Some were angry, some were hopeful and even more were tired, but all of the approximately 100 students who attended the New College community discussion on safety and respect felt that face-to-face conversations were needed to move toward positive change.
The discussion held on the night of Feb.10 was broken up into three events.
First, students were divided into 15 groups to share personal stories about feeling unsafe at NCF. Residential Advisors (R.A.s), New College Student Alliance (NCSA) members, social justice group members as well as other leaders in the NCF community served as facilitators in the small groups.
Next, the larger group reassembled and the students were invited to publicy speak out about their experiences.
After this, attendees were encouraged to share their thoughts on how to improve the atmosphere on campus.
“[This discussion] is about things in our community that we think need to be changed that make people feel unsafe,” third-year and NCSA president Cassandra Corrado said. “But also things that people do that make us feel safe, so let’s talk about both.”
The discussion grew out of a handful of students meeting to discuss recent student interactions regarding insensitivity, fear and disrespect on campus and the Internet.
“The groups that initially we involved were Students for Pluralism, NCSA, trans* groups, Queery was there,” thesis student and Co-Speaker Blair Sapp said. “Th e next time we made it a much bigger meeting with R.A.’s and everything”
Sapp explained that the group wanted to organize an event much like the teach-in that was held two years ago after a student hung a confederate flag from his dorm.
While a teach-in is still being discussed, students are planning moreevents, workshops and activities to raise awareness of oppression.
“Sometimes when someone throws one event it ends and it’s like, ‘where do you go?’” Sapp said. “What we wanted to do diff erently from [the] last teach-in was instead of having one event we wanted to space it out with a lot of events.”
“Now we are going to be sending out Student List emails just to get everyone who wants to be involved, involved,” third-year Tyler Pratt said. “We will be breaking up into smallergroups to do different events within different clubs to supplement the larger goal of institutional change.”
Pratt said that some possible events are potlucks to discuss current issues on campus and wearing shirts with experiences of discrimination written on them. The aim is to make sure that issues of race, ethnicity, class and other strata of oppression continue to be on the forefront of students’ minds.
Racism, religious intolerance, sexism, ableism, trans* issues, safety and oppression were some of the issues commonly brought up in both the small groups and the larger discussion.
“I think it’s good that this [discussion] is happening,” first-year Lauren Disla said. “I have gotten to say things that people have never taken into account before.”
There were also debates about how individuals and the student body should react in instances where a NCF community member does something or makes a statement that is considered harmful.
The role of the Forum was greatly contested with some students claiming it is a tool for teaching and sharing, while others said that conversations on the Forum, and other forms of social media, lead to the escalation of disagreements and harsh words.
“I feel a lot of us are simultaneously feeling hurt and attacking at the same time,” thesis student Juliana Dearr said.
The exchanges also centered on being cognizant of how individual actions can affect others. The purpose of content warnings and respecting how NCF students wish to be addressed was repeated multiple times by a number of students throughout the event.
“You can stop someone from doing something in just a couple of seconds that can change someone’s whole day, their whole week, their whole month, their life,” second-year Marisa Facey said.
The organizers repeated that they were impressed with the turnout and how willing the students were to share their experiences, but many insisted that this event would not solve all the campus problems brought up in discussions and that conversations need to continue.
“It’s good that everyone showed up,” fi rst-year Allya Yourish said. “But the fact that we had to have an event to talk about how we have been hurt [is] not a high point in our community.”
The community discussion served as a platform for students to share how they feel on campus and what needs to change without the fear of being personally confronted.
“We are not here to accuse people or call out people,” thesis student and Co-President of Voices of Planned Parenthood Lynn Gusman said.
Students presented ideas such as providing more sensitivity training at first-year student orientation, creating a positive climate for asking questions and having community discussions frequently.
“I do think we should have these [meetings] every month,” firstyear Julia de Aragon said. “So problems don’t fester.”
Although there were a lot of positive reactions, some students doubted if events such as the community discussion could make a difference.
“I think it was like putting Neosporin on a wound that needs stitches,” first-year Donovan Brown said. “I think there is a difference between thinking and doing.”
“This is a process and we’re in the thinking stage,” Brown added.
Other students believed this dialogue would lead to more productive conversations and expressed gratitude that so many students were willing to participate in the discussion.
“The fact that you guys are here and sharing your stories and being so brave, I think that’s what sets us apart from a lot of other schools,” second-year and R.A. Destinee Aponte said. “I am really proud to be a member of the New College community for throwing this event.”
“We are human and we all deserve to feel safe and comfortable,” third-year Joey Whitesman said.
Dean of Students Tracy Murry held an “emergency meeting” on Feb. 17th to discuss recent events of incivilty and violence that catalysized from forum disputes to physical acts of violence on campus.
In his email to the student body, he writes, “The choices made over tha last week may have hurt our community more than helped.”