Following the recent racially-charged incident at the Charter Oaks Apartments, the University of Connecticut’s President Thomas Katsouleas met with the African American Cultural Center to hear student opinions and discuss the future.
The meeting took place Friday morning and was open to students looking to express their concerns regarding recent events and their thoughts on the future. President Katsouleas desired to hear as many student opinions as he could, so he came into the office hours with only a few things in mind.
“I had really three messages for the students. One was to apologize on my behalf for not reaching out to them sooner when they were in pain, and I regret that, and then to apologize on behalf of the university for some of the experiences that they shared with us on Monday at their march,” Katsouleas said. “Today we looked to work with them to make this the place they expect it to be, and that we share the belief that they have a right to learn in an environment that’s welcoming and respectful.”
Katsouleas said he wanted to hear the opinions of students to see what they believe the best course of action is, but he also intended to let them know that there were already plans in place for the future. In particular, there are plans to increase diversity in the university’s faculty and staff.
“In terms of recruitment, we’re having a strategic planning retreat with the deans, it’s been scheduled for a couple of months now, and one of the few agenda items in that retreat is starting a strategic planning exercise around diversity and inclusion, and I expect the deans will brainstorm and come up with their own priorities,” Katsouleas said.
Additionally, Katsouleas stressed that the university would begin its search for a Chief Diversity Officer in the upcoming months. While he said he would continue to be a leader for the university who would continue to stand up for the student body, Katsouleas explained the importance of having someone who could react to the events on campus more swiftly.
“I told them that I am your Chief Diversity Officer, you can expect of me to stand up and speak for our values as a university periodically, but at the same time, I can’t be the first responder of every incident,” Katsouleas said.
One of the chief criticisms of Katsouleas’ recent actions was that he did not react quickly enough to meet the needs of the student body, a feeling that has not disappeared. Despite this, Olasubomi Ajayi, a fifth-semester allied health sciences major, is happy with the steps he is taking.
“As a person of color, I did feel that there was a lack of an urgent response to this incident because it was a very racially-charged incident, so I feel that he definitely could have done more … but I do think that he’s really making that effort to reach out with these office hours and other things he’s doing,” Ajayi said.
Ajayi said that she is overall happy with the progress being made, but there is still work to be done. In particular, Ajayi feels that students of all backgrounds must get involved in improving UConn.
“For me, I feel like a burden has been placed on the students of color to really talk about this,” Ajayi said. “We’ve really taken initiative to start the March Against Racism, create that list of demands and different things like that, but it shouldn’t be just the students of color that are trying to do this, other students should be advocates and allies for us.”
Cyncere Preston, a fifth-semester psychology major, held a similar opinion. Preston said all UConn students have a responsibility on campus to stand with each other against events like those that took place.
“I think it’s important that everyone get involved because we are all a part of UConn and we are UConn students, faculty, staff,” Preston said. “So, if only one part of UConn is getting in part of the conversation, then it kind of lowers the significance because we are all in this together, whether we want to be or not, what affects one affects all.”
President Katsouleas plans to meet with the other cultural centers in the future to discuss the university’s push for diversity.
Thomas Alvarez is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.