Culture of Inclusivity

Grace Cavanaugh ~ Co-Editor in Chief

     After the events of last semester’s racist “Fiesta,” the student body has demanded action to prevent future shows of cultural misappropriation.

     President Garren said, “I had a meeting with some of the students who had taken part in that walkout on December the 4th. Prior to that time, I had gotten a list of their concerns that had been put together by some of the people that had been in that group. […] I was glad they did, because it gave me a chance to sit back and think about what their concerns were. I did not realize that there were some concerns about different things and not just about a party or an event that had taken place. […] I got up and addressed their concerns, their demands, if you will. And to me, they were all valid concerns and so after I responded to each, I went through each individual one and said, basically, I agree with this. I agree with this.”

      He continued, “I do not think we have done enough at this institution and we have got to do something about it. I talked about a lot of things and that in fact, I saw it as an opportunity to just exchange some information. […] I realized how much of it had to do with things that had happened or things that people had said or done to them and that a lot of it had to do with, ‘How do we get other students to understand what we are feeling?’ and what has happened to us as individuals?’”

     According to President Garren, “I heard a lot of discussion and a lot of ideas were tossed about as to how to get more communication, how to do better jobs. It was all really good, constructive conversation with some ideas. And I just thought it was great, so I went back when I had a cabinet meeting shortly after that […] and talked to my cabinet about what I had heard and what I had said in response. And then when I got to a faculty meeting, […] I went through with the faculty the concerns of the students and said and these were my responses to their concerns.”

     President Garren was adamant that, “We have got to do something about it.”

     President Garren made a good point, saying, “Trust is not something that is given by virtue of someone’s name or one’s position. […] When I first came to Lynchburg College after two years, told people, you know, that in these first two years, I have never asked you to trust me. I say you never ask someone to trust you. What you do is that you have to earn trust and to earn trust. You tell people what you are going to do and then you proceed to do it or not do it. And then people will decide whether or not they can trust you.”

     “I take responsibility for what has happened and what has not happened. […] I said, on behalf of the institution, I apologize for not doing as much as we should have and not doing as much as we could have,” said President Garren.

     President Garren and some other staff members decided to make a committee to prevent any other situations like last semester. “I asked Provost Jablonski and Dr. Aaron Smith to meet me in the office. I started down about an idea of a task force on diversity, equity and inclusion. And they said, well, we have already talked enough to Dr. Canida. He wants to call it a council on cultural appropriation. […] I thought, wait a minute. They are being asked to do more than just cultural appropriation. And so it really needs to be a task force on diversity, equity and inclusion.

     President Garren continued, “We do not really have anything that addresses this topic. Nothing. As I talk to people in the student affairs office, I came to understand that actually, at this point, it has not been a part of the orientation for people to say there could be a problem about misappropriation of culture. You know, there has been no discussion of it. So it is like, well, I think we have got to establish some policies.”

     According to President Garren, “SGA has already started working on some of what they think are appropriate policies that the schools should adopt. That to me is one of the very first things that has to be done is to determine appropriate policies that relate to diversity, equity, inclusion, not just cultural misappropriation. And then once those are the ballot, then there has to be a preparation for orientation materials. I mean, we have we have it on harassment and other important topics. We need something to let people know. Everybody in our community needs to understand where we are on certain issues.”

     In an email from Dr. Canida, a Town Hall meeting was announced to members of the task force. “There will be a Town Hall meeting tentatively scheduled for Friday, January 31, at 10:00 a.m., introducing the Task Force to the campus community.”

     President Garren also wishes to address the concern about staff diversity, saying, “I think it was we had a total of eight faculty members who were Native American or Asian or African-American. You know, that is not diversity. So we started talking and then immediately about what we were going to do about getting more diversity.”

     In an email from Debra Wyland to college and university presidents in the Lynchburg area, she stated, “President Garren invited you and your Academic VP’s to attend a discussion regarding “Increasing the Number of Minority Teachers at the College/University level” next Tuesday, January 28.”

     President Garren continued, “I would like to think of one of the things they need to do is they need to look that group needs to look at what other schools have done in terms of their policies and say if you are expecting the people to behave in a certain way and not do certain things, you need to kind of let them know it and you kind of need to kind of know where the lines are. When it comes to the culture of misappropriation, for example.”

     “The policies that we have, as in what the SGA will be developing for policies of behavior and which, you know, we will expect everyone to be paying attention to. So that is what I expect them to do. I expect them to be talking to each other and saying these are some things we have got to look at. It makes sense to be looking at what other schools have been doing and finding successful or not successful. And then for us to write up policies that we feel are appropriate for us and that we feel are enforceable,” said President Garren. 

     He finished by saying, “I think there are a lot of people who want to feel comfortable here that do not feel comfortable here right now. One of the things I heard was that in the Office of Equity and Inclusion, before we had that particular office, there was not really any place that they really felt like they were at home on this campus. I said we have got to do more in terms of making people feel welcome. We are gonna make it feel more like home. And whatever it takes to do that in the right kind of way is what I want to do.”

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