Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, February 16, 2019

Board of Trustees town hall meeting addresses sexual assault and diversity

Board of Trustees members announced plans to implement sexual assault prevention training during Welcome Week, raise diversity numbers in faculty and address race issues during their spring town hall forum on April 15.

President Neil Kerwin, Chairman of the Board Jeff Sine and Vice Chair of the Board Jack Cassell fielded questions from students, administration, faculty and staff after Kerwin noted various topics he, Sine and Cassell planned to discuss. Issues on fossil fuel divestment, worker’s rights, college affordability, sexual assault and campus construction were a few of the issues hit on during the forum.

Theresa Runstedtler, an associate professor in the History department, kicked off the question and answer round by reading a collective response from eight faculty members describing the lack of diversity and inclusion on AU’s campus.

“We as concerned members as a community stand today to make change on campus,” Runstedtler said, reading a letter.

She also cited racist Yik Yaks as one of the catalysts for needed change. Yik Yak is a smartphone app with a forum for anonymous comments, and some comments posted this semester have prompted discussions of race and privilege among students, The Eagle previously reported.

Runstedtler encouraged administrators and the Board of Trustees to create change by hiring, supporting and retaining diverse faculty.

“We must broaden our flag of excellence,” Runstedtler said.

Kerwin addressed her claims by pointing to a meeting he had on Monday where he and students of color discussed race relations on campus.

Provost Scott Bass said he had championed for more diversity in classrooms, both behind and in front of the lectern. He also said that next year’s faculty will be 44 percent people of color, as opposed to 21 percent this year.

However, Bass also said that hiring people of color won’t immediately fix diversity problems on campus.

“That’s not a sufficient condition to being an inclusive community,” Bass said.

An upcoming 400-member faculty conference and a discussion on race in America are two of the ways Bass said he and faculty are learning how to create an inclusive community.

Students also pressed the board on the University’s handling of sexual assault and harassment.

Chris DeSett, a junior in the School of International Service, asked Kerwin, Sine and Cassell about what is being done when remaining Epsilon Iota affiliates of Epsilon Iota continue to wear their Greek letters. DeSett said these t-shirts with slogans that say “Rush EI” or “EI Wonk” make survivors of sexual assault feel unsafe.

Members of EI came under scrutiny last spring when an alleged email chain between the members that described instances of harassment and misogynistic language leaked, The Eagle previously reported.

DeSett asked what AU planned to do to make sure students felt safe, and Espinosa responded that Public Safety cannot escort individuals wearing EI-coded clothing to the dean’s office, but students can call Public Safety or the Office of Campus Life and they will address the situation.

When DeSett said that his friends who have done just that were told OCL and Public Safety could not do anything about the cases, Espinosa said there were other people students could talk to, directing students to the Dean of Students’ website.

Kerwin noted that the University has a long way to go when it comes to preventing, addressing and educating students about sexual assault.

“We’re not where we need to be, just yet,” Kerwin said.

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