The Simpsonian

Concerned students vent frustration at heated open forum

Former+Student+Body+Vice+President+Pierce+Carey+asks+a+question+at+an+open+forum+discussing+diversity+and+inclusion+on+campus.+The+event+took+place+after+a+racially+based+threat+was+found+on+campus+last+week.++%28Photo%3A+Alex+Kirkpatrick%2C+managing+editor%2FThe+Simpsonian%29
Former Student Body Vice President Pierce Carey asks a question at an open forum discussing diversity and inclusion on campus. The event took place after a racially based threat was found on campus last week.  (Photo: Alex Kirkpatrick, managing editor/The Simpsonian)

Former Student Body Vice President Pierce Carey asks a question at an open forum discussing diversity and inclusion on campus. The event took place after a racially based threat was found on campus last week. (Photo: Alex Kirkpatrick, managing editor/The Simpsonian)

Former Student Body Vice President Pierce Carey asks a question at an open forum discussing diversity and inclusion on campus. The event took place after a racially based threat was found on campus last week. (Photo: Alex Kirkpatrick, managing editor/The Simpsonian)

by Alex Kirkpatrick, Managing Editor

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Tension flared late Monday afternoon as Simpson community members grilled high-ranking administrators about the apparent lack of transparency concerning recent racial incidents.

The forum came after President Jay Simmons said there was a racially based note threatening the safety of a student, though it is unclear what was written or who was involved.

“There is no room for this idiotic and cowardly behavior at this college,” Simmons told a crowd of about 100 people who filed into Hubbell Hall. The open forum was meant to be a chance for community members to come together, express concerns and create plans for ways to further educate the community.

Simpson College President Jay Simmons addresses a crowd of about 100 people who came to Hubbell Hall late Monday afternoon after a racially based threat was discovered on campus. The president assured students the college is doing everything in its power to find the perpetrator. (Photo: Alex Kirkpatrick, managing editor/The Simpsonian)

Simmons was unable to comment about specific details regarding Friday’s racial threat, saying the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits officials from releasing information about student education records. “We can’t talk about individual personnel situations,” he said.

The president, however, reaffirmed the institution’s values and denounced this “heinous” act, saying in an email to the student body: “Simpson College… will do everything in its power to find the person or persons responsible. Hate and violence will not be tolerated, nor will anything or anyone that threatens the safety of a member of our community.”

“We must recommit our efforts to make sure that every single student is made to feel welcome, appreciated and safe, every single day,” the email continued. “That work is vitally important, now more than ever, and I am confident you will join me in helping make that happen.”

The Student Government Association released a statement Friday evening, saying in part, that it “condemns any and all discriminatory and threatening language directed at any individual, organization or communities.”

The Indianola Police Department has launched an investigation into the incident, but Heidi Levine, vice president of student development and strategic planning, said there is “sadly a very real chance that we are not going to find out who did it, but I really hope we do.”

College personnel said they are taking actions to mitigate hate-based crimes and foster an inclusive environment.

Walter Lain, assistant dean of multicultural and international affairs, and Patti Woodward-Young, professor of education, have been leading a diversity inclusion commission for the past two years, Simmons said.

Their work includes: (A) taking results of the diverse learning environment survey to gain insight on how to work on viable solutions, using a rubric from the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ “Making Excellence Inclusive initiative; (B) performing an audit on diversity inclusion efforts; and (C) creating a strategic plan for diversity inclusion at Simpson College to implement over the next few years.

It also includes holding more open discussions, Levine said, to allow more communication between the student body and college faculty and staff. “Cleaning the wound hurts like hell,” she said.

Simmons cited an alarming report from the Chronicle of Higher Education that indicated the number of reported hate crimes on college campuses across the United States has increased by 25 percent from 2015 to 2016.

“Never in my career have these issues been so important,” Simmons said.

Advocacy groups and analysts noted the sharp spike in the contentious weeks after President Donald Trump’s victory in November 2016.

“Culturally, the United States has a lot of work to do, and that has infiltrated Simpson’s campus,” said Pierce Carey, former student body vice president and current junior class senator.

