Last week the Chronicle printed an article, written by a student staff member, whose goal was to provide coverage for the most recent town hall. The student seemed to have missed a significant portion of the event that has gone repeatedly looked over at several key opportunities, even just in the two short years I’ve been here. I am writing this article to provide readers with details about the parts of the event that was not touched upon in the original article.
On Wednesday, March 1st, 2017 the President, Provost, and heads of several other departments on campus came together for a Q & A Town Hall. The President and other administrators were only answering questions during common hour, which was incorrectly reported as four hours in the original Chronicle article. With the hope that they would have the opportunity to voice their concerns, about forty students sat patiently in the audience watching the proceedings. A little more than half of those students were part of some underrepresented group on campus.
Once the questions began, a student was asking for what I believe are luxuries, such as a parking garage to make way for more green space on the north side of campus. The hopes of students quickly fell when listening to the first response given to that question by our president. He said, “you should be proud to be a part of the Hofstra pride,” which the president quickly retracted once he realized that it caused students to apologize for their criticisms of the university. Later, in the same answer, he continued by saying, “[Hofstra should] gentrify the north side of campus;” to gentrify means to “renovate and improve (especially a house or district) so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” I found the use of this word problematic because there are several cases across the nation, many specifically in the five boroughs of New York, of low income families that have lived in urban areas for generations being forced to move to make way for the new “middle class taste” that they cannot afford. This comment was not addressed throughout the rest of the discourse.
Once the President had finished his first response, another administrator explained a 10 year plan to beautify the north side of campus, but by then the damage had been done. The combination of President Rabinowitz’ and another administrator’s answers had eaten up about twelve minutes of the limited time students had been allotted and set the tone for long, thorough answers to be provided for all questions posed. In fact, responses for almost every question from then on were thorough, which is to say that several administrators would spend a long time explaining the specific details of issues such as food prices and dining hours, two identical questions about shuttle availability, and the cost of trips to the city. However, there was a set of questions that went unanswered with almost no acknowledgement at all.
Several students in the crowd had come at the behest of underrepresented groups on campus to show administrators that we are not only present, but that we feel uncomfortable, and in some cases unsafe, on campus. One female student stood up and made it very clear that she does not feel like she is a part of the pride. She described herself as a “black, transfer student,” two labels she felt caused her to have a harder time assimilating to campus life. At the end of her statement, she asked the students in the crowd if they felt the same way she did. Almost every person of color in the room raised their hands. In response, the president gave us homework: “I didn’t know there were students who felt that way…You need to let us know that there is a problem and how we can fix it.”
I found this response surprising for several reasons. First, It was significantly shorter than the previous responses given to every other question posed to the group. Second, it seemed as if he was brushing quickly over the issue that was most pressing in the eyes of every student who had just expressed their marginalized status at this institution. Not only did the students just reveal their concerns directly to the president, but underrepresented students have spoken to several faculty and administrators, including the Provost, on their varying levels of frustration with certain aspects of the university. I wondered why this information does not seem to have made it to the president. Why didn’t he seem to have a plan for how to address these concerns from underrepresented students?
Once I got over the short response that placed the burden of fixing issues and making themselves heard back on the underrepresented students, I raised my hand to present my ideas to assure that students of all backgrounds and religions are acknowledged and welcomed here. I spoke for several minutes offering up my suggestions and solutions to fix issues such as KKK and other White supremacy groups recruiting students from predominately white institutions, like ours, and tracking retention rates of students of color. I pointed out the great progress we have recently made toward a more inclusive campus and presented a plan that I have been mapping out to address issues of racial, religious, and ability discrimination on campus. I included numbers, from the Hofstra website, to support my claims and ended with a plea to the heads of the departments to make this a university wide campaign to incorporate more diversity on campus.
I sat down thinking this was the moment that our voice would be acknowledged; surely now they would give a twelve minute response from several administrators as to ways we could fix the issues I had just identified. Instead I heard, “I didn’t understand that part about the numbers,” from President Rabinowitz. He passed the microphone to the Vice President of Enrollment Management who cited figures I had not intended to refer to. Then Dean Pertuz spoke a bit more about numbers and acknowledged that there is a challenge with diversity and intercultural engagement, in that we have numbers, but need to get more of the community to engage cross-culturally. However, I am already aware she is part of the small group of people on campus working to fix it and she was not necessarily the person I wanted to hear from. I wanted to hear from other administrators so that I can feel reassured that this is an issue that was being acknowledged and addressed.
Nothing more was said on the subject. After the short hour, that only fit about 5-6 questions, a few people approached me to set up meetings and gather more information about my ideas. It wasn’t the response I had hoped for, but it was the one I got. The President, who I had hoped would at least acknowledge the problem, made a beeline for the door. Despite a few hellos and goodbyes I did not hear anything of substance from the President that would indicate he was taking this issue of ignored and underrepresented students seriously.
It solidified the thoughts that many students of color on campus already have; if you want to find a sense of community with other underrepresented students on campus you have to join the NAACP or another cultural groups on campus. If you don’t like the way diversity issues on campus are handled, join the Dean of Students Diversity Advisory Board. Or if there is another issue, reach out to any involved faculty member or down to earth administrator and they will point you in the right direction to get things done. We’ve identified our allies and have been able to work around the people here trying to silence our voices. And if you weren’t convinced of the silencing problem before, consider the fact that I had to write this article in response to the official Chronicle coverage that only told half the story.
This letter was written in response to the article “Students air concerns at Town Hall” originally published by The Hofstra Chronicle on March 6, 2017.