Campus climate talks continue

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By Kimberly Wethal

March 16, 2016

 

Twenty-six letters.

It only takes that many letters to “help or hurt someone,” senior diversity advocate Betsy Jordan said at last week’s Residence Hall Association (RHA) meeting, continuing the discussion of campus climate at UW-Whitewater.

RHA cut its meeting short in order to hold the discussion led by Jordan, sophomore Elwalid Mohamed and senior Jordan Weinfurtner.

The goals of the discussion were to better prepare Leadership Involvement Team (LIT) groups within the residence halls to talk to residents about campus climate and recent events, encourage diversity forums and make the residence halls a more comfortable place for students to engage in “difficult discussions,” RHA President Danny Marzahl said in an email to the Royal Purple proceeding the weekly agenda.

The conversation about campus climate has extended past RHA’s diversity discussion and continued into this week, marking the fifth week campus climate has been a concern since Pizza with the Chancellor on Feb. 16.

The Campus Culture Working Group held open forums Monday through Wednesday. The forums were based on four principles:  diversity learning, capturing students’ experiences, accountability and consequences and community. The group came up with the principles following the Action Forum held on Feb. 23.

The Working Group announced their four areas for change on March 3 following feedback from those in attendance at the Action Forum, social work professor Jim Winship, Whitewater Student Government (WSG), Black Student Union (BSU) and students in English 101 Freshman English classes.

A heart-to-heart

The Diversity Advocates gave everyone a heart at the meeting last week.

It was a white paper heart, meant to be used as a part of the activity they led. Meeting attendees were asked to state the worst thing ever said to them, with the rest of the group reacting by folding up their heart if it personally hurt them too.

The Diversity Advocate’s activity then prompted students to unfold their hearts as they each said the best thing ever said to them.

“Did you all get all your dents out?” Jordan said to the group. “[Do] you have a crisp piece of paper?”

The group collectively shook their heads no.

“Those dents that were said first are still there,” Jordan said. “Therefore, they made an impact. No matter how many nice things are said about you, those dents are still on your heart.”

The Diversity Advocates then connected the concept of the activity to UW-W’s current campus climate problem – especially when it comes to what is posted online, and what the intention of a post mean to other people.

“Your actions can be misinterpreted or taken in the wrong context,” sophomore RHA executive board member Lysianne Peacock said. “You have to be very conscious of what you’re posting, what you’re saying, [since] you don’t know how it’s going to affect other people.”

Continuing the conversation

The campus had plenty of feedback to give to the Working Group following the Action Forum.

There were 478 comments on the “raw data” document from the forum released by the Working Group.

Groups outside of the Working Group also chimed in their ideas. BSU suggested many of the same things said at the forum, including the increase of funding for minority programs and diversifying the staff.

Professor Susan Huss-Lederman’s English 101 class suggested requiring students to take a diversity course during their first year, making it “not something that [students] can wait for ‘whenever.’”

As a result, the Working Group split the issue of campus climate into the four principle subgroups for the forums taking place this week.

The open forum events could not be covered by the Royal Purple by the press time of this issue.

Many of the comments from the open forum circled around the idea of restructuring diversity courses to promote discussion and cultural competence instead of history, bringing a more diverse staff to campus that better represents the demographics of students and encouraging discussion in classrooms and on campus in order to educate.

“We need a mechanism and structure within the colleges to capture classroom micro-aggressions so students don’t have to quietly carry these throughout their UW-W experience,” one comment read.

Facilitators of the event also anonymously wrote down their observations. Some were positive of the event, saying they “like the vibe” of the room and mentioning how well attended it was, whereas others pointed out the ironies of the night.

“Most of the tables were filled with white students, prior to the entrance of BSU or other students of color, resulting in their not having the opportunity to be represented at tables filled primarily by white students,” one facilitator commented. “Students of color therefore stood or sat along the fringes, giving an unfortunate message.”