Town hall spurs discussion, encourages acceptance
Uniting the different student demographics across campus was only one goal for “The State of Our Union,” a town hall hosted in Livingston Apartment B last night where marginalized students could discuss issues and how they can impact the University community.
It is important for members of the Rutgers student body to think about where and how they fit into the community, said Jannah Handy, assistant director for Intercultural Initiatives in the Office of Student Affairs and the event coordinator.
“This event is an opportunity to get everyone in the same room, which sometimes at Rutgers is hard to do,” she said. “(We can) have conversations about where we want to go and what ... we want to do. What we hope is to ... really highlight the similarities that bring us together.”
Students attending the event would have an opportunity to have a conversation work for them, Handy said. It would be a safe space for those present.
“First and foremost the point of tonight is to look at where we are in the community ... and really talk about what our community is,” she said. “It’s really important to start a dialogue, sometimes we’re not in the same space.”
Introducing themselves with their names, majors, pronouns and superpowers, students began the discussion by setting ground rules, like agreeing to explain topics others were not familiar with and encouraging a polite discussion without deliberately provoking others.
No specific demographic was targeted by the flyer for the event, Handy said. People from any and all walks of life were welcome, particularly those who would contribute to the discussion.
The flyer, which asked, “Is your fight, my fight” and “What is the state of our union,” was aimed toward those students who would be interested by those questions, she said. They line up with the event’s goal of fostering discussion.
“I really hope the folks who attend (the event) will be a representation of Rutgers,” she said. “So I’m not looking for one particular group, but I want folks who look at the flyer and think ‘yes this is resonating with me’ and also people who don’t really know what we’re talking about.”
People who look at the flyer and think fighting for a more accepting community is part of their challenge were part of the targeted audience, Handy said.
It is important to think about what privileges people have, said Keywuan Caulk, assistant director at the Center for Social Justice and LGBT Communities.
“The ‘State of Our Union’ is to get you to start thinking about yourself and to think about certain areas of your life as we reach the broader (aspect of our community),” he said.
During the discussion, various issues that provide one group an advantage over others were mentioned, including tuition fees, funding for different groups and the plan to combine the different cultural centers.
This plan is mentioned in the University Strategic Plan, said Monica Torres, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. University Chancellor Richard L. Edwards reiterated this idea during an event over the summer.
“There’s an idea to take all the multicultural centers and (combine) them, so the idea is to not do that,” she said. “I think that each cultural center has a really rich history behind it, and it’s important that we preserve their individual autonomy.”
At the least, students should be made aware of the reasoning behind combining these different institutions, she said. Other details like whether the new center would only have one director can also be important.
Representation through the centers was important, said Torres, who researches the Native American community at Rutgers and its history.
“I think that’s another huge aspect that’s kind of missing from the University ... acknowledgement of the community,” she said. “In academia (especially), there’s not a lot of courses offered (but) Rutgers once had a (strong) program.”
Torres helped kick off Native American Heritage Month at the University, she said. This marks the first time in school history that this community is recognized, and is possible due to help from both the University itself and the Latino Student Council.
Representation of the different groups at Rutgers is important because they are a part of the school, she said.
“We see representation of the settlers who created Rutgers but not necessarily the Asian students, the black students who made Rutgers what it is today,” Torres said.
There will be four events during the month to help students learn about this community’s history, Handy said.
Other events will continue these discussions, she said. Next semester Student Affairs will hold another town hall to further gauge the community, and the changes from this event.
Ideally, students will continue to broaden the community and accept others from different backgrounds during this time, she said.
“Sometimes we’re made to feel like we have privilege and you should check your privilege,” Caulk said. “But sometimes we can celebrate that ... we can celebrate our privileges and be proud of (them).”