Recap on FAU WebEx Conference that Discussed Race Issues on Campus

On Monday July 13th, Larry Faerman, the interim Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, alongside several other faculty and staff members, hosted the first of four WebEx discussions for students to provide “candid feedback that is directly related to the race/ethnicity from which they identify”. The overall goal of this series is to “build the next steps of a better experience for our current and future FAU students”. 

The sessions are split up by race: 

Students Identifying as Black/African American: Monday, July 13 from  4 – 5:30 PM

Students Identifying as Hispanic/Latinx: Tuesday, July 14 from 4 – 5:30 PM

Students Identifying as White/Caucasian: Wednesday, July 15 from 4 – 5:30 PM

Students Identifying as Asian, American Indian, Pacific Islander, and International: Thursday, July 16 from 4 – 5:30 PM

To facilitate the conversation, Faerman asked guiding questions to the audience which had a total of 36 people. These questions included: 

  1. What does diversity mean to you?
  2. What have your organizations done in response to the recent killing of George Floyd and other black individuals? 
  3. How are the members of your respective organizations feeling relative to their physical/mental health; environment in their own communities? 
  4. What specific changes would black students like to see? 
  5. What are ways that you feel FAU is not an inclusive environment?

Many students took the time to respond with their thoughts and opinions and while there were a variety of classifications and organizations represented, the sentiment of Black FAU was the same, proving that we have similar goals in what we would like to see change at FAU. 

When asked how members of our organizations feel during this time, the collective feeling was “Frustrated”. Corey Rose, the President of the Black Undergraduate Theatre Collective, said “Students in my org are frustrated because we’ve been having a lot of listening meetings that take a lot of emotional and mental strength to get through and it feels insulting that our academic leaders and department chairs don’t know how to address racism”. 

It’s disheartening to not see action being taken to make the black experience at FAU better. A few weeks after the killing of George Floyd, students received a brief statement from President Kelly filled with vague statements as to how he will advocate for change. These baseless acts mean nothing to the black population and fuels the frustration in students. It’s understood that students may not be able to change systemic racism on a national and world level, but they can at least start by changing the culture on campus if the faculty is willing to help. “FAU students are frustrated. What has been done to support us? We don’t see it,” said another student on the call. 

So what are some changes that black students would like to see? During the meeting this is what student leaders came up with:

-More black faculty 

-Diversity training for faculty and staff

-Orientation course on racism for incoming freshman and transfer students 

-Safe space on campus for black students. 

-Have more of these conversations, not only when racial tensions are high 

-Strict discipline for students that use racial slurs 

-A student affairs staff member that works solely with the black student population 

The conversation then shifted to cover what areas of FAU are not inclusive. Students listed a variety of things on campus that make black people not feel safe. These included: 

-Having racist donors on the names of buildings

-The “owl fingers” sign is the same sign that is used by white supremacist 

-Lack of black counselors in the CAPS center 

At that time, many students on the call mentioned that Black students didn’t feel comfortable speaking on this call because they felt as though they would not be heard due to the lack of change that has come out of similar calls in the past. Another issue many of them had was with there not being a black moderator on the call.

Students felt as if some of their statements were not understood properly by the white hosts of the meeting and believe it would have been more effective if there was a black moderator who could have helped synthesize and understand the experiences and beliefs they were sharing. “I do not feel heard by the moderators. Although Audrey seems to have great empathy, Matthew Hinds looked confused when I said something about black employees mainly being janitorial staff. I don’t know if that was in response to me, but if it was not, it was great timing,” said Naheelah Wallace, a student who was on the call. She continued by saying, “The event was a great effort but needs to be heavily re-evaluated. Being that there was not a black person on the panel, I don’t even know if a black person helped to create those questions. That in itself is very unsettling. It shows me that even in “diversity and inclusion” white people still pull the strings.” 

Another topic that was heavily discussed was the purpose of having a session for white students on Wednesday. Faerman said it was to see if they were having discussions about recent events and to see if they believed there was systemic racism on campus. In response to this, one student said, “You’re creating a tempered space where they don’t have to face the very people you will be discussing.” Other students didn’t feel that white students needed their own private forum when they are not the ones facing the same challenges and discrimination as the other minority groups on campus. 

Also, some felt as though it was counterproductive to have racially-divided conversations and thought it would be better if we could all hear each other’s experiences. Faerman said the reason for having them separated was to provide a safe space where each individual group could express their thoughts without fear of opposition or judgment. “I don’t like the idea that the sessions are segregated. I think it would have had the most impact if everyone got to share their experiences with each other rather than having separate sessions for different races for the sake of feeling comfortable. Racism is not supposed to be a comfortable subject,” said Guylandsky Jean-Gilles. 

Overall, students were unimpressed by today’s call. “I kind of feel like the session was ineffective. I felt as if we were speaking about our issues but they tried to avoid actually speaking in any sort of solutions,” said Jean-Gilles. 

Wallace echoed this statement by saying “I don’t think that this conversation was as effective as it could have been. If this session was in response to police brutality of a Black woman and two black men, I would’ve expected us to talk more about that and try to support black FAU in regards to that even if it is by simply asking “what do you expect while coming back to campus in Fall 2020 amid these protests?” “How will you be able to study amid your life being a stake in regards to a deadly virus and police brutality?”. 

Another student said, “It’s an issue of how much tangible and monetary support is given to uplifting and amplifying the voices of Black students orgs on campus. I think the Division of Student Affairs does well, but more work should be done in ensuring that all areas are institutionally anti-racist in policy and practice.” 

If FAU decides to conduct another call, some tips would be to have a black moderator and allow the meeting to be open to all races. As a whole, the moderators should try to withhold their personal beliefs and let the students speak for themselves. As Wallace put it, 

“When we started to ask heavy questions, they would validate us and then circle back to their point and push their idea forward. It was not to make them feel as though they did horrible but it was to give a correction where we saw an error. I know a lot of black students did not feel good about that.”  

The WebEx call was a step in the right direction but if there are no concrete changes that emerge, it would have been time wasted.

 Kennedy McKinney is the Editor in Chief of The Paradigm Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email kennedymckin2019@fau.edu 

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