Creating a dialogue about race

After a student executive board member said a racial slur during a Student Government Association financial meeting, all sides find themselves wanting a resolution.

Mickayla Miller
Editor in Chief

Being that Millersville University is a microcosm of a larger society, the students here experience both the good and bad aspects of society: everything from a sense of community to discrimination that creates campus-wide dialogue.

Since the start of 2017, there have been several racially charged issues that have brought racism to the forefront of the conversation. Several town hall meetings addressed these larger concerns which Millersville’s students — especially those of minority status — have expressed.

Recently, another incident occurred. In early March, during a recess in a finance meeting, an executive board member in the Student Government Association referred to a professor in a racially charged, derogatory manner. They said, regarding a white professor, “I hate that n****r.”

On March 22, about two weeks after the incident occurred, the student stepped down from their position, and a case was filed with Judicial Affairs. The student’s name has been omitted for their personal safety.

Though the student stepped down for this semester, they are still slated to be on the executive board for next year. It is unclear at the time of publishing this article if this student will fulfill their position on the board next semester.

The lack of campus-wide conversation about this incident, as well as the lack of a public apology, upset some students, including Senator Diamonic Holmes.

“I don’t think things [of this magnitude] should be kept from people, especially when it’s things they should know,” said Holmes, a government major.  “It’s completely a failure of Student Government that these things are ignored.”

Holmes, along with other students, were working to get this incident more exposure, as he said that he feels as though no action has been taken to prevent this from happening in the future.

President-elect, and current Student Government Association Chief Justice, John Tintera, said, “[the executive board member] has been working to rebuild relationships and trust amongst all affected parties. We, as SGA, will be working with [Jas] Whitlow, of The Intercultural Center, to continue progressing towards a more inclusive environment.”

As of Tuesday night,  the current President of the Student Government Association, Kiefer Luckenbill, has not responded to inquiries regarding this incident.

 

Accountability of One’s Actions

According to Holmes, the words said by the executive board member reflected bad decision making. “Even if [they] felt that way, it would have been wiser to keep it inside,” Holmes said. “It’s a completely messy situation at this point. Now you have students trying to take it into their own hands.”

Administrators have attempted to make strides in this situation, too.

The head of the new Intercultural Center, Jas Whitlow, believes that incidents like these prompt larger conversations that must be addressed not only in a person-to-person context, but in a larger context.

“This is where grassroot organization begins,” said Whitlow. They reiterated a need for restorative justice, which takes into account the backgrounds of all people. “It allows for room for more dialogue … to have productive conversations. Each person comes with their own lens.”

They continued, “It’s going to take work to get there.”

The student at the center of these allegations issued a statement to The Snapper, saying, “I made a mistake that did not reflect on my character. I took immediate action and responsibility for my mistake.”

Other students, such as Tim Keebler, agreed with this sentiment, coming to the defense of this student. “Politically, resigning was the right decision,” Keebler said. “But, I don’t think what she said reflects her character.”

Keebler is a meteorology major who is highly involved with Senate meetings, despite not being a senator himself.

“She works very hard, and she is nothing if not fair,” Keebler said. “Almost to a fault … How long until she lives down milliseconds of a mistake?”

Rewriting the Policies

One thing all parties agree upon is a lack of specificity in policies; there is no formal way to handle a situation like this. Most events are handled on a case-by-case basis. While there are many who are upset about the handling of the situation by the Student Government Association, there are just as many who say that the situation was handled according to procedure.

Many people have different views on how to move forward from a situation like this. Some call for the student’s resignation for next year, while others call for new measures to ensure that situations like this are not repeated.

Whitlow said that the Student Government Association has a role to play in this solution, as they are supposed to be an inclusive campus organization, but it is not their job alone. They said there should be structures in place that “permeate throughout the entire campus.”

While Holmes said he believes this is an issue with the Student Government Association, he said there is also a problem with how the policies of the university are written.

“I think that Millersville should set the precedent; if we’re going to be an inclusive environment, we really have to commit to this,” Holmes said. “[They are] completely free to say what [they’d] like, but as long as [they are] in a leadership position, and [they] control the fate of other students’ success, Millersville should have a policy of zero tolerance.”

While the future consequences of this situation can not be contemplated at this point, incidents such as these springboard race to the forefront of the minds of students. Racism won’t – and can’t – be solved overnight, but events such as these can incite campus-wide conversation, and create an open dialogue where students are free to talk about the issues at hand: even if they are uncomfortable topics.

“There is always room for more dialogue,” Whitlow said. “If we continue to be silent, this will be an unsafe space for all.”