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Teach-in confronts, deconstructs semester’s bias incidences

Assistant News Editor

Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Updated: Thursday, December 13, 2012 19:12


Katie de Heras/The Miscellany News

Sharon Onga ’13 led a Campus Climate Teach-In last week in Rockefeller Hall to address recent incidents like the VSA MEChA application, racist graffiti and the baseball team’s alleged sexist hazing practices.

This semester, Vassar has experienced what some may describe as an onslaught of hate speech which has manifested itself in the way of graffiti in dorm spaces. However, over the course of the last month, these instances have taken a new form.

Residential Life and Security were allegedly notified last month of an incident involving freshman members of the baseball team knocking on the doors of students’ Town Houses and asking specifically for women’s underwear as part of a baseball initiation.

Much to other students’ concern and confusion, this event still remains unreported to the campus.

Though the administration focused on the campus climate following three hate-based graffiti incidents and responded with the creation of a WordPress blog, displays on the Student Activity Resource Center (SARC) window, and a Community Forum, no administrative programming directly addressing campus climate has taken place since October Break.

On Dec. 8, Sharon Onga ’13 facilitated a Campus Climate Teach-In to respond to the numerous bias incidents that have occurred over the course of this semester, including this one. The Teach-In arose out of a desire to continue discussions about the campus climate that have largely in the second half of the semester.

Entirely student organized, the event informed students about these recent occurrences and prompted collective steps students and student organizations can take in improving the campus climate.

The conversations which took place contributed to the development of a student-written document recommending further action to change the campus climate. Though this statement, which compliments discussions within the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence, is still in the works.

The attendees of the Teach-In felt that administrative omissions overlooked the realities of the campus climate and students cited the numerous unreported bias incidents as proof that the dialogue should continue.

Krystal Cashen ’13 explained, “I feel like the campus climate is in a moment of crisis right now. I think that a lot of things have been brought to the front.”

With the increased administrative scrutiny dying down and what the administration considered noteworthy hate-based events subsiding, student initiatives like this represent the newest wave of responses to the campus climate.

Most notably, students expressed concern over the lack of notification regarding the recent and alleged hazing and gender-targeted episode.

Students questioned how the administration and general student body should approach the issue of raising consciousness when such bias incidents arise.

Some suggested using other methods in addition to those which the administration has previously implemented. In the event of a lack of an official response, other tactics such as emails by the VSA or merely word-of-mouth have the potential to make the student body more aware of the scope and frequency of such events.

Cashen said, “I think that it’s really important that we start to doing things like this, coming together and talking about our experiences, talking about the way things can change, and also talking about the people we can work with to make things change.”

According to one student who was directly affected by the incident, the presence of VSA President Jason Rubin ’13, VP for Academics Matt Harvey ’13, and VP for Student Life Michael Moore ’14 also prompted dialogue on the VSA’s past and future responses to bias incidents. Noting the failure of the VSA to adequately respond to issues of campus climate and identity-based student organizations, the representatives pledged attempts to improve in the coming semester.

Rubin promised that the VSA would further the organization’s knowledge and appreciation of issues of race, sexuality, and gender and advance the discussions on the these topics and the general campus climate.

After attending a conference on race and social issues with other VSA Executive Board members earlier in the semester, Rubin explained the committee is investigating, with the help of Associate Professor of Education Collette Cann, the possibility of bringing a similar program to Vassar in the coming months.

Moreover, in conjunction with the events of All College Day in February, which will deal with issues of race and inclusion, the VSA has invited Tim Wise, an author and anti-racism activist to speak. 

The VSA also hopes to host a smaller meeting with Wise, attended by council members, to educate the group on issues of racism and how to address those prevalent on Vassar’s campus. Finally, Rubin told other attendees that they should consider applying to the new Social Consciousness Fund to bring similar conversations to campus.

Aside from the specific programming student organizations or the VSA could provide, the Teach-In tied the campus climate to personal initiatives for growth and cooperation around the issue. Onga challenged students to analyze and vocalize their own roles in combating the troubling campus climate.

“I have been taking it upon myself to try to personally educate myself a bit more,” Moore said.

He went on to say, “These are not issues I have a huge amount experience in, and I didn’t actually think I would be spending so much time addressing it, even though now that I am, I’m glad…I want to spend a long time improving [VP for Student Life and ALANA Center’s] relationship.” 

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