In the wake of controversial emails, the desecration of prayer space and other racially charged incidents, the Residential College held an open forum in the Keene Theater Wednesday night to debrief the campus climate. During this session, RC students, faculty and staff were all encouraged to express their thoughts on these recent events, and offer support to fellow Wolverines.
The community forum was run by members of the Residential College, an interdisciplinary liberal arts living community within LSA. Though few students were there, multiple faculty and staff members were present at the event. Administrators such as Jon Wells, the director of the RC, and Charlie Murphy, the director of academic services for the RC, sponsored the event.
The event was broken up into three sections that included reflections and small and large group discussions. People were invited to come and go as they pleased to encourage an open environment. The discussions emphasized finding ways to challenge the racism and xenophobia present on campus, and how the RC could support marginalized students.
Wells reflected on the current presidential administration, saying its goals stand in stark contrast to those of the University of Michigan.
“I think, like the nation as a whole, the campus is very divided,” Wells said. “I think in some ways this current president is antithetical to everything that many of us conceive us as important in a university — open, promoting certain kinds of social and economic reform — and many of us feel that this current admin is really opposite of what many of us believe is important.”
He also commented on the rising tensions that are present as a result of the election.
“There is this sort of tension that exists on campus,” Wells said. “There are people who, if they’re Trump supporters, they feel marginalized by the sort of progressive ethos on campus, but on the other hand, we have students of color or of different sexual preference. We don’t want to equate the fact that you voted for Trump or you feel unwelcome on campus with the legacy of racism and sexism on campus.”
Katie Slajus, a freshman in the Residential College, also expressed her opinion on problems the community faces.
“Racism and general discrimination (are issues),” Slajus said. “I don’t really think the diversity, equity and inclusion is actually working.”
The forum began with casual invitation for audience members to write down on posters their thoughts about topics like racism on campus, self-care and supporting marginalized students in the RC. After the posters, everyone was invited to select an issue to discuss further in small groups. After the small group meetings, everyone reconvened for a larger discussion.
Camilla Lizundia, also a freshman Residential College student, hoped the forum would foster more relationships in the future.
“I hope to gain more insight to how we, as a community, can better improve the relationships between other people in the RC, and how that can correlate to the rest of the campus as well,” Lizundia said.
The RC faces a distinct set of challenges because of the small community; disagreements they may have with peers in class can translate over into residential life. In addition, the slight disconnect between faculty and students make it difficult for teachers to understand how their students are doing — especially during a tense time on campus.
Though many issues were brought up, students and faculty came together to come up with solutions for the future.
“In the future, I would like to see the RC be a more inclusive community,” Lizundia said.
Slajus similarly discussed how she hoped to see more open dialogue in the RC.
“Always having a safe space to discuss things, and continuing to discuss everything that happens as soon as it happens, and actively working to voice our opinions on a larger scale,” she said.
For the future, the RC wants to continue developing relationships between students and faculty, and creating safe spaces for marginalized students to express their opinions.
“Being a living-learning community, we have not just the curriculum and classes to worry about, but the fact that the students live here in EQ makes it particularly noticeable when we have divisions, and I think the more we can promote events like this, I think we can ease the tensions,” Wells said.