On Feb. 17, Counseling & Psychological Services reached out to The Mirror after the administration ordered the removal of the Black Lives Matter flag in their front window.
Mark Celano, Ph.D., assistant director and director of training at C&PS, stated that they were “directed to remove the flag by the school administration out of concern that it may make some people uncomfortable.”
As of Feb. 16, the flag is no longer hung in the front of the C&PS office.
This came after C&PS reached out to the Mirror on Feb. 15, to bring awareness to the flag hung and to suggest “providing coverage in The Mirror to further celebrate Black History Month and raise awareness about diversity and inclusion.”
Celano ended his Feb. 17 message to The Mirror by stating, “We at C&PS remain deeply committed to supporting our BIPOC students despite this change.”
The original message sent to The Mirror requesting for coverage of the BLM flag hanging in the window of C&PS was sent by Susan Birge, Ph.D., associate vice president for health and wellness and director of C&PS.
Her email stated:
“Counseling & Psychological Services is committed to supporting and sustaining an educational community that is inclusive, diverse and equitable. [C&PS’] policies, procedures, activities, relationships and interactions with each other and individuals and groups in the campus community are consistent with these values. We are committed to celebrating the diversity that gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, age, religious orientation, social class, appearance, abilities and other differences bring. Furthermore, we are committed to confronting prejudice, discrimination and oppression. Please consider providing coverage in the Mirror to further celebrate Black History Month and raise awareness about diversity and inclusion.”
After reaching out to Celano for further information regarding why C&PS was directed to remove the flag, and what, if anything, the message hanging and then quickly removing the flag sends to students, he said he was “unable to comment.”
Further, The Mirror then received an unprompted email from Vice President for Student Life Karen Donoghue regarding the potential coverage by The Mirror and stated she was forwarded the email initially sent by The Mirror from Assistant Director Celano and Dr. Birge.
Donoghue stated that, “Fairfield University encourages intellectual debate and discourse, and expression of free speech among faculty and students.”
Donoghue explained that “as standard practice, any signage in a public area (inside or outside a building) must be approved by a division Vice President, the department of facilities management and the department of marketing and communications to ensure compliance with zoning regulations, maintain brand consistency and minimize facility wear and tear. Any sign approved will be hung by facilities management or employees who have the appropriate tools.”
According to Donoghue, a “concern came forward within 24-hours of the flag being hung asking if standard practices were followed.”
Due to the absence of the necessary approval process, the sign was removed, Donoghue stated.
“I am working with the Wellness Center to follow necessary approvals to hang appropriate signage to create a welcoming environment for all students,” Donoghue said.
The University’s Student Handbook for the year 2021-22 academic year outlines the guidelines Donoghue referenced.
With regards to practices of freedom of assembly Fairfield University handbook states that the University “generally supports the free expression of views or ideas and allows for peaceful assembly by members of our community (i.e Fairfield University students, faculty and staff).”
The policy on expression and assembly is subject to the following conditions relayed in the handbook:
Expression and assembly “Cannot impede or block the ingress or egress to any University building room, faculty or space, deny or deprive others the opportunity to speak or be heard, interfere with or disrupt the University’s normal operation, pose any threat to campus safety, interfere with a legitimate educational or institutional process.”
Additionally, on Oct.11, 2020 the Office of Residence Life sent out an email to students regarding room inspections during this time.
Relayed in the email was additional window coverings, “which includes the use of non-university curtains, flags, tapestries and signs hung on the glass.”
They emphasized in the email that “Use of these items can obstruct the egress in the event of the emergency. Thus, res life stated “students are able to hang posts in windows as long as it is at a reasonable level, which would be less than 20% of the window covered.”
The removal of the flag comes just days before the University is set to present their work on diversity in the university, “A Community in Action: Sharing Our Work In and Commitment To Diversity and Inclusive Excellence” on Monday, Feb. 28.
Many students see the removal of the flag as just an additional move in the university’s passive stance on diversity and inclusion.
University alumnus Luckario Alcide ‘21 shared his opinion on the situation with The Mirror. He was outspoken during the 2020 University handlings of the Black Lives Matter protests.
His involvement, he said, during 2020 regarding the “University’s dealings with BLM came at a time of confusion and frustration.”
“Confusion and frustration because a university tied to Jesuit values took the back seat in a time when the call to action was universal,” Alcide said. “The actions taken have demonstrated that the University has surrendered its intentions of solidarity.”
After his frustration of the University handlings in 2020, Alcide said “hearing about these [recent] actions bummed me out.”
“Flags can serve to unite us under a common theme and in my opinion, the theme of BLM flag represents solidarity and understanding for a historically marginalized group,” Alcide added.
He acknowledged that some people may disagree with his stance saying, “I understand that to some that may not be the case, but this is where Fairfield U comes into play. The ability to foster that sense of belonging while meeting the needs of the entire demographic is the role of the University and its surrounding members to define.”
“These actions have failed its students on both sides of the spectrum,” Alcide said.
Junior Eden Marchese, the director of Diversity & Inclusion for the Fairfield University Student Association, shared their outlook.
“My initial thoughts on the University forcing removal of the BLM flag were that the University is being blatant with their disrespect for Black students as well as other POC on campus,” Marchese said.
They added, “This continues to show the University only cares about minority student groups inasmuch as those groups can give them money and the administration can abuse these students for ridiculous marketing campaigns aimed at manipulating students to believe Fairfield University is something it is not.”
