Editor’s note: Story may be offensive to some readers.
On March 1 at 6:45 p.m., the president of Shenandoah University, Tracy Fitzsimmons, sent an email with the header: “THIS IS NOT OKAY.”
Many SU students were shocked to receive an email from Fitzsimmons and even more surprised to read that there would be a “campus conversation” that same night at 9 p.m. over an apparent “offensive, written, racial slur.”
In the email, Fitzsimmons expressed that “Shenandoah University’s mission statement holds global citizenship as a central tenet. Global citizenship starts at home. Home is a place where we celebrate differences and support each other.”
Following that, she stated there had been incidents of blatant racism on campus and that they would not be tolerated. To ease the student bodies minds, she listed the procedure that had taken place in response to the incident.
The discussion attendance was so staggering that there was only enough room to stand. Deans and other high administrative officers were present. Attendees met in the lobby of this building in order to talk about a solution to the environment on campus.
The dialogue lasted roughly two hours, and the topics ranged from personal stories of racism to proposed solutions on campus. After asking a student to open the meeting with a short prayer, Fitzsimmons started the conversation by posing a question: “Why did you all come here tonight?”
The discussion quickly changed from a faculty-led lecture to a student-led conversation. With a small amount of mediation from the Dean of Byrd School of Business, Miles Davis, responses began to pour out that ranged from “I just want to know what happened,” to “I was the victim of racism on campus and I want to change the environment here.” It was clear that among the attendees there were many strong opinions. However, through the disagreement, there was a positive, open, energy that allowed everyone a chance to share their beliefs and feelings.
In response to the “I just want to know what happened question,” two different situations were addressed: First was an incident in Parker Hall that happened on Sunday night in which the message “Kill all n—–s” was written on a white board.
Later that night students walking past the building reported hearing similar slurs being yelled down from a window.
The second situation addressed was the protesting that happened in Downtown Winchester and on campus this week. Attendees were informed by an employee of the Winchester Police Department that the situation was being heavily investigated by the state police and that all law officials involved were working to promote peaceful protests and ensure that everyone knew the truth as soon as they did.
These answers launched the room into a discussion on race, police brutality, the symbolism of the confederate flag, and how these topics affect SU students. Through the discussion, the participants agreed that the primary way to reach a solution was through increased education and training in empathy.
About an hour and a half into the session a participant asked, “What now?” The participant implored the administration to take action in fixing the problem. The crowd was left with the message that to affect change they must live in a way that embodies it.
One participant finished the discussion with a call to action by saying, “This conversation does not end here; the only way to solve these issues is for us to continue talking about them. Keep having these conversations.”