IUPUI’s administration led a town hall discussion on Thursday.
Students and faculty crowded the Campus Center Theater to share concerns regarding their safety following an incident last week.
On Monday, racist fliers condemning interracial dating were found on IUPUI’s campus. Ethnic and racial hate has increased nationwide since the election including incidents of harassment on college campuses.
Tralicia P. Lewis, interim vice chancellor for Division of Student Affairs, explained why the administration felt the need to host a town hall.
“There’s such a fear and concern. He (Chancellor Paydar) wanted to address that fear and concern,” Lewis said. “To let individuals know that it’s real and that we care and we will do what we can within the law to insure this is a welcoming campus. This entire cabinet feels that same way.”
Although the meeting was led by the administration, the audience facilitated the discussion.
The floor was all theirs. Anyone with their hands raised received a mic, and a panel of representatives from various departments were there to address students’ concerns.
“We had no idea what to expect and I think we were prepared for the worst, yet hoped for the best,” Lewis said.
A teacher in the school of engineering and technology, posed a legal question. She asked how should she balance allowing her students to exercise their first amendment right by supporting Donald Trump (wearing merchandise) while also providing a safe space for students who are threatened by the president-elect.
In response to her question Chancellor Paydar made clear that IUPUI protects the rights of students.
“We protect the rights of everyone, to say what they want to say,” Paydar said. “[Granted] it’s not offensive and divisive on campus and creating issues for others.”
Dennis Rudnick, associate director of the Multicultural Center at IUPUI, also chimed in. He said, when handling students who use their freedom of speech to offend and base their morals and political stances on The Constitution, teachers should ask them this question. Who deserves the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
“You are sending a message to other folks that are being marginalized, that are being oppressed, that are being told ‘go back where you come from’, that are being told take off your hijab, that they matter too,” Rudnick said.
The crowd didn’t hold back.
Amy, a student at IUPUI, referenced the racist fliers and said, “This leads to harassment, then harassment leads to threats, then threats leads to physical violence.”
She stated all of her friends are scared to be taken from their families, have their hijabs ripped off their heads, and places of worship destroyed. Amy even mentioned Haneen. She said open dialogue is great, but she wants this administration to take action. Amy wanted to know what IUPUI was doing to protect its students.
Chancellor Paydar said this, “We cannot declare martial law on this campus, stopping people from walking on this campus. This is an urban university,” he said. “People come here who are not even our students. The best we can do is monitor, educate, talk to our people, have discussion, and tell us who did it so we can prosecute them.”
Not only did students and staff express their fears, but they challenged the cabinet. They wanted answers, but Lewis said, she and Paydar weren’t afraid to tackle hard questions.
“No one else was doing a town hall, because they know these kinds of things are going to happen,” Lewis said. “People are going to expect and demand and be able to question and challenge, but he was not afraid of that, and neither were we.”
A faculty member stood before her colleagues and students to express her disappointment in IUPUI. She was upset that she, among everybody else received notice about the fliers a week later.
“These incidences are less stressful and less damaging when we get ahead of the curve rather than being proactive. We don’t need to be prosecuting people. We need to be creating a culture where those incidents don’t happen,” the faculty member said.
She received applause from the audience for her comments. Even though it was a statement, Chancellor Paydar felt he needed to respond. He seemed defensive, and said he’d been told students don’t use emails. He also said they’re not allowed to use text for daily communication. Looking for a solution, he asked the audience to write suggestions as to how they could improve communication.
“IUPUI is not perfect by any means, but we have created a culture and environment where we’re committed to students success, but also creating a welcoming and safe environment,” Lewis said.
Students can report a hate crime or harassment to the Division of Student Affairs or IUPD at (317)274-7911.