Slippery Rock University President Dr. William Behre held a town hall-style discussion to address some of the concerns about discrimination and inclusion on SRU’s campus following the vandalization of the Black History Month poster found in Rhoads Hall last Saturday.
The event was held in the Robert M. Smith Student Center Ballroom on Monday night. The ballroom held approximately 600 people for this discussion, consisting of mostly white and black students, with a few professors and community members as well.
“This event meant a lot to me as an African American student on campus,” Morgan McDonald, an SRU student said. “It is pretty scary to see something like this happen and we need to take more action following this event.”
The town hall began with an open forum, where students had the opportunity to step up to the microphone to raise their concerns and voice their opinions. Some of the questions and concerned dealt with the conversation of “All Lives Matter,” “Black Lives Matter,” and how to come together across racial lines in a university setting.
Jermaine Wynn spoke to the audience about his concerns as an African American athlete at SRU. He said that he doesn’t understand how the person cheering for him at his football game could be the same one writing racist comments on flyers.
“As a black community right now, we are feeling pretty uncomfortable, so I really just wanted to come and hear everyone out,” Wynn said.
William Rouse, a community assistant in Rhoads Hall where the vandalized poster was initially discovered, spoke out during the question and answer portion of the open forum.
“I came to this event because I was the person who found this poster in the building,” Rouse said. “This event meant a lot to me because a lot of discrimination was pushed under the rug when nobody spoke up, so I believe this is a start and that it is important to address issues like this to better our campus.”
President Behre followed the open microphone with some responses and plans of his own.
“It is challenging to have uncomfortable conversations and the shame will be if this is the last time that a group of people this diverse sit around and talks about these types of issues,” Behre said.
He continued to point out throughout his discussion that groups of students who do not normally sit around together need to begin coming together and having these types of conversations. Behre also recognized the issues on campus and discussed some plans for the future to better address the underlying problems.
“The key is to understand your opinions and understand the assumptions that you walk in with,” Behre said.
He also said that it is his job, along with that of the entire administration, to figure out how to create the right forum for those types of conversations to occur on a regular basis so the university as a whole can work on that skill.
People in attendance were also given the ability to write their concerns on notecards to be read off and addressed by Behre. Some of the notecard topics included how to make the curriculum more diverse, how to become “allies” with people of other races, and how to get the conversation surrounding race started. Students noted some key takeaways following the event.
“I think that it was mandatory to come to this event, especially for me because it is what I stand for,” SRU student Jasmine Williams said. “But the problem is that everyone in this room did not need to hear what was going on. It is the people outside of the room that needed to hear the problem.”
Other students also voiced their opinions on the town hall discussion. Adriaunna Chambers, an SRU student, said that what the president discussed really resonated with her.
“He’s actually trying and taking the steps,” Chambers said. “Even though it is a struggle, he said that he is willing to struggle with us, and I feel like some people want to be a part of the process just for show, but he isn’t and I think that was a good way for him to come off.”
At the end of the town hall, students were encouraged to continue voicing their concerns to President Behre and the university community as a whole by emailing email@example.com.