Students, staff, faculty, community members, department directors, professors, administrators and others filled about half of the lecture hall in the Information Technologies Engineering Building at the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus on Monday night for an Open Forum called “What’s On Your Mind.”
The forum was also broadcasted to the five regional campuses at Avery Point, Waterbury, Stamford, Hartford and the Law School, also located in Hartford, allowing them to listen to the discussion and participate. Two American Sign Language (ASL) translators were also present during the event.
Last Thursday, an informative email was sent out to the UConn community on behalf of Eleanor JB Daughtery, associate vice president and dean of students with the Division of Student Affairs and Joelle Murchison, associate vice president and chief diversity officer with the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, inviting students and staff to attend the forum.
“’What’s on Your Mind’ is intended to create a space to bring students together following a summer filled with challenging national events around race, bias and gun violence, to express their thoughts and the impact these events continue to have on our ability to come together as a community,” the email reads. “It is also another opportunity for UConn staff members to listen and participate as they continually work to support all members of the campus community through sometimes challenging issues.”
The forum, facilitated by Joelle Murchison, began with a quick introduction about the purpose of the event, forum etiquette and why it was important to start conversations about issues that affect UConn students.
“We intend for this to be an opportunity and space for student voice,” Murchison said. “This is not a debate, and we certainly want to honor all of the voices that have gathered in the room.”
Murchison gave students priority at the microphone, but also noted the importance of hearing staff, administrator and community member voices as well. Blank notebooks were also set at the edge of tables for anyone to write comments if they did not feel comfortable speaking.
Due to the nature of the conversations and personal stories that were encouraged, Murchison declared that all comments would remain confidential, and thus remain anonymous in this article. Counseling and Mental Health Services were on site during the forum.
When Murchison opened the floor to students, the room was hesitant and silent for a few minutes, until one student took the stand and communicated her concerns about the community’s lack of awareness for its deaf members. She shared her worry that this disconnect could lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications in situations with police, for example, as it has elsewhere in the country.
“I’ve noticed that many in our community don’t have a very comprehensive exposure to the deaf community,” the student signed.
Another student addressed the issue of professors and teachers needing to represent students in a more relatable and diverse fashion.
“It’s important for students to see individuals who look like them to help them to aspire to the roles that they might want to be,” Murchison said. “But also to be able to relate to the experiences of students from a wide variety of backgrounds in the classroom,” Murchison said in response.
UConn has an opportunity to make a difference in this area, and it’s all about creating understanding between students and staff members, Murchison added.
As the forum continued, students brought up issues with common threads. Students commented on the fact that even with policies and protocols in place, they still didn’t feel like they were being heard. Several students shared personal experiences with various services and departments on campus where they felt their issues were not properly taken care of.
Several students commented on how the university can make students and faculty more accountable for the issues that are prevalent on campus.
One student mentioned the rock near Buckley residence halls, which is a public space that is frequently painted by students, whether it be to advertise an event or display a political opinion. The student asked how the university could hold public spaces such as this one accountable.
“Each of us has an accountability to help educate each other, and we can only speak from our own experiences,” Murchison said.
Students also commented on the need for a more welcoming atmosphere for the LGBTQA community and how to reach students who don’t think there are problems at the university. There was a recurring suggestion to integrate education about these topics into mandatory freshman courses.
Students displayed concern for a lack of trust between students and administration/faculty, saying that there needs to be more follow-through and follow-ups, especially in cases of reported incidents such as sexual harassment.
When Murchison asked the crowd about how to go about creating trust between students and administration/faculty, one student, a victim in a domestic abuse case, said to “treat us as humans and not money.”
Other students mentioned issues related to sexual assault and domestic violence, access and availability of community and mental health services, creating a more positive bond with police on campus, a disconnect between the UConn community and its international student population and more.
Some staff members contributed to the conversation, as well as one of two UConn Police officers serving as a Cultural Center police liaisons.
“We are all in this together,” Murchison said. “Now these issues that have been raised are our issues.”
While UConn has many protocols in place, students expressed the need for more to be done. Murchison concluded the forum by stating that the university will follow up on the ideas and themes brought up in the discussion as they finalize programs for this academic year.
Molly Stadnicki is the associate news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.