SGA town hall meeting addresses student concerns

On Thursday, Sept. 24, the Student Government Association held an online town hall meeting to address the goings-on of campus, including the pressing racial issues on campus.

As the meeting was commenced we were greeted with familiar friendly faces such as Sam Miller, vice chancellor of student affairs, and BaShaun Smith who is the dean of students. Along with higher administration, student organization representatives were also in attendance, such as Thomas Golden who is the secretary of the Black Student Union and Aniyah Henderson who is the director of diversity inclusive excellence as well as many other student organizations.

Each student organization took turns introducing themselves and describing the values and core goals of their organization before launching into submitted questions. When asked “Would you rather see more conversations like this than programs,” Smith clarifies “I’m assuming on inclusivity,”. Elijah McCoy takes the lead on answering this first question. McCoy replies “Personally as someone who is working on their master’s degree in higher education and student affairs, both levels have its usefulness.” He then goes on to say how he believes that meetings like the one being held in that moment creates open dialogue and is very beneficial but feels that having modules on diversity education Is equally as important. “it’s kind of a 50/50 thing.” Golden also agrees, noting that “Talking without action is pretty much meaningless.”

The next question came via the chat and email by an individual named Rebecca. They asked, “How can we facilitate these questions outside of the classroom?” Jade Portillo responded, “The more frequently we have these sort of things and the more frequently you promote these conversations, the more people will become comfortable having these conversations.” Alan Harris chimes in adding on to Portillo’s statement with slight contradiction. “Just like Thomas said, talking without action is pretty much meaningless…You need to have these conversations in your own circle to start.” he continues on getting more passionate as he speaks. “If we go home and forget this in an hour then what was the point of it? There’s been conversations like this before and there will be conversations like this in the future, but if you don’t personally take the initiative to do something then we are going to have another conversation like this in a couple months.” Golden chimes in saying “If the conversation isn’t easy you aren’t changing anything.”

Now on the topic of resources, a question arose about resources to vent and relay information to. “As far as resources, whether its racial things happening on campus, what is your go to resources on campus whether it’s a person or organization or building, whatever it might be, what are your go to places to potentially vent” Smith asks. Portillo quickly jumps in mentioning the Intercultural Affairs team on campus at Western Carolina University. “I have worked with residential living so I definitely would reference residential living as a good reference.” He then speaks about his past experiences working as an RA. Portillo states that he would have students coming up to him about racial issues. “We would definitely get that sorted out and make sure that the person feels safe and welcomed in our environment whether that be in the building or not.” Harris adds his thoughts on the matter by mentioning, “What I’ve been doing recently is CAPS… it’s like when you are sick you go to the doctor. Mental health is just as important.” Henderson chimes in as well adding in her own personal story about joining Project Care on campus where she met her mentor and as she put it her “shoulder to cry on”. McCoy wraps up everyone’s sentiments by saying that “It’s best to have someone you feel comfortable confiding in.”

The final question of the evening was one that seems of the utmost importance to students because of the scope of people it affects, and it pertains to racial training for teachers and staff. Chancellor Brown makes a very impactful statement about the status of training for university staff. “To be quite honest with you there is little in regard to racial training for staff. There is some for faculty when they are new faculty, but it is not continuous.” She continues, “when I walked away, I realized that there was a hole here, we are requiring students to have training but not requiring our faculty and staff to have training.” The search is currently on for inclusivity and racial training in other universities in the UNC system. Chancellor Brown describes the issues as one that is currently being worked out with a hopeful resolution date as soon as next year.

Access to the full meeting can be found at the WCU SGA Facebook page.