Carey said he was pleased with the swift actions administrators took after informing the campus about the threat, but “the college can always do more.”

Watch the full forum here:

“I think as far as their response, they talked about plans that they have in motion now, and I would just like to see those augmented and continued,” Carey said, adding that there needs to be more representation of minority groups on the faculty side.

Senior Robert King expressed similar concerns during the forum, noting the discussion was led by two white people.

“The only person of color is standing here handing around the microphone, and that’s really irritating,” King said, referring to Lain.

At some points during the discussion, Lain chimed in with his thoughts.

“The idea of racism, sexism, homophobia, these things are not new,” he said. “Until we address these issues as a community, until each and every one of us steps us say this is not going to happen here, that’s what we have to do.”

Frustration circulated, though, as Simpson leaders dodged questions about specific actions they would take once the perpetrator is caught. The consequences could be as severe as suspension or expulsion, Levine said. But that would be contingent on the IPD’s investigation and if criminal charges are filed.

Senior Robert King listens to administrators address concerns about recent racial incidents on campus. (Photo: Alex Kirkpatrick, managing editor/The Simpsonian)

During the 90-minute forum, a parent of a Simpson College student gave dismaying testimony about how her daughter does not feel safe on campus after she was assaulted.

“I stood in President Simmons’ office four months ago, and I don’t see anything different,” the mother said. “Nothing has changed. Nothing is being taken seriously.”

“I’m sick of being quiet; I’m sick of being nice,” she continued. “It’s her livelihood that’s being compromised here. Do we have any answers?”

Some students said they were upset because administrators were not “transparent” with other recent racially based incidents and accused leaders of not taking action with regard to issues such as sexual assault.

“A Pandora’s box has been opened tonight because nobody here knew about this stuff,” freshman Taylor Williams said.

Williams and Ling Rudicil, also a freshman, said they were upset because those in attendance were already aware of racial issues and that the event should have been mandatory.

“Why wasn’t it presented in front of the whole school?” Rudicil asked Levine. “There were fewer than 100 people here.”

Levine said it was hard to make events like this mandatory for the college, but “that doesn’t mean it’s not worth us digging in to try to figure out the way to make it work.”

“What seems simple on the surface often isn’t,” she said.

Williams said she wants college officials to release more information regarding the recent threat and Snapchat incident.

“Yes, there are laws,” she said, “but as a student body, we don’t know what’s happening. Do we feel safe? Obviously the answer was no.”

Many students throughout the event said administrators were “preaching to the choir,” and the problem exists outside the room.

“I acknowledge that I do have privilege,” Rudicil said. “I’m oppressed in that I am Asian and I’m a woman. But I have privilege in that I’m able-bodied, I’m heterosexual, and I’m cisgender. So I acknowledge it, and I speak up for those people. I just want everyone else to do the same.”

RELATED: Editorial: Dear white people, yes racial profiling is real

Williams said to use every platform possible to communicate and educate because “if you can get to one, you can get to many. It starts with getting one person to listen to you. If you are silent, you are part of the problem.”

Rudicil said she was disappointed that few of her professors showed up to the forum and that they should be held to a higher standard.

“There is no neutral ground because when you choose not to act against injustice, you’re choosing to allow it,” Rudicil said. “I’m not trying to blame anyone. I just want people to acknowledge their privilege and use it. But they’re not.”

Anyone who has information regarding the recent incidents is asked to contact Chris Frerichs in security at extension 1711 or at [email protected] They can also fill out the anonymous form at http://simpson.edu/security/silent-witness-form/.

A protest has been planned for Wednesday after organizers said this week’s forum “brought to light that Simpson’s faculty are ill-equipped to face any issues that tarnish their beloved image of squirrels and success, and have failed the students at every turn.”

Organizers are calling on students to not attend any classes to send the message to college officials that “we are tired, we are upset, and we will not tolerate this any longer.”

Demonstrators are asked to congregate in front of the library and Mary Berry at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The group will then move to Smith Chapel at 12:55 p.m.

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