Kelvin Whitehurst ~ Copy Desk Chief

A gathering that began as a discussion about the safety of students on the Lynchburg College campus turned into a conversation about an issue much larger than the school.

Race became the focus of discussion at an open forum called “Take Back Our Neighborhood,” hosted by the LC Student Government Association Board (SGA) on Sept. 21.  The event was organized in response to a fight that occurred on the night of Saturday, Sept. 13.

During the forum, representatives sat on a stand above students and spoke about the night of the event. Attendees willfully sat in very selective groups—fraternities, sororities, associations and those who sat by themselves—all with their own interests to contribute to the conversation. If anyone had questions, they had the chance to submit them on notecards to designated SGA representatives, who would then ask the questions submitted to the appropriate representatives.

Both Metro Supervisor Dean Caifano and Vice President and Dean of Students Hayward Guenard explained the incident that happened the night of Sept. 13. Caifano explained the facts of the night of the fight itself for the clarification of students to dispel any rumors going around, while Guenard explained the faults of that night and how the college can work to never have the problems that occurred happen again. Guenard explained that possible derogatory language was used during the night of the fight.

“You don’t ever want to say you’re glad that something happened, but I’m glad that forum was there because it brought to light other issues that are more pressing things for us to be dealing with,” said B.J. Keefer, director of students. “It’s not discounting what happened, but it provided an opportunity for students who felt they weren’t being heard to get heard.”

After explanations on the staff’s part, the event turned into an open discussion. Many questions were asked concerning the general safety of students. As the questions progressed, they became more hard-hitting and arrived on the topic of people of color feeling unsafe on the college campus, as well as the disconnect between students and faculty.

A question that was submitted anonymously from the audience and presented by Drew Vogel, LC’s student body president, began the topic of race and social justice on campus: “Why is it that similar and frequent questions in regards to racism—which do exist on Lynchburg College campus—remain ignored or disregarded?” As some began to leave, President Dr. Kenneth Garren and the representatives took to answering the question in a general manner, which lead to a disconnect.

“We kind of went in with one view of campus safety, and then when a couple of race issues got brought up and the fact that a lot of our own students don’t feel safe around some of our other students, that’s a completely separate safety issue that I just don’t think any of us were expecting,” Vogel stated.

“They were trying to focus on campus safety and security and that kind of problem. When somebody brought up the idea that if the students don’t feel safe because of race and discrimination, that is a campus safety issue, and if you don’t address it as such, then we lose respect for you. We leave…” stressed junior Jerica Simmons, a member in the audience that night. She continued, “So you have to take care of the people in your house before you take someone in.”

As questions became more loaded, the forum reached its ending time at 7:30 p.m. with many unanswered or unspoken questions. Both staff and students who attended the conversation had mixed feelings of how the panel was held that night. Between the misunderstandings and cutoffs, this led to a disconnect between some students and faculty, which lead to the decision to have the next forum.

The next open forum will be held Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. in the Ballroom of Hall Campus Center. The event as described in an email sent out by President Garren stated, “This is an opportunity for President Garren and his cabinet of vice presidents and deans to hear student’s stories of their experiences at Lynchburg College.” Groups that also will be included in the conversation are: The Black Student Organization, the Residential Student Organization, the Student Activities Board and the Student Government Association.

“It is a discussion where everybody is there to listen, everybody is there to know that this is happening, so you need to get all the stories laid out flat so you know what to do, what’s next,” said sophomore Sykethia “Keke” Findley.

The open forum in emails sent out to faculty and staff stated that, “conversation is critically important to the future of student life on campus and we hope to see everyone in the Ballroom, regardless of whether you live on Southside or not.” Conversation is encouraged on the campus, so that LC can progress.