Division of Student Affairs continues their open forums with White/Caucasian students, meeting consisted of deafening silence

This was the third session aimed at tackling the issues in the country and at FAU.


Illustration by Michelle Rodriguez.

Zachary Weinberger, Editor-in-Chief

FAU’s Division of Student Affairs continued their sessions Wednesday to talk to White/Caucasian students about their observations, opinions and concerns regarding the current climate in the country and how that applies to the university.


In regards to the original email sent out by Owl Central, the point of these talks were “to provide an open and safe environment for candid feedback that is directly related to the race/ethnicity from which they identify.”


They’ve held three sessions so far, including this one, where they talked to Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx students the two days prior. 


The same panelists from the past sessions were present as it was hosted by Interim VP for Student Affairs Dr. Larry Faerman. He was joined by Interim Dean of Students Audrey Pusey and Associate VP of Student Outreach & Diversity Dr. Andrea Guzman Oliver, and hosted by Director for Administration in the Office of the Vice President, Matthew Hinds. 


Faerman started off by stating what one of his main hopes was to get out of the discussions by students and faculty.


“Our hope is to gather information today,” Faerman said. “So in many instances, we may not have answers to the questions that are raised, and we are hoping to spend the majority of our time hearing students’ voices. We are seeking many voices from the many lived experiences here at FAU. And to that end, we want to be mindful of not discounting others’ experiences as they surface.”


While the session’s size was at 51 people, the most participants in these separated talks so far, a good portion of the questions were met with silence. At one point, there was four minutes of quietness which included Faerman asking the prompted questions. 


The meeting had to end 15 minutes early.


While the point of the talk was aimed towards people that were White/Caucasian, most of the students who spoke up identified themselves as Black/African-American. 


The only people who identified as White/Caucasian and turned their cameras on to speak were University Press’ Web Editor Marcy Wilder and Gail Choate, who is an Adjunct Instructor at the Department of Political Science and a student of the Ph.D. programs in Comparative Studies. 


Choate mentioned how even though FAU is a very diverse school and that we should be proud of that, there is still some hesitation when it comes to the faculty.


“My concerns at this point would be that we hear a lot about the diversity of the student body and that FAU has one of the most diverse student bodies within the state of Florida, which is phenomenal,” Choate said. “But, I’m concerned that we don’t have equal diversity within the faculty, and as a result of that, I think it sometimes suppresses people. It makes it difficult for us to have conversations in the classroom about diversity, race, religion, gender and about a lot of different issues.”


To Oliver, while she wanted more students of White/Caucasian descent to speak, silence in some ways does speak volumes. 


“I expected more students to share their experiences as White/Caucasian students at a majority-minority institution [and] since it was a virtual platform, I don’t have a sense of how many students on the call identified as White/Caucasian,” Oliver said. “Whatever the case may be, in my opinion, the silence is still input. It provides some level of insight. It tells me that in order to engage this particular population, we have to do something different.”


One of the Black students who made their voice heard at the session, Rhoda Hoods, who’s an orientation leader at FAU, stated how forums like these are important. 


“And I feel honestly that forums like these, is where students should be in,” Hoods said. “I know this is something that’s voluntary for students to come in, but to fully even push that out the students should have the mindset for themselves to even be in this type of space, especially if it was aimed at that race or that culture.”


In response to that, Interim Dean of Students Audrey Pusey says that the deafening quiet with the students in the forum does say a lot about the environment people are in. 


“But I think even with the students not showing, it tells us as an administration where we need to start,” Pusey said. “But I think the lack of comfortability that I’m feeling in this forum, it’s certainly a push out place, so that’s why I’m writing [in] my notes, how do we come to that place where there’s a level of comfortability?”


A lot of the students who participated in the open discussion all agreed that when talking about sensitive issues like racism and discrimination, the conversation on these topics is never comfortable. 


This brought in David Bynes, Assistant Director at the Office for Diversity Education and Training at FAU, where he offered some insight into the discussion. 


“When you land in what we call a privileged or dominant group, you don’t have to think about this, this is not a part of your lifestyle,” Bynes said. “It doesn’t remove you from the fact, it doesn’t remove you from what your ancestors did, and you going back and picking up the historical record of what has happened throughout history.”


Bynes stressed that the public needs to push forward and that he’s working right now to make a White ally group at FAU. 


“We are still in the very beginning phases in terms of cultivating what that would be,” Bynes said. “But right now, it will be a discussion, probably a bi-weekly discussion group with some resources, and definitely this piece about how to have these hard conversations around race, ethnicity, and progress and intersectionalities, because the other piece of this is that it’s very complex.”


During the whole session, Oliver mentioned the idea to the other panelists of an “action plan” on how the university can tackle these subjects that students and faculty were mentioning throughout the last couple of days.


“During each session, I write down key points that students make, both positives and negatives. And once we conclude the forums, the Division of Student Affairs’ leadership team will meet to develop a strategy that contains immediate actions we can take to enhance inclusion and equity on campus and a timeline for initiatives that may take longer,” Oliver said. “This information will be compiled and presented to the executive leadership team for review and consideration.”


For more coverage on future open forums by the Division of Student Affairs, it can be found at the University Press


Zachary Weinberger is the Editor-in-Chief of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @ZachWeinberger.