In the wake of recent racial tension on college campuses across the nation, Hofstra held the #Mizzou Let’s Talk About It dialogue on Nov. 17. The three-hour event, lead by Dean of Students Sofia Pertuz and the Intercultural Engagement and Inclusion (IEI) office allowed students to voice any concerns they had about these issues. The Cultural Center Theatre was completely filled with students, faculty and administrators.
“Tonight’s dialogue is in response to many conversations happening nationally around race and campus environments and climate. As the Dean of Students I want to gain an understanding of student voices and how Hofstra University can respond and best support you in whatever it is that you need,” Pertuz said.
The communities of the University of Missouri, Yale University and Ithaca College have all been dealing with issues of discrimination and intolerance and have been demanding change on an institutional level.
Pertuz said that the administration wanted to offer students a safe space to voice any concerns or share any experiences they had concerning racial relations at Hofstra.
“I think this event was a phenomenal step in the right direction for our students to hear and to understand that the administration cares and doesn’t just care on a peripheral level,” Chad Freeman, assistant director of IEI said. “We care because we want to know what our students are experiencing on this campus and as we talked about tonight, the best way for us to make changes is to hear it directly from the mouths of our students.”
Many areas of concern were raised by students and personal stories were shared.
Naima Shaw, a freshman global studies major, shared an experience where she felt uncomfortable in her own room, having to correct her roommate after she said the N-word multiple times while rapping. Shaw said the situation only got worse from there.
“I went home for the weekend and my suitemates told me that my Black Lives Matter poster was gone. I immediately texted [my roommate] and I said ‘Hey my poster’s gone, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about that would you,’ because she moved out that weekend,” she said.
Shaw said she was hoping that there was something she could do. “If it was money or it was jewelry, then we’d have an actual issue. But in light of all the things that have been happening like racial issues, it means so much more,” she said.
Another concern raised by multiple people was the mandatory summer reading assigned to the class of 2019, “Topdog/Underdog.” The book, which was paired with a performance of the story that students were also mandated to go to, was an extremely controversial choice.
“It was an embarrassment honestly,” said Janae Robinson, a freshman biology major. “It really did make me second guess coming to this school. To come here to a place that always preaches diversity and then for them to play so perfectly into a stereotype was disappointing.”
Dr. Jonathan Lightfoot, associate professor of teacher education, protested the decision to mandate incoming freshmen to read and watch the story. “The decision was reckless, it was irresponsible, it pandered to the worst stereotypes of black life, particularly black men,” Lightfoot said.
Students at the dialogue were also concerned about the lack of training that professors receive in diversity and racial sensitivity.
When a student asked what training the faculty receives in this area, Lightfoot answered, “Zero.”
“A lot of these professors are clueless when it comes to dealing with issues of race, ethnicity, multicultural education, diversity and so forth, they’re clueless. It’s sad. For professors to not have an opportunity to get the kind of methodology training and cultural sensitivity training, it’s unfortunate. And for the university or the institution not to require it, it’s also unfortunate,” Lightfoot said.
After the event, Pertuz said, “I heard loud and clear how our academic programs and our faculty really need to be aware that students are paying attention when it comes to what’s happening inside the classroom and what’s happening with the offerings.”
Also in attendance were administrators from the Office of Residence Life. Director Beth McGuire said that the office is looking for ways to continue this conversation. “What my big focus is on, and what I’m working on with the two assistant directors, is to talk about trending issues. We’re here to discuss. We’re really just trying to get a pulse on where are the conversations happening and do we need to pull those conversations into a more structured environment so we can produce more of a response so that the students do feel heard,” she said.
“Bringing together a diverse group of people and just placing them in the same place isn’t enough, obviously. We need to find ways for students to actually get to know each other and figure out who those people are,” Pertuz said in regards to student concerns that Hofstra is not as diverse as it is made to seem.
Although he was not in attendance, Pertuz said that President Rabinowitz truly wants positive change to come from this dialogue and those to come.
Pertuz said, “President Rabinowitz is very much in support of this event and is very eager to hear what those ideas are.” “There has to be a next time. This can’t be us just crossing it off the list,” McGuire said.