination.

However, it was brought up at the event that perhaps these kinds of dialogues are not reaching as many students as they should. Approximately 20 students, only about five or six of whom were white, and 20 faculty members attended the discussion.

“When we have these meetings, we always see the same people at them,” said Anif McDonald ‘16, president of the Fairfield University Student Association. “We have to have more events like this and invite everyone, not just during Black History Month, but every month, and even every week, so that it stays at the forefront of student’s minds.”

McDonald later said, “We as FUSA along with the members of Racial Justice is Social Justice spearheaded by Joe Harding ’18 and Zavon Billups ’18, are looking to facilitate more of these open forums just to get more of a feel as to what students are going through and how we can help them with their struggles.”

Sophomore Rachel Carlowicz, who did not attend the event, commented that she did not know that the event was happening and would have been interested in going had she heard of it.

“I think the school is inconsistent with letting students know about events like this,” she said. “Sometimes events are very well-advertised and we hear about them constantly for weeks ahead of time. Other times events pass by and I never even heard that they were going to happen.”

Some faculty members in attendance at the dialogue were Dean of Students Karen Donoghue, the Director of Athletics Gene Doris and the Director of Residence Life Ophelie Rowe-Allen, among others.

Also present were members of the Bias Response Team on campus, which is a group of administrators that investigates reports of racism, made either anonymously or by students whose identities are protected.

According to Rowe-Allen, a member of the team, students are reporting incidents more and more often; however, the Bias Response Team is still unknown to many students, and, because incidents are not reported to the student body unless the incident is so extreme as to be considered a crime, many students are unaware of these incidents happening on campus. Many minor cases of racism are often overlooked for this reason.

Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Engagement Kamala Kiem, who moderated the discussion, said, “I think what distinguishes us [from Yale and the University of Missouri] is that we as a campus have been engaging in dialogue. There’s more of an open communication between faculty, staff, administrators and students that exists here at this institution that probably did not exist at the University of Missouri or at Yale.”

Kiem cited the fact that Fairfield has implemented a new First Year Experience seminar on power and privilege and that the Office of Student Engagement piloted a Race Intergroup Dialogue group last spring 2015 and will be launching two groups for spring 2016.

Speaking on the recent events at Yale, Joshua Singleton ‘18, who attended the event and who has both observed and experienced racism on this campus, commented, “I think in terms of all predominantly white institutions of higher education, they have the potential, if they have a minority population, to have something happen like what happened at Yale. We associate these kinds of things with universities in the south, so it hit home, to think that something like that was happening at Yale. We sometimes think that Yale, with the kind of prestige it has, is somehow free from that kind of problem. To realize it’s not just happening at private schools, but it’s happening at state schools … it’s a widespread problem in that sense.”

Speaking of the dialogue, Harding said, “I thought it was really powerful, but at the same time, I was disappointed to not see that many white students there. I know that students are busy during the day, and I know that people have class, but in order to move forward in social justice work … we need the whole community to engage in dialogue. For that to happen, everyone needs to take part in these discussions as much as possible.”

One Response

  1. concerned student

    “The primary goal of the Bias Response Team is to provide education and awareness as a means of responding to certain types of bias-related discrimination within the Fairfield community. Fairfield University defines bias as language or behaviors that demonstrate bias against persons or groups because of race, color, ethnicity, religion, faith, national origin, political orientation, or sexual orientation. The Bias Response Team is comprised of campus partners from administration, academics, student affairs, and the student body.”

    Emails were sent out to the entire Fairfield student body prior to the dialogue. The conversation was promoted enough so that students were made aware of the event. There isn’t an inconsistency in advertising events such as this, we go above and beyond to let the entire Fairfield community, students in particular, know when, where, and why the event is taking place.

    Reply

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