SGA academic town hall tackles diversity, burnout

Former+SGA+Executive+President+Will+Palauskas+at+an+academic+town+hall+in+2018.+

Photo: Beacon Archives

Former SGA Executive President Will Palauskas at an academic town hall in 2018.

By Frankie Rowley, Content Managing Editor

The Student Government Association’s third annual academic town hall Oct. 27 played host to discussions about diversity within several academic departments at the college. 

The town hall, meant to provide a forum for students and faculty to assess the state of their departments, was drastically different from previous town halls, with participants joining over Zoom rather than cramming into an on-campus location. 

Participants were placed into breakout rooms based on their major and department. In the breakout rooms, department chairs, professors, and students discussed topics from a list of pre-written prompts, though students could raise any concerns they had that were not on the list. 

In the Journalism department meeting, Executive Vice President and journalism major Jehan Ayesha-Wirasto raised questions about a recent issue where a journalism professor allegedly “racially segregated” their class. The professor and students involved in the incident were not named. (Several Beacon reporters are in the course in question and did not edit this article.)

Ayesha-Wirasto said that although journalism department officials say they are responding to the issue, she feels select students in the class feel unsafe because they are with classmates they believe feel indifferent towards the issue.  

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Journalism Department Chair Janet Kolodzy declined to divulge the details of the incident but did confirm that the department was taking steps to “resolve the issue.” 

“This is something I’ve been working on for over three weeks,” Kolodzy said. “This is something that because of personnel and legal [reasons], I cannot speak in any way, shape or form about this situation. But I will say that I do believe an effort is underway.” 

Attendees also discussed the department’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion. Kolodzy said the department is taking concrete steps towards improving diversity, including inviting two guest speakers to speak on sexism and racism in journalism and trying to create informal mentorships for students this semester. 

“It’s important for us to cultivate a space that is open and welcoming because it’s going to be difficult,” Dr Azeta Hatef, an assistant professor of journalism who teaches  journalism ethics courses, said. “And that’s what we talked about—difficult dialogue constantly this semester. And so I think it’s important to cultivate those spaces so that students and faculty learn from one another and that we’re able to kind of move through together.” 

Students in the honors program also questioned department officials on diversity, saying the program needs to accept a more diverse selection of students. 

“I hear from a lot of my friends in the Honors Program that it’s like exhausting to be the only student of color in their classroom,” Honors Program Senator HG Warrender said in an interview. 

Honors faculty met their grievances with a pledge that things will change, but Warrender has little hope. 

“[Honors Program Director] Wendy Walters likes to say that it’s a problem with admissions and that she and the honors person who ran the program before her aren’t really responsible for it,” Warrender said.  “But, at some point, you know, that’s just a cop-out. The fact is that most honors classrooms you go to will have mostly white and cisgender people.” 

Students also pressed faculty on academic burnout and the workload associated with the honors program.

“A lot of students have been experiencing burnout because there’s just too much work,” Warrender said. “The faculty aren’t really being conducive to the student’s needs according to what I’ve heard from people in the [honors] program.” 

All departments held individual discussions, however, due to technical limitations, The Beacon only had access to the above mentioned discussions.

Ayesha-Wirasto said she was pleased with the results of the town hall. 

“There were a lot of people who came, especially faculty, which is great because they’re the people we want to talk with,” Ayesha-Wirasto said. “It went really well and that the discussions were really fruitful.”

Creating a united front with the student body when it comes to addressing issues within each department, is paramount to generating change, she said. 

“We have to work together,” Ayesha-Wirasto said.  “All of us at SGA want to advocate for people and amplify their voices because our platform is very legitimate in the eyes of the college.” 

Along with Tuesday’s town hall, SGA plans to host department-specific town halls in the future so students and faculty can continue to have conversations about the state of their curriculums on a more regular basis. 

“Let’s keep creating these opportunities for people to just come together and talk and foster connections,” Ayesha-Wirasto said. “But also feel like we have a space just to hear from each other.”

Managing Editor Domenico Conte and Deputy Express Editor Charlie McKenna did not edit this article due to conflicts of interest.