The staff-focused portion of the teach-in was held in the morning from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Staff participated in an “Agree – Disagree” exercise, in which the 60-some Physical Plant, Student Affairs and other staff members all stood and moved to either the “agree” or “disagree” side after being prompted with statements such as “I believe that New College embraces diversity.” The majority agreed.
After, the participants broke into smaller groups, in which they debriefed the activity and voiced their community concerns on the subject of discrimination. Facilitators of the break-out groups were students, faculty and staff trained by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC.)
“It happened to span the time that our whole department was [on campus],” administrative coordinator of Physical Plant Kathryn Stoltzfus said. “Our leadership really supported it – everyone really joined in and supported it.
“I don’t think that the need was as great within our department … our department has a lot of respect for one another – it’s a very team oriented environment,” Stolzfus noted optimistically. “I was presently surprised how well everyone got involved … I feel like everyone was really honest, people really shared.”
“I was here because it was required of all the staff, I think it was a good thing, personally,” supervisor of grounds staff Gary Stears told the Catalyst. “On my side I personally think that the staff doesn’t discriminate against each other … I think it’s mostly students.
“[The students] are doing the right thing in getting the community to know what’s going on,” Stears said, referring to the teach-in.
While discrimination may not often occur among staff, it still affects many. Stears says he does not let “ignorance” affect him day-to-day. “I come to work, I go around with a smile because that’s my day,” he said. “If I see students, faculty or other staff, I say ‘Good morning.’” Stears noted that while many reply politely, “a lot of times I find that students don’t reply.
“Like the other day, I was [using the blower] on the overpass when students walked by,” Stears elaborated. “I stopped blowing, to show them respect. A few look you in the eye, say thank you … others would rather look at the concrete than at you – those are the folks that don’t appreciate you [as maintenance staff], or they might be uncomfortable to see me as a black man.”
“Last year, there was one girl who closed her eyes when she passed us, but we just giggled,” custodial staff member Ann Henley said.
“It’s a good thing everyone’s not like that,” John Thomas, also of Physical Plant, added.
“There’s a few students I talk to personally, but we wouldn’t normally get to talk about that topic though,” Stears said.
“I liked the event,” Thomas noted. “It was a chance to get together. That’s something we don’t usually do.”