Administrators, students address campus race relations at Board of Trustees meeting

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor

Black student leaders sat behind University President Thomas LeBlanc and members of the Board of Trustees at Friday's meeting.

After a racist Snapchat went viral last week, University President Thomas LeBlanc and student leaders addressed the incident at a Board of Trustees meeting Friday.

Student Association President Peak Sen Chua read a statement from student leaders in the black community applauding steps the University announced Wednesday to address the incident including mandating freshman diversity training, adding new language about “non-sex-based” harassment and discrimination to the code of conduct and starting a new system to report bias on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

“It is the administration’s job to build and sustain a healthy and inclusive environment for all of its students,” the statement read. “As of right now, the administration is on the right path, but we encourage you all to take a zero-tolerance stance on racism on campus.”

The letter was written by Freddy Ryle, the president of the Black Student Union; Tyler Staton, the vice chair of the Black Heritage Celebration; SA Sen. Imani Ross, U-at-Large and chair of the student life committee; and Faith Hudson and Xavier Richie, members of the Multicultural Greek community. Ross introduced a resolution in the SA Senate Monday – which passed unanimously – that called on the University to take many of the steps that were eventually announced by LeBlanc later in the week.

The statement came after two members of Alpha Phi were depicted in a Snapchat post that included a racist caption. Officials said Wednesday the women were unaware of the caption when it was posted.

Leaders wrote that the steps announced this week showed that officials are “taking this issue seriously and listening.” But the students said they had heard countless testimonies from students “feeling un-welcomed due to racially insensitive conduct not just from students but from professors.”

They wrote that the University should ensure that faculty understand the history and context of words that might hurt and create an unwelcoming environment for some students.

Several black student leaders were seated in the public gallery during Friday’s meeting.

“We’d like to thank the University for taking steps to improve the broader experiences of black students and people of color on campus,” Chua said in his address to the Board.

At the top of his remarks, LeBlanc reiterated his earlier statements condemning the post, telling trustees it was “absolutely unacceptable” and has “had a profoundly damaging impact on our community.”

LeBlanc said the steps announced Wednesday were “just a start” and that “we still have a lot of work to do together to build the University that we aspire to be.”

In an interview after the meeting, LeBlanc said several of the measures were steps the University “should have been doing anyway.”

“This is all being done very quickly and we don’t to make lots of mistakes along the way,” he said. “So we said, ‘here’s some actions we can all agree are very positive contributions, let’s move forward with those and then take some time to think about other things.'”

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