President Cheryl Norton hosted a follow-up meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Alumni House for students to voice their concerns with the Student Success Center, as students demand good communication between the administration and student body, as well as an apology.
“I’m here to listen, to listen to you all” Norton said. “To what you have to say today, to what we can learn from each other and hopefully, we can move forward.”
However before Norton handed the floor over to students, she addressed a tweet that had been shared by multiple students that afternoon. The tweet was created by the student success committee utilizing the hashtag, #DoYouKnowSRU?.
According to the tweet, “SRU has no veteran’s coordinator and yet is listed as military friendly, only 3.4 percent of tenure-track faculty is black and only five percent are Hispanic, student concerns are no long represented in the president’s cabinet, the administration lied to you about the future of your campus, the Women’s Center and the Office of Multicultural Development have no assistant director, the Office of Students with Disabilities is segregated and lacks a permanent director and pride guides were instructed to cover up the administration’s lack of honesty with students.”
“This afternoon I saw that there is a tweet that’s been going out,” Norton said. “A tweet that made six assertions about this institution. A tweet that is not accurate in many ways. A tweet that does not have a context to some of the information. A tweet in particular that said the administration lied to us about the future of our institution. You need to know I take great exception to that, great exception, so what I’d like to do is hand out some information in response to that tweet and you can take a look at it. You can have your opinion all you want, that is good. Opinions are important. You cannot change facts.”
The President’s Cabinet compiled a sheet addressing each point in the tweet created by the student success committee.
After the sheets were handed to the audience, vice president of Internal Affairs for SGA, Jenna Temple, expressed that she wanted the focus of the meeting to not be about space, but about student concern. She read a list of anonymous student concerns that were submitted in regards to the meeting that took place on March 15.
“The administration did not listen to us,” she read from the list. “We spent the majority of time dancing around questions talking about space, everything came back to the student success center when in reality that is the least of our concerns, I thought that President Norton was extremely condescending, I felt as if the students in attendance were being spoken down to and being punished in a way for not being excited about the project.”
The student success committee presented a list of demands including that positions in relation to diversity be filled by diverse faculty, search parties be comprised of 50 percent of students with a representation of minority students, consistent meetings between administration and university stakeholders, the restoration of the Vice President of Student Affairs as a cabinet level position and a public published apology sent to all university stakeholders via SRU communication email, published in The Rocket and given to the Council of Trustees.
Gabriella Lyons, a member of the student success committee, gave Norton the opportunity to respond to these points, but asked her to keep her responses to under a minute.
“Are you willing to take the suggestions we gave you when we wanted to fill the positions that are directly related to diversity and we wanted the search committees to be 50 percent students, are you willing to at least meet us half way with these things?” Lyons asked Norton.
Norton said that recruiting a diverse staff is easier said than done.
Lyons said that at previous meetings in regards to the Student Success Center, Norton was recorded laughing at student comments and Lyons expressed that she had never felt more disrespected as a student.
“I do not necessarily remember those specific situations,” Norton said. “It has not ever been my habit to laugh at a student. I’ve always been known as having a great deal of empathy with students.”
However, Temple expressed that the students want to be one cohesive unit with the administration.
“We need you, Dr. Norton,” Temple said. “We don’t want to be at war.”
However, Temple expressed that she would like an apology as she felt she and SGA were being called liars by the administration and that she felt disrespected in front of a respectable group of people.
“We would just like an apology since we do have the documented evidence to show that this was presented to our senate who is here to advocate for the students, and since it was presented to us that these offices could potentially be moving for bigger space, that is where the idea came from and that’s where this whole issue started,” Temple expressed.
Senior theatre and dance major Lawrence Karl expressed that the student body of the theatre department is upset that Miller Auditorium is not finished and that it was not fair that the administration tried to move offices into a space that the theatre department calls their home.
“I don’t know if anyone from the theatre department was contacted or talked to about this idea of moving those offices, but I know a lot of student body did not like that idea,” he said.
Ben Shaevitz of the physics department and president of the faculty union responded by explaining that before Vincent Science Center was finished, the physics department was relocated to a basement and that there was solid communication between the administration and the department.
“It was temporary pain for a long-term gain,” Shaevitz said.
Provost Philip Way expressed that he is willing to communicate with students, but that students need to take advantage of the opportunities when they are offered.
LaMorie Marsh, community assistant, said that the problem is a lack of trust and that an apology is not going to fix the gap between the administration and student body.
“A lot of the student body, we don’t feel the same trust we felt, when I came here as a freshman,” Marsh said.
Graduate resident director of Watson Hall Andre Roberts expressed that SRU needs to become a more culturally competent place, by making students, faculty and staff aware of diversity. Roberts said that he often feels when he speaks to students, that they may look differently at him because of his race and he does not feel safe on campus.
“I do not believe this university does the best job at cultivating an environment where students, faculty, staff and administration have an opportunity to sit down and speak about things such as race, such as sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and all those topics that have to deal with diversity,” Roberts said.
Jessica Johnson, vice present of Student Affairs of SGA, said that she doesn’t want to be an alumna of SRU and in 10 years be upset with SRU, as there are some alumni who are currently upset with the status of the university
Keshia Booker, a graduate assistant who works in The Suite, said that black students on the campus are facing hard issues and it is very hard for them to not be able to go to someone who looks like them for help.
“As much as it is great to shine and the sun is always shining at Slippery Rock, it is not always shining for an African-American student and for some reason, I think that’s been lost among this administration in a multiple of ways,” she said.
Norton said that she wants to provide students with good communication.
“I pledge to you to work with you, so that you can say to your friends, you can say to your family, you can say to your colleagues, Slippery Rock is the best choice I ever made in my life,” she said.