A student roundtable discussion of racism at West Chester University was held by the Office of Social Equity last Wednesday in an effort to understand the current climate on campus and evaluate possible strategies for positive change in the future.Richeleen Dashfield, the director of social equity, said that the event was well attended. In fact, the program had anticipated 12 tables for participants and added five tables to accommodate the number of students who attended. The records of the discussion will be collected into a report that will be presented to the Office of the President, which co-sponsored the event.
Skip Hutson, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and co-moderator of the event, said that the problem of racism “begins and ends with dialogue. We need to keep the lines of communication open,” he said.
The program highlighted a student panel, presenting their personal experiences with racism, followed by a roundtable discussion in focus groups. Following the discussion, members from each group presented comments and suggestions for change on campus. Many of the focus groups expressed concern about the prevailing attitudes of students, faculty and staff members toward minorities on campus.
Some groups suggested that a seminar on race relations could be incorporated into the freshman orientation activities for first year students. Other groups proposed that the current course on race relations be mandatory for all students, or that students be given incentives to take classes on diversity such as African-American studies.
Many students at the roundtable discussion said that a similar program should be held monthly to continue an open dialogue on racism to promote awareness and work toward solutions to the current problems on campus.
Students also expressed concern with the faculty and said teachers
should not ask minority students to speak for all minority groups or expect them to educate their peers in the classroom. Instead, many focus groups suggested that faculty should also engage in training to increase sensitivity toward issues of race. Students also said that there should be a concerted effort to diversify the residences on campus.
Another focus group suggested that harsher punishments be enforced for violations of the West Chester University civility statement. Many students said that University President Dr. Madeline Wing Adler, and Vice President Mark Mixner should have attended the event and said a commitment to change starts at the top.
Most students agreed that the best way to combat racism is for individuals to take responsibility for their actions and to hold other students accountable for racist attitudes. They encouraged all students to reach out to the campus community and look for similarities rather than differences among fellow students.
Darla Spence Coffey, a professor in the department of social work and co-moderator for the event, said that the process of “unlearning racism” entails “learning to give up the assumption of privilege.” She said that the event was valuable for the entire University community because dialogue is “the bedrock of all real social change.”
The student roundtable discussion was co-sponsored by the Office of the President, the resident assistants, and the Francis Harvey Green Library, which donated books on racism, leadership and diversity that were distributed as gifts to all student presenters.