Open forum held to address bias-related incidents, tuition rise

Samantha Weiss February 27, 2013 0

Student Senate held a Town Hall meeting last Thursday, Feb. 21 to discuss the bias-related incidents on campus as well as the tuition raise for the next school year.
“By a show of hands, have you ever experienced an act of hate toward you or someone else, either here or off-campus?”
Hands shot up around the room. Nearly every person in attendance admitted to having witnessed or personally experienced an act of hate.
“And this is why we are all here.”
The bias-related incidents on campus were one of the topics addressed at the Town Hall meeting. Dr. Rita Shah called the group present “the most diverse group of people on all the campus together in one room.” Students, faculty and staff agreed that the incident did not only affect those involved, but the College as a whole.
Elizabethtown College, feeling that the attacks needed to be handled promptly and severely, called a Town Hall meeting. President Carl Strikwerda addressed the room about the College’s zero-tolerance policy for hate crimes, before opening the floor to questions.
“For us to learn and teach each other how to make society thrive, we need respect for everyone, including those who have social differences. We need an openness, recognition and an embrace of diversity,” Strikwerda said.
Strikwerda and knowledgeable faculty and staff answered questions that were raised to the best of their ability. Professors and students offered questions about hate crimes, the specific incident and what to do in the occurrence of a hate crime.
Etown defines a hate crime as any threat of personal safety or property based on “social differences,” such as ethnicity or sexual orientation. An investigation will take place, trying to find the person responsible. All threats are to be handled promptly and fully investigated. As in the incident in Schlosser Residence Hall, the person responsible has not been identified, but it is still under investigation.
“These kinds of expressions, especially those that have a connotation of violence, will not be tolerated,” Strikwerda said.
In the case of a hate crime, students, faculty or staff are encouraged to call Campus Security at 717-361-1111 in the case of an emergency or 717-361-1264 to make a report. A phone call is not the only way to report and remaining anonymous is permissible in all cases. Emails and report forms, located on the Campus Security webpage, are additional ways to report an incident. It was advised that students err on the side of caution and report an incident if there is any concern for safety or wellbeing.
Information about services on campus that can help one in this situation was also shared. Student Wellness offers counseling and support for anyone affected by these acts. Someone from the department is on call 24/7, so there is never a time that the office is truly closed to students seeking help. RAs, area coordinators and professors also made clear that they are available in all situations for moral and practical support.
Suggestions to prevent these crimes and to help those who have experienced them were also offered to the faculty present at the meeting. They ranged from offering the reporting form on the front page of the College’s website for easier access to making the punishment policy clearer. Possible punishments for anyone found responsible were also discussed. The punishment process always involves a learning aspect, according to Dean of Students Marianne Calenda. Along with the classes or literature that will be required and depending upon the severity of the crime, the punishment could be suspension, community service or separation from the institution.
Programming to encourage community building and rehabilitation has been organized in Schlosser. Other programs will be created for other buildings, but the immediate concern was for the residents in Schlosser, who were most directly impacted by the bias-related incident. Stop the Hate will be held Wednesday, Feb. 27 from 5 – 9 p.m. in Schlosser but is open to all Etown students, faculty and staff. Everyone is encouraged to come and write on the wall of hate, a message of hate that you have experienced. At 9 p.m. the program will conclude with Tearing Down the Wall, to symbolize getting rid of hate on campus.
Suggestions and questions are still being entertained about the incidents and the discussion during the Town Hall. They can be directed to Student Senate or directly to the offices involved.
The discussion then moved to questions on the tuition increase for the 2013-2014 school year. The atmosphere of the room shifted as the students questioned the president on the allocation of tuition money and the reason for the increases. The tuition will be raised 4.4 percent to accommodate the campus’ growing population and needs.
Senior class president Sean Post, sophomore class president Seth Previty and junior Stephen Boyhont expressed the main concerns of the general student population. These students voiced worries about where the money is going and how it is prioritized, as well as how the quality of the education is measured to ensure a “fair price.” Others discussed the necessity of the proposed sports, fitness and wellness center and better investments in social activities.
Strikwerda briefly explained the College’s zero-based budget, the allocation process and welcomed the suggestions of students. Questions about the budget may be directed to the business office at anytime. Concerns about the rising tuition and one’s family situation can be managed with one’s personal business office representative. Students were advised to call and make an appointment with the business office if one has questions, concerns or suggestions.
The attendees tossed around the ideas of tuition lock-ins for current students, an explanatory letter that describes the allocation of money (which would be sent to each student) and added fees instead of increased tuition. The faculty in attendance noted each plausible idea and recorded them to be looked into further. Strikwerda said that fees have been avoided in the past but the possibility will still be explored.
The standing-room only meeting addressed two topics of current concern for the College Community, but another Town Hall, with Strikwerda in attendance, to discuss other matters of student life has been discussed for this semester. The date of this meeting has yet to be announced. Senate media forums will be the first to announce the next conversation with the President.

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