IUPUI Hosts Town Hall Meeting on Safety and Discrimination

IUPUI held a town hall meeting about student and staff safety in regards to the 2016 presidential election took place at the campus center on November 17th of this year. It included open dialog discussion and allowed attendees to ask questions. Hosts Steve Halay and Felicia Lewis brought a microphone around for the attendees to ask questions. “This will allow everyone to make a comment or ask a question.” Steve said.

Chancellor Nasser Paydar opened the meeting with a reassuring speech, he explained that foreign students and immigrant students are currently IUPUI’s “number one priority”. One of the first statements was by a foreign student from IUPUI, she referred to herself as Ahmud.

“Chancellor, I appreciate your kind words, but as an undocumented immigrant your kind words will not help me stay safe.” She said.

“It’s time for IUPUI administrators and staff to start not only “talking the talk” but actually “walking the walk and actually speak louder than words.” Ahmud also addressed some concern about administrators at IUPUI. “Earlier this semester we had a few administrators put on a Hillary and a Trump mask as if it was funny. As if the comments that were said were funny.”

Ahmud also had concerns about keeping students safe by using sanctuary campuses. “I guess my question to you is: when can we expect an answer about sanctuary cities?”

A sanctuary city is a place that protects undocumented immigrants and gives them a safe place to live without fear, the same goes for campuses.

“Not only in cities, but on campuses, what steps do you have planned to help us succeed?”

Chancellor Paydar responded, “Thank you very much for that question. Yes, we had a large number of students that came to the chancellor’s office yesterday that presented me with a very thoughtful petition. I have read it, I’m looking at it.”

The Chancellor also reassured Ahmud of her and other immigrant students’ status on campus. “I told them that the safety of our students, the education of our students of any students, and I repeat again what I just said: regardless of the immigration status, they are our priority number one.”

Chancellor Paydar included an answer as to what IUPUI is doing in regards to sanctuary campuses. “We make sure that we work very hard to answer questions and protect students. If there are issues you need to talk to us about in regards to a sanctuary campus, that’s something that we are talking about and looking into.” He also said that there are some obstacles in obtaining this goal. “There are some legal questions that you can imagine are in our way and we will provide an answer as soon as we can.”

The next question was offered by a faculty member by the name of Megan Mascaw who works in the School of Engineering and technology at IUPUI. She had a concern about her students exercising their First Amendment rights due to the post-election results. “I really want to make sure that I am allowing my students to use their first amendment rights. Whether I agree with them or not.”

Mascaw explains that she wants to balance her student’s freedom to exercise their amendment rights in her classroom while providing her own safe place for her students to work. “I have students who feel frightened by Mr. Trump’s policies and by some of his supporters. So, what do I do as a teacher?”

Chancellor answered her question, “I think, we live in a country where we respect everyone. We protect the rights of everyone to say whatever they want to say as long as it’s not offensive to another group.”

Chancellor went on to say that the campus itself allows self-expression. “We tolerate anyone who wants to protest on our campus. Westboro Baptist Church came here, needless to say I don’t share their values, but we allowed them to talk here.” “We do allow people to talk even if it’s difficult as long as it doesn’t cross that line and does not create issues for other groups.”

The Chancellor says that people should feel comfortable protesting on campus. “We protect their rights for whatever they want to express as long as they are not offensive and divisive on campus and creating issues for others.”

A resource representative named Dennis Rudnick, an associate director for the Multicultural Center at IUPUI, stepped up to the mic to share his opinions on students exercising their first amendment rights.

“There’s another piece in the bill of rights that states the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. So, if you do have some students that are hearing of the constitution and they are afraid their moral and political stances on the constitution alone, you have that material and that language at your disposal where you can put it back on them and then ask them: Who deserves the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”

In addition, Rudnick offered advice on how Mascaw can keep her classroom a “safe place”.

“Even if those students do not agree with you, even if they resist, you are also sending a message to other folks who are being marginalized; that are being oppressed; that are being told “go back where you come from”; that are all being told “take off your hijab”; That they matter too. That they can feel safe and that they can feel supported.”

After Rudnick, Angela Adams spoke. She is from the General Counsel’s Office at IUPUI.

“I think it’s very important now more than ever, that we create safe spaces for dialog to continue. Because if anything good comes out of this election it’s that we can understand one another better and that we can actually share our thoughts in a very civil and in a very obedient and respectful dialog.”

Adams said, “As educators and lawyers, we are tasked with creating those spaces for people to have that dialog and that’s why we’re here today. “

“First Amendment rights are very, very, important as well as other constitutional rights. We have many constitutional protections and those should not be ignored.”

Adams said that understanding one another is key.

“We have to understand that there’s good in people, but how do we find that? It’s not by closing yourself in a room and talking to everyone that believes in the same thing that you believe. It’s by talking to each other and getting to know one another and telling your stories and helping people to understand you on both sides.”

Another question rose from a student, Danielle Neil.

“I think that the Westboro Baptist church doesn’t have a “love” message. When do we cross the line of offensive speech?”

The Chancellor answered, “What is not a fundamental right is to harass, to hurt, or put someone else in danger, to make someone feel that they are discriminated against, that they’re being the victim of some kind of a hate crime.”

“I should also say that on an almost daily basis, somewhere on campus somebody writes something, draws something, that is offensive.” He continued. “…we don’t want to create a hostile environment for our students.”

He then gave advice on how to deal with hate crime. “I think it’s very important I know it’s a hard question of when that line is crossed, but I think it’s very important to let someone know. We have a wonderful campus police department and they are willing they are friendly and personable and they are there to protect you they’re there to help you.”

Chancellor Paydar explained in the meeting that all students and staff should be asking police and faculty if they are unsure if something is criminal in nature or a criminal act.

“Ask us! Ask them! They will talk to you they will protect you regardless of any of those-you know-orientation, gender, race, immigration status, they’re here to protect you. So, please if you feel you have been discriminated against or harassed or the victim of a crime, please address that.”

Two Officers, including one of the officers who only gave his first name, Phil, were at the meeting and explained that students should call them, trust their instincts, and visit their website if they see anything suspicious on campus.

“Our number one goal is your safety. For you to be successful you need to be in a safe environment and that’s our job. When you see something call us. We’re there to help you, so please call us. if you have any questions please e-mail and ask one of us, but use it as a resource. Call us if you see something.”

Kim Kirkland, the director of the Office of Equal opportunity agreed with the chancellor that students need to be reporting incidents.

“When you talk about holding the university accountable for the behaviors, incidents happening, a lot of that is occurring under the cloak of darkness, anonymously we don’t know who. But if you know, you see something, you hear something, you should report it. And if you report it, my office is responsible for monitoring compliance with the anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy.”

Kim stated that in collaborate with the Office of Student affairs, who has jurisdiction on the student code of conduct, the office of equal opportunity can hold people accountable. Kim also offered services through The Office of Equal opportunity for students.

“We’ve got 4 years of administration that we may not be in favor of, but we gotta get on the other side of it. Ignoring it is not a strategy. We gotta keep engaging, stay connected, protest. When you don’t agree with something, say something. Be an activist, sitting silent is not a strategy. If you say something, you hear something, you see something, you know something, get on our website, or come see us. That’s where we are.”

The university is going to create a webpage on their welcoming website for students who did not attend the meeting. There will be resources to offices and other sources for students to use at their disposal.