The Slippery Rock Student Government Association (SGA) hosted its first town hall this semester Tuesday on Zoom to discuss inclusivity at SRU, including topics like retention, recruitment and admissions, social diversity, support systems and faculty training.
With about 30 students, administrators and faculty members in attendance, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Maggie Calvert and several panelists answered questions and concerns about inclusivity through direct and anonymous methods.
The panelists in attendance included the Assistant Director of the Office of Disability Services Kim Coffaro, Assistant Director of Retention in Undergraduate Admissions Karla Romero, Associate Provost of Global Engagement Sam Heikinen, Assistant Director of the Women’s and Pride Center Lyosha Gorshkov, Associate Professor of Psychology Emily Keener and Director of the Office of Inclusive Excellence Corinne Gibson.
Calvert started by stating that she wants to return to the SRU campus in the fall with a stronger, more inclusive community, and that starts with having this conversation about inclusivity and diversity at SRU.
“[This town hall] is meant to bring some attention to the people that we don’t always think about when we are talking about our campus community,” Calvert said.
A student asked the panel what advice they would give to students about being more inclusive in their student leader positions.
Heikinen said sometimes the toughest thing to do is to make a one-on-one human connection with someone who is different than you.
Heikinen described when he was giving a tour of the campus to students from another country, a group of SRU students walked by them and greeted them. He said this was the first time these students from another country made contact with someone who speaks English, and it made their day.
“You have no idea how much one gesture makes a difference,” Heikinen said.
Coffaro said it is important to treat others the way you want to be treated, and make sure student leaders and faculty look into the accessibility features of rooms when holding events.
Gorshkov said student leaders must challenge themselves to be more inclusive. He said students and faculty must continue to educate themselves.
“We have so many organizations that are very conservative by default,” Gorshkov said, “but you have to always be on top of that. We have great resources, and we have to start utilizing them.”
Keener said as a faculty adviser of the National Honors Society of Psychology, she and other members realized that there are certain structures keeping people out of their organization, like the dues in order to have a membership.
“It costs $80,” Keener said. “We realized $80 is a deal breaker for a lot of people. We ask for it at the beginning of the semester when students are paying for their books. So, we have tried to have a scholarship and tell people that if dues are the reason why you’re not joining this organization, please don’t let that stop you.”
When panelists were asked how the campus community can inform freshmen from rural, homogeneous areas about issues of diversity and inclusion, Gibson said it is essential to be aware that there is a difference in people and inform them what those differences are.
“We try to start them out really easy and show them multiple different ways of how we celebrate different cultures or holidays to provide a nice basis for the growth of knowledge as they move forward as first-year students,” Gibson said.
Gorshkov said the Women and Pride Center offer residence life and community adviser (CA) training about consent and other various topics to educate students on material they may not be fully knowledgeable on.
Keener said some of the SRU faculty wrestle with trying to incorporate diversity and inclusion into the curriculum. She said Slippery Rock does an amazing job with programming concerning diversity and inclusion, but some students do not usually attend these programs.
“I do also give students the opportunity to earn extra credit,” Keener said, “and sometimes it is even part of assignments to attend programming.”
Keener noted that university seminar has recently added a diversity and inclusion objective in the course, and this is another place that they can reach students with this curriculum and make students more aware of these issues.
Vice President of Student and Academic Affairs Khalil Harper said they are making sure that there are still resources available for students with food insecurity, even though students aren’t on campus anymore due to coronavirus. They are working closely with the Macoskey Center to see what they can do for these students.
“If you are needing anything right now during these times,” Calvert said, “you can fill out a CARE report, and those needs will be addressed through student support, and they can help you get the food that you need.”
Calvert also wanted to make it clear that CARE reports are still being reviewed, even if students aren’t on campus right now.
“The Office of Student Support is working very hard to continue to provide that support,” Calvert said. “So, if you feel like you are needing that extra support, or maybe you have a friend that does, please feel free to utilize that resource.”
If you or someone you know is in need of support with food or otherwise, fill out of a CARE report, and those needs will be taken care of accordingly.
Heikinen said there is stigma surrounding international students because of the coronavirus.
“Just as bad, or almost as bad, as the virus itself is what ignorance and misinformation does [to people],” Heikinen said.
Calvert asked the panelists what they are doing to support students throughout this time that students are doing online courses.
Gibson said success coaches are making attempts to connect with students, as well as multiple other student organizations.
Coffaro said as soon as SRU President William Behre’s emails started to go out about changing to remote methods of learning, she began to send emails out to students to let them know that offices are still open for students to contact them if they need support.
“We are trying to provide as much outreach as possible,” Coffaro said. “We know a lot of students frequently go to our offices for testing or meetings. But, we are continuing those meetings and encouraging students to seek us out for virtual meetings if they are having any problems or concerns.”
The next SGA virtual town hall meeting will be on April 23 at 5 p.m. on Zoom. The CORE form will be open on April 17 at midnight until April 22. This event will feature a panel of guests to answer questions about campus sustainability.