By JACK POLLARD
On March 27 in Chandler Ballroom a man introduced himself as Malcolm Holmes, the Director of University Relations and Communications. Beside him is sat Dr. Nina Mikhalevsky, the Provost of the University, and across the room is Chief Michael Hall, of the University Police. They are the main speakers of the forum, and together, they heard out complaints, concerns, and ideas from almost half a dozen students over the course of an hour long session.
“For those of you who weren’t here last time, what we’re trying to do is just open up a dialogue between students and administration, to give you guys an opportunity to share any issues or concerns you might have with us,” said Holmes. “We’ve had a lot going on on campus recently, and [the faculty] felt we needed to talk. This is informal, and I thank you all for coming here.”
And thus, the forum got underway. Dr. Mikhalevsky spoke first.
“One question I heard was a question about diversity among faculty, and what we are doing to address issues with that,” she said. “[My colleagues and I] developed a plan when I took office, and it had to do with improving our faculty recruitment process, and making the diversity of our faculty a priority.”
“This year was our opportunity,” continued Mikhalevsky, “to change what we had been doing in the past, and improve upon it… Of the six searches we have finished, we have brought in four faculty from under-represented populations, two of whom are African-American. We have never in the history of this institution done that. That, is success.”
However, diversity amongst the faculty wasn’t the only issue raised at the forum. Emily Saldanha, junior, was concerned over the discussion of current issues in class, and addressing events that might spread into university life.
“I was wondering about having on-topic conversations in class,” said Saldanha, “things going on outside the bubble of our university. I’m a women and gender studies major, but when mass shootings happen, and there’s topics of mental health and violence against women, I don’t talk about it in any of my classes… I feel like I’m missing out on opportunities to have real conversations about how the things I’m learning apply to the real world.”
Dr. Mikhalevsky was quick to answer, stating “what happens in the classroom should always be a function of a learning environment… That’s the premise: when you walk into a class, this is going to be a learning community. There should always be a very healthy and productive dynamic in a classroom.”
“However,” she continued, harkening back to the 2016 election, “there is always a chance that something happens. I’m the professor, and I walk into my classroom to see half my students are crying. I remember that class, and we talked about [the election]. There are times when it matters that we pause, and be very mindful about things we need to discuss.”
She stated that to have such a discussion was her decision as the professor. If someone wants to discuss these topics, or have a conversation about a recent event, it is up to their professor to have that conversation.
Reaching towards the end of the forum, one student spoke up about an issue regarding the university’s current curriculum. “I was wondering if there is any push to have mandatory classes about diversity, or classes that are more inclusive towards ableism, or LGBT identities?”
Dr. Mikhalevsky had this to say on the subject. “In the past [the university] had a general education requirement, that each student had at least one class that directly discussed issues of race or gender. As a consequence, the faculty generated a large amount of courses and opportunities for students to take many courses across the disciplines on issues of race or gender.
When the faculty revised its general education requirements, they decided that because there were so many courses that treated issues of race or gender, that they didn’t think we needed a mandatory requirement. Virtually every single student was graduating having had some exposure.”
“I do think there is a real sense that a lot of our students need more,” said Mikhalevsky. “I really appreciate what you’ve said about issues of ableism, which I think is a really serious issue, and something, by the way, we’re going to focus on in the future.”
To wrap up the forum, Chief Hall made sure to notify everyone of the next “UMW: Can We Talk?”, which will take place on April 6th, at 1 p.m. in the Digital Auditorium of the HCC. There will be a 30 minute presentation on campus safety, active shooting situations, faculty obligations in a crisis, and services provided by campus police, as well as the RAVE Guardian Safety App, a 24/7 service used by campus police and highly recommended by Chief Hall.