Q&A with President John Kelly and Dr. Andrea Guzman Oliver on campus policing

In the second part of the interview, President Kelly and Dr. Oliver talk about diversity on campus and policing at FAU.

President+John+Kelly+praises+the+school%27s+diversity+and+FAU%27s+police+department.+Photo+by+Max+Jackson

President John Kelly praises the school's diversity and FAU's police department. Photo by Max Jackson

Joseph Acosta, Managing Editor

In the second part of this interview with President John Kelly and Associate Vice President of Outreach and Diversity Dr. Andrea Guzman Oliver, questions about diversity on campus were discussed along with policing at FAU.

The first installment of this series can be found here

Joseph Acosta (JA): So you talked a little bit about making the campus more inclusive and more diverse. What steps have you seen other universities take and what steps are you going to take, now that we’ve seen the protests and everything that’s going on?

John Kelly (JK): I think if I recall the data correctly I know we’re a minority-majority university, so we are already the most diverse university of the universities in Florida. I believe we’re around 27% or so Hispanic, 23% black and then a series of other nationalities or races, then, the white component. With that said, though, I do believe that there is more that the university can do, even though we are the most diverse university, making sure that diversity doesn’t just exist within one group so if it’s just the black students being treated as diverse, you really want the mingling of all the students so that everybody understands the issues, and has a perspective of what it’s like if they were in someone else’s shoes. 

First [is] trying to figure out how to do that for more students. There are 30,000 students here, so it’s a large institution, but trying to figure out how people, across whatever backgrounds, have a better understanding of what it is like in somebody else’s shoes. I think that perspective is something that maybe historically people have been a little reluctant to talk about. But now there’s a new vocabulary, a new willingness I think of people to speak from their perspective, and there’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot to learn, maybe from each group about the other, and ways in which we are alike and ways in which we are different and what we can do to accomplish things together that is extraordinary.

Andrea Guzman Oliver (AG): Again, I agree. I think if I was to add anything it would be, ensuring that we continue to provide avenues to receive back. So, going into the fall semester, you’ll see opportunities for students to provide feedback to the Division of Student Affairs. We will host a number of open forums specifically for students. You will also see that every Thursday, there is a counseling session for students of color. Really focusing on providing mental health support for students of color. 

We also have the Diversity Council which serves as a medium for faculty and staff to have a voice and to tell us about areas that we may be able to improve in. There [are] lots of things that we’ve been doing as an institution but as Dr. Kelly indicated, the work is never really done, new students come every year and students have different needs; new faculty come every year and faculty have different needs. So I think it’s just important to make sure that we have things in place in order to make sure that all Black students are cared for.

JA: So my next question is for both of you. I’ve seen and heard some complaints from Black students that they haven’t felt safe on campus. So what can [the] administration do with your work with the FAUPD to improve relations between police and Black students or other students of color to make them feel safer on campus?

JK: Yeah, let me answer you a little bit and I’m sure Andrea has some further answers. I do believe our police work to make sure people feel safe now. I’m not sure what would cause a person not to feel safe on our campus, specific examples would be helpful if that means somebody. I’ll use some examples that I’m familiar with that I think- I have to be careful how I say this- we all find some things very difficult to face. 

So if there’s somebody on campus, and they’re preaching something that we find to be very, very offensive. It can hit you. Say that you had lost a child, and you go to someone who is ranting and raving on campus about something relative to abortion, it can have a very, very strong impact on you individually because you personalize that experience. The reality is there’s very little that we’re able to do about those kinds of things, because of freedom of speech. If you end up in a place where you are facing things that you find disgusting, again, sometimes there’s nothing that we can legally do to keep you from having to have that experience. Learning how to deal with it without having to take it personally, which is sometimes very hard to do. 

We now have more open space and are required to allow those kinds of discussions that we may not want to have go forward, and I know they’re uncomfortable. I know that they’re not viewpoints that are ways that necessarily make for a peaceful day, it can be very disruptive if you’re going to an exam and somebody’s yelling or ranting and raving about something that you’re highly opposed to it can change your energy level, very quickly, and yet we are required to allow those things to occur. 

AG: From the Student Affairs side, you know, we receive Maxient reports. That’s the avenue for students to share any kind of concerns and I encourage students all the time [to use them] if you have a concern. You know, we hear from FAUPD when they say, if you see something, say something, if you hear something, say something, fill out a Maxient report– it’s anonymous if there’s a concern for safety. Safety is our number one priority at the institution so we really encourage students to report that. 

As a person of color I know that that can be difficult sometimes, so part of our strategy is to provide platforms for students to be able to have a voice and also to empower student leaders so that they can sit at certain tables to provide a voice and so I’ll give you a couple of examples: the Vice President Council has a representation from our Greek community or for councils has representation from student government, it has some of our student leaders from the Black Student Union, from the Asian Student Union, [and the] Hispanic Student Union. We have our student leaders there and we seek out input from them on what is happening across our campus so if there is an undercurrent of conversation that as administrators we’re just not aware of, we can find out from them as well. 

We also have the Real Talk sessions that are held through the Center for IDEAS as a platform to talk about those instances that are very uncomfortable, but perhaps, nothing can be done because of the way that the laws are structured. We also have Rap Sessions which are hosted by the Urban Male Initiative, and those are open to all Black males on our campus or men of color, and it’s also a support network for students to have a voice and to share concerns. So I think part of it is continuing to identify ways to provide a voice when students don’t always feel like they may have a voice. 

Our Police Department has been amazing. You know I’ve been at other institutions and I will say that FAUPD is one of the strongest PDs and most student-centered PDs that I have ever seen in a college institution. I interviewed for a position at a top ten institution, and my decision not to go there had to do with their Chief of Police. So, that’s how strongly I feel about how the police need to work with our students. We’ve already been in contact, he [Chief Brammer] has already reached out, we didn’t have to go to him, he came to us and said, “How can I help? What discussions can I have with our students, you know when classes start? If we’re working remotely how can I still connect with our students?” That’s the kind of PD that we have. 

So you will see additional open forums for students to come out to and share their concerns. It’s important that we hear from them because a lot of times we’re hearing the concerns are coming they’re bubbling up, but it’s not coming directly to us. So it’s important that students share what you’re feeling and, in particular, it has to be done safely. I will say over and over again, students, use a Maxient report; so that it’s documented and we can take immediate action. Those Maxient reports go out immediately to our Dean of Students into FAUPD.

This is the second part of the “Question & Answer” series with Kelly and Oliver. Other installments can be found here at the University Press. 

Joseph Acosta is the Managing Editor of the FAU University Press. For more information regarding this story or any other stories, email him at [email protected] or tweet him @acosta32_jp.