In response to the “ghetto-themed” party that took place at an off-campus beach house two weekends ago, the Fairfield University Student Association held an open forum called Campus Culture Conversation to “provide an avenue for all students to express their thoughts and feelings in a conducive environment,” an email sent out to students stated.
Media sources were restricted from attending the event in order to ensure that students felt comfortable expressing their opinions at the forum. In addition, those in attendance were instructed not to use social media during the event or take any pictures.
Members of the FUSA panel including FUSA President Anif McDonald ‘16; Vice President Olivia Tourgee ‘16; class presidents, Katie Santo ‘19, Zavon Billups ‘18, Jason Abate ‘17 and Matt Rotondaro ‘16; Chair of Senate and President-Elect Zoë Ferranti ‘17; and Vice Chair of Senate Rachel Steriti ‘16, began the discussion by asking students to express how they felt about the event.
Several students expressed that they witnessed a number of their close friends and faculty members getting emotional about the event, explaining that these break-downs shouldn’t be happening on a campus that prides itself on Jesuit values.
Another student echoed these sentiments, saying that parties like these are examples of the University not acting as a community.
One senior attempted to define ghetto as a “style,” comparing dressing up as ghetto to dressing as Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian, a comment which many students responded negatively to. Another student proceeded to read off the dictionary definition of “ghetto,” adding that one of the major reasons this problem arose was because many students are uneducated about terms such as “ghetto” and “white privilege.”
Several other students agreed that those who participated in the party did so not out of racism, but out of ignorance. When FUSA asked how the students wanted them to address this issue, many responded that something needs to be done in terms of educating people about diversity and racial issues on campus.
One solution to solving the issue of ignorance on campus that was mentioned at the forum was a specific First Year Experience class dedicated to talking about diversity. Another solution posed was making a course on diversity, such as Black Lives Matter or Race, Gender and Ethnic Relations, required as part of the Core curriculum.
Aside from finding solutions that require the University’s action, one student brought up the fact that students can implement a change in the campus climate on their own, mentioning that if a student hears something that offends them in any way, they should address the perpetrator at the time of the incident in a calm yet direct manner, cutting the issue off at the source.
Sophomore Dulce Villanueva felt that the forum accomplished what FUSA intended it to. “It was good that people were able to express how they felt, because that’s the first step towards change,” Villanueva said.
She added that as a University, after having this open discussion, “We’re going to promote change by helping and inspiring younger generations so things like this don’t happen to them. We’ll create a better country, a better world, where there’s no separation, and everyone has basic rights, and everyone feels safe and happy.”
Senior Diana Bosch also appreciated that students had the chance to express their opinions on the conflict and discuss them with their peers. “I think it was a good opportunity for the student body to share their opinions and their feelings, because of course feelings are important if such an occasion is affecting your feelings.”
For Bosch, more open forums should be held on campus “so we can all work together and find better solutions regarding this racial issue. Hopefully we can work together so we don’t see race or any type of identity component as a divide, but as an opportunity to embrace and appreciate diversity.”
At the conclusion of the forum, Billups said that now that the students in attendance have brainstormed solutions to issues of racial ignorance and stereotyping on campus, “we can start forming solution based thinking,” speaking on behalf of FUSA. He added that if students have any further solutions, they should come to FUSA to share them.