Regarding the removal of the flag specifically, Marchese said, “Nemec clearly has no care for anyone but himself and the racist, white students at the University, it is why the University did not blanketly enforce the removal of the Trump 2020 Flags or the Confederate Flags during the 2020 election and, instead, put all of the pressure of removing these flags onto the RAs so that the University did not need to face any true repercussions.”
Fairfield is a historically predominantly white institution. A PWI attribute is typically given when a university has more than 50% of a white student demographic. Fairfield University is comprised of roughly 75% white students.
This is not the first time Fairfield has dealt with issues regarding race on campus.
In late February of 2016, Fairfield University students hosted an off-campus “ghetto party” in which students dressed up in brown makeup and wore outfits that perpetuated stereotypes against Black Americans.
In a New York Times article written on the issue, Vice President of Marketing and Communication Jenn Anderson commented, “The University is dedicated to continuing cultural diversity on campus” and “We will learn from this.”
The Times also quoted a Fairfield student “who insisted that her name not be used and who commutes to classes from her home in Bridgeport.”
She said, “I think there are more people adding to the diversity of the campus, but it’s definitely not a diverse campus.”
Other students quoted at the time of the incident expressed similar feelings.
In an article published by the Connecticut News Junkie in February 2016, University student Juanita Rainey, who at the time, was a 20-year-old junior from Bridgeport, shared her thoughts on the situation.
“Even though the school is becoming more diverse, the students aren’t being integrated well,” Rainey said. “So it’s disappointing because I’ve had all these friends, who I thought were okay with me, happily attend this party to make fun of black people.”
This article also quoted Anderson saying, “We also demand that our students, faculty and staff maintain the highest level of cultural sensitivity. We will be investigating this matter immediately, and will take the appropriate action as soon as the facts have been determined.”
However, after those facts were determined, it was found that the Division I Men’s Lacrosse Team was found guilty of at least hosting the party, as reported by The Mirror.
The Mirror then reported on a sit-in that occurred at a lacrosse game after news of the team being guilty for hosting the party spread.
“The reason why we chose specifically to sit at a lacrosse game,” commented Jasmine Raghunandan ‘17 who participated in the sit-in, “is because the lacrosse team has been found responsible for at least hosting the party, and the fact that the institution has decided to allow this game to continue and not suspend the entire game is, to everyone who has been affected, or at least to everyone who is sitting here in protest, we find that to be disrespectful to how we have been offended.”
Another student, Sean Tomlinson ‘19, stated, “I’m here to stand up for what I know is right. You can’t let things that are so inherently wrong just go… not untalked about, because it’s been talked about… but you can’t just let it go until someone changes it.”
Four years after the infamous ghetto party, Black Lives Matter protests happened nationally after a series of instances of police brutality gained viral attention.
Marchese noted that when this all was happening, Fairfield University President, Mark R. Nemec, Ph. D. did not say “Black Lives Matter.”
“Black Lives Matter’ is something that Mark Nemec should’ve said years ago, but his refusal to is only reinforced in trying to silence [anyone] on campus that isn’t a coward like himself,” Marchese said.
This same summer, the Fairfield Alumni Response Team created a petition called, “Fairfield University Must Say Black Lives Matter” which has over 8,000 signatures as of Feb. 22, 2022.
The petition explanation states, “This was university president Dr. Mark R. Nemec’s response: an 8-paragraph essay that can’t call George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery’s ‘tragic deaths’ what they were: murder. A message that can’t call racism out by name. A letter that can’t speak to the Black community, opting instead to say that Fairfield ‘must stand with those whose voices legitimately need to be heard.”
The letter continued, calling Nemec’s essay “A response that tries to make everyone comfortable, but ends up saying nothing at all.”
Signers of the petition were encouraged to write why they signed.
Some of the responses include, Peter Goveia ‘93: “Because Fairfield can do so much better,” Shauna Dresel ‘17: “It is time for change through action!” and Anthony Szymonik ‘18: “The ‘ghetto party’ incident happened during my time at FU and it’s a shame we haven’t made any progress towards racial justice or unity since then. I’m proud there are still those that can take these issues serious enough to start a whole petition for the FU establishment to enact. #blm.”
And now, six years after the ghetto party and two years after the BLM protests, there is still a concern over what has changed.
President of Fairfield University’s Black Student Union Chelsey Gabriel ‘22 said she saw the BLM flag in C&PS’s window “early last week.”
“It sent the message that I was seen on this campus,” Gabriel said. “But when I heard that someone, specifically an administrator, requested that the flag be taken down to spare some people’s feelings that sent another message: there are people who refuse to notice me and other POCs like myself.”
Gabriel continued to say, “How dare they justify that that flag be taken down because it would make ‘some people feel uncomfortable’ and I’m pretty sure that administrator meant ‘certain people.’”
What Gabriel means by this, she says, is that “there are plenty of underrepresented groups on this campus who have felt uncomfortable because we are told to cater to those ‘certain people.’ The University continues to cater to them and does not acknowledge that impact that has on other demographics.”
Gabriel further stated that the University does “not realize that something as subtle as seeing a clearly displayed Black Lives Matter flag does a lot for someone like [her].”
“Some people having the University send out subtle messages of their support and advocacy in that matter and there are some people who want to see more than that,” she said.
With regards to the University’s role in the future Gabriel emphasizes “they need to reach out to their underrepresented groups, actually listen to them and allow whatever staff, faculty and administration on this campus to make the efforts within their power to enact what those students want.”