Over 800 Salisbury University students and staff dressed in black attended President Charles A. Wight's forum last night about the multiple incidents of racist and violent graffiti that have occurred at Fulton Hall.
Students met at the fountain outside of Fulton Hall at 6:30 p.m. and proceeded to march up four floors of the Guerrieri Academic Commons to the Assembly Hall, where the forum was to take place at 7 p.m.
Students marching up the stairs in the Academic Commons/ Emma Reider Image
At approximately 6:45 p.m., the Assembly Hall had reached capacity, and students were directed to overflow rooms where the forum was broadcasted. Students filled Perdue Hall Room 156, Henson Hall Room 243, Henson Hall Room 103 and Perdue Hall Room 151 to capacity to watch the forum.
Wight stated the purpose of this event was to have a community conversation and to determine a path forward to address both short-term and long-term challenges facing the university.
Wight began the forum by expressing his own feelings of outrage about the vandalism occurring on campus.
President Wight addressing students./ Brenden Link Image
"I am outraged at the vicious racially and sexually charged messages that have been left as a result of vandalism in one of our buildings, Fulton Hall," Wight said.
Wight continued to explicitly address the concerns about systemic and institutional racism at SU.
“Threats to black people in our community are threats to our entire community. They are threats to all of us," Wight said. "This should not be us, and that's why I'm just mad as hell."
The first half of the forum allowed students to express their feelings and ask questions directly to the administration or Salisbury University Police about what is being done on campus.
Chief of SU Police Edwin Lashley / Emma Reider Image
SU Police Department Chief Edwin Lashley assured students the vandalism is the subject of an "intense, ongoing police investigation." Lashley has also increased police presence of both uniformed and plain-clothed offices around campus.
Students were able to talk on the microphone or write in questions.
Senior Corey Young took to the microphone to directly ask why the threat of violence was not taken seriously.
"The fact that classes and activities went on as planned seemed like the threat was not taken seriously immediately at that time and that the administration is not fully behind our safety,” Young said. “Why were classes not canceled and why other actions weren’t taken at that time? And how in the future the administration’s response will change to a school shooter threat?”
Wight apologized for the lack of action and stated he was not informed about the situation until 2 p.m. on Monday.
“We did not act fast enough. But I can tell you there are formal methods of assessing whether or not threats are imminent credible threats, and I can tell you with confidence that the assessment of this threat was that it was not imminent,” Wight said. “So there was no rush to cancel classes.”
Students were also able to write in questions if they were not comfortable speaking in front of the crowd.
It was reported that some SU professors were assigning this event as extra credit for their classes, which outraged many students, but was glossed over by administration.
Aniah Gopaul took to Facebook later that night to admit she wrote the question and express her frustration about the response to her question.
"This isn't an event you attend to raise your grade. You attend it to SUPPORT poc [people of color], to fight for JUSTICE, to UNDERSTAND why this is something increasingly important," Gopaul said. "My struggle and this HATE crime ISN'T an EXTRA CREDIT OPPORTUNITY!!!"
This question sparked concerns from students about the diversity of faculty and the lack of professors of color. It also led to questions concerning the diversity training that professors receive as well as safety protocols in the event of an active shooter.
Dr. April Logan, associate professor of English, spoke out at last night's forum to address the issue of minimal diversity and inclusion training for staff.
Logan expressed her respect and support for students who showed up last night and let students know that a number of faculty members are supporting them and are behind them.
“But I want to make a point of clarification: diversity training for faculty is not mandatory. It is not required," Logan said. "The training that is mandatory is related to legal matters and issues, like how to address sexual harassment or direct discrimination. It is not trained to teach people about awareness, racism, sexism and consciousness."
Logan added it is also very difficult to enforce these online trainings, and to her knowledge, active shooter training is also not required.
The second half of the forum consisted of students offering up solutions in order to prevent these incidents, increase diversity and inclusion on campus and overall make campus safer for people of color.
Solutions included taking down pictures from racist eras and segregated times, more diversity in faculty, more diversity training for both faculty and students and more equitable pay for staff (primarily custodial) and faculty.
Students also called for more international education, particularly about Africa in equitable and fair ways, a diversity course placed in general education requirements, a black or people of color safe space and also text alerts to threats and events in the future.
By SOFIA CARRASCO
Featured images by Emma Reider and Brendan Link.