ROGER WILLIAMS STUDENTS TAKE ACTION: PROTESTING THROUGH CAMPUS

 

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Students hold signs and chant in front of the Administration Building at Roger Williams University.
Photo by Kayla Ebner

By: Jamie Costa, Kyle Souza and Lexi Shy

BRISTOL, R.I. __  Twenty-seven Roger Williams University (RWU) student protesters stormed the Administration Building Friday afternoon, demanding justice and equality for all students in the classroom.

Beginning in front of the North Campus Residence Hall, students marched through the campus, stopping in front of buildings yelling, “What do we want? Justice!” and holding handmade signs that read “Not my RWU” and “Stop The Hate, Give Us A Better Fate.”

“This was a writing class with a white female professor. She walked up to me and patted my afro when I had it out one day,” said an anonymous student about her experience in the classroom. “She stopped in the middle of a sentence to walk up to me and so the whole class was watching her do this and I felt like a dog.”

In regards to this incident specifically, Faculty Senate President, June Speakman, urged students and faculty via a phone interview to be more aware of what is being said and what context it is being said in.

“It is difficult for me to believe that any Roger Williams faculty member would want to make a student feel like a dog,” said Speakman. “Clearly the faculty member was unaware of the sensitivity that this kind of action would provoke.”

RWU President Donald J. Farish had more to comment in his office while protesters gathered outside of the Administration Building.

“It’s clear that example after example of students in a classroom situation are finding themselves called out and made to feel awkward,” Farish said. “Not necessarily maliciously but just because a well-meaning faculty member thought he or she were being inclusive but what they were doing, in fact, was calling more attention to this one individual.”

In recent weeks, the Student Senate met with President Farish and the Faculty Senate to discuss the objectification and lack of equality the student’s felt within the classroom. In response, a bill was passed by the Senate on October 24.

“We on the faculty senate are trying to put together something that provides some education to faculty members who may be unaware of students sensitivities these days,” said June Speakman, Faculty Senate President. “We have a lot of faculty that have been teaching for a very long time and as you know, sensitivities change and the student body changes. So some of us have very old-fashioned ideas. Some kind of program to inform the faculty about the 21st century student and his or her sensitivities is a good idea.”

Speakman continued on to say that faculty members have academic freedom and many things said in the classroom may have educational purposes and are not designed to offend.

Mariela O’Neill, a senior at RWU, established herself as one of the most passionate leaders of the march and was very influential in organizing the event.

“We have the people here but the message isn’t getting across clearly like we had hoped. We have put on events to raise awareness about these issues,” O’Neill said. “It’s been an issue that has been going on before me, I’m just someone who is continuing the process.”

Speakman mentioned that if the faculty, and the Faculty Senate specifically, are unaware of these protests and these concerns, it remains hard for them to consult the students.

“We have had talks with the President and he still does not listen to us,” said the anonymous student. “But now he’s going against us when it comes to actually passing the bill so now we are just enraged. He keeps prolonging it and we aren’t taking it anymore.”

Although the bill has been passed, students remain unhappy with how long it is taking the President to put a plan into action.

“There is going to be a training program here,” Farish said. “The mandatory part is harder to achieve but our objective would be to start with people who see the need to inform themselves and let the good results that come from that be the way that others are encouraged to join in.”

This article updates an earlier version of one that ran online on Friday, November 18.

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