University reacts to dialogue issues

President James Votruba has taken the first move toward change after the 9th annual Dialogue Against Racism. He has agreed to arrange a January meeting with representatives from Students Together Against Racism, the main sponsor of the dialogue.

“We’ve made some really great progress in a lot of these areas, but there is always more to improve,” Votruba said.

He said he is pleased that students have taken an interest in the topics outlined in the dialogue and has agreed to work with students on the most important issues.

Since the dialogue, administrators have addressed many of the issues and concerns that were stated during the event.

Provost Gail Wells addressed several academic issues such as strengthening interdisciplinary courses and American Pluralism at Northern Kentucky University.

With the content of interdisciplinary classes offered, Mike Volmar of Common Ground stated at the dialogue that race and gender courses need to include homosexual topics. “Courses need to address gay and lesbian issues in the Latino and African American community,” he said.

In response to this, Wells said that courses do need to be constantly reviewed to ensure effectiveness. Wells said she would discuss the idea of racial and homosexual sensitivity classes for professors who teach race and gender courses.

“We would certainly be open to addressing (students’ concerns),” Wells said.

One concern that John Stone, senior history major, voiced not only during the dialogue, but also after, is that the university strives towards relevant African studies courses and eventually a major in the subject.

“I want to see subjects covered with joint appointments so we can have a major that can help people, not just put money in people’s pockets,” Stone said.

Stone, who is also the founding president of the African American Studies Club, said he is also concerned about conservative influences in courses taught in the political science department.

“I’m advocating for a major that teaches students what communities have to deal with,” Stone said.

Akosua Favors, president of STAR, also advocated for a stronger African studies program and major.

“It has been an issue for many years,” Favors said.

Favors also brought the issue of American Pluralism, the incorporation of diversity into society, to the minds of the audience during and after the dialogue. She suggested that students have voting on the pluralism committee, not just input in discussion.

In a release by STAR, Favors said that “the campus community (needs to look) into pluralizing this campus before implementing any courses that address American Pluralism to prevent creating a course that is Eurocentric and excludes other nationalities that contribute greatly to American Pluralism.”

The responsibility for curriculum is in the hands of faculty members, she said, and students are invited to give input into the issue of how to develop a course in pluralism.

“But faculty has to make the decisions,” Wells said. “There are rarely votes in committees like that. They keep working on an issue until they have a proposal.”

Low administrative attendance of the dialogue was also an issue stated by Favors.

“It’s a big deal because the only way we can improve is if everyone is on the same page,” she said.

Votruba, Wells and Dean of Students Kent Kelso all responded to this issue by stating invitations to the event were either non-existent or were not distributed with ample time for administrator’s to fit the dialogue into their schedules.

“No one alerted me that there was a program,” Votruba said. “It wasn’t that administration was not there.”

Votruba said that Kelso, Mark Shanley Ph.D., vice president of student affairs and Dennis Weatherby Ph.D., associate provost for student success, all attended the dialogue.

Wells said that she has been to dialogues in the past and this year “it was our belief that students wanted to meet without the upper administration because we knew that invitations were sent out and we did not receive one.”

“The announcement of the event was mishandled,” Kelso said. “I was frustrated that the announcement came so late. Events such as this need to be structured so that they can have the best attendance.”

Kelso also responded to the issue of university-wide apathy toward international studies.

“To say that this university isn’t doing anything to encourage international retention or recruitment is a false statement,” Kelso said. “The university currently expends a tremendous amount of money on behalf of international students.”

Kelso said that the International Student Affairs office is budgeted $40,000 each year to help in these areas.

Selina Oladapo, president of the Association of African Charities, said after the dialogue, she clarified by stating that she would like the university and its students to collaborate in a general effort to help retain international students through financial and general support.

Other issues stated at the dialogue have been addressed after the fact include accusations against the University Police and NKU’s Journalism Department.

University Police Chief Harold Todd responded to statements of obvious tension between black males and police on campus.

“The police department has done its best to reach out to the African American community at NKU,” Todd said. “I have not had a young minority student come to me in the past and complaining about tension between officers and them.”

Journalism professor Brad Scharlott also addressed accusations student Brandon Hill made at the dialogue.

Hill said, “NKU is training students to uphold racism in journalism classes,” and students should “not allow journalism classes to teach racism.”

Scharlott said that he was “not aware of any instances of racism being taught in a journalism classroom,” and if any student has witnessed racism being demonstrated in a journalism or communications classroom to immediately notify him or NKU Communication Department Chair Gaut Ragsdale.

He cited course evaluations as a resource for students to express concerns such as these, along with meeting with department chairs.

Scharlott said that the journalism ethics course required for the major teaches the exact opposite of what was stated at the dialogue and the ethical approach is taught throughout all journalism courses.

“In absence of evidence, I would have to say I’d be surprised if such a thing has happened,” Scharlott said.

Editor’s note: The official statement by The Northerner has been made through an editorial that may be found on page 4. A statement by Dennis Weatherby has also been made through a letter to the editor, also on page 4.