The Minority Students’ Advisory Board had their public forum. But, for some MSAB attendees, it was an empty resolution.
They blamed the administration for employing a format that limited attendees’ ability to voice their reactions as well as for providing unsatisfactory responses.
During the forum, Director of Public Safety Mark Fischer, President Feldman, and Senior Vice President Holly Crawford answered questions regarding the DPS proposal for armed officers on River Campus and at Eastman. Junior Tara Eagan, president of MSAB, and Kit Miller, director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, moderated.
“It was a lot of work […] trying to make sure all of the concerns of students were in the questions,” Eagan said. “To be frank, I am not content with the answers I received during this forum.” She added that the structure was “very silencing.”
Rather than silence, shouts and outrage filled last year’s public forum held by former President Seligman in response to the Jaeger investigation.
Following a presentation of the proposal in this year’s public forum, Fischer, Feldman, and Crawford answered questions written in advance by MSAB. These questions were followed by additional ones from attendees.
Yet, the format restricted attendee responses to questions written on index cards. The moderators were the ones to speak these questions, as opposed to those who wrote them.
The structure of the forum was designed by MSAB as well as Fischer, Feldman, and Crawford. Following the event, Eagan criticized the approach that Fischer and Feldman took to organizing the forum.
“The structure was strongly suggested based on what President Feldman, Chief Fischer, and [VP] Holly Crawford were comfortable with,” she said. “It was supposed to be only 11 pre-written questions and then they go on about their way without any audience input.”
MSAB helped write the 11 questions, but Eagan said they would have preferred a question and answer format, “as if we’re having an actual conversation.”
The final structure included the community-written index cards, but for Eagan, this was not enough.
“We could have had a whole session just be Q&A, but instead of that, we had to sit on our hands like respectful children and listen to all the answers that were given,” Eagan said.
Despite Feldman’s prior concerns, he was pleased by the forum and the respectful behavior of those involved.
“I will acknowledge being skeptical about town hall meetings because sometimes they turn into unhelpful confrontations,” Feldman told Campus Times after the forum. “And I thought this was a good discussion.”
Fischer also thought that the forum was successful, but acknowledged that it may not have met the expectations of some students.
“I think there was a little frustration expressed at the end that they would’ve appreciated more of an open [structure], being able to shout out questions and having interactive follow ups,” he said. “It’s really hard to communicate in situations like that.”
“But it seemed like most people were okay with it,” he added.
However, structure was not the only problem that some attendees had with the forum.
“I am not convinced, I am not happy,” sophomore Ivana Baldie, a member of Douglass Leadership House, told the Campus Times.
During his presentation, Fischer expressed that he had confidence in his officers.
“I know what they feel about this community, I know that they understand this culture,” Fischer said.
Baldie opposed this explanation.
“I think that’s ridiculous,” she said. “We don’t really have a relationship with Public Safety.”
Fischer brought up other issues during the course of the forum. He cited various examples of violence and armed individuals around campus, including a recent shooting-spree that saw two victims treated in Strong Hospital’s ER unit. He also answered questions on the training that DPS officer receive and the data included in the proposal, among others.
Eagan voiced frustration when asked whether she was now okay with the proposal.
“No,” she answered. “I will never be okay.”
Efua Agyare-Kumi, Lumi Schildkraut, and Trevor Whitestone contributed reporting on this piece.
Correction (12/6/2018): The original version of this article included a quote from Baldie indicating she believed DPS was not strongly backing the public forum. In fact, Baldie was referring to the groups that DPS and UR Administration had spoken to about the proposal. The quote has been removed.