In response to the walkout led by the Student Diversity Initiative, the college called for a Town Hall discussion session Friday morning. Students, faculty and staff members discussed the problems brought up at walkout and possible solutions Knox could utilize to promote diversity and inclusiveness on campus.
Attendees broke up into small groups to discuss issues brought up through guiding questions by faculty facilitators. Four members of the Board of Trustees were also present for the meeting.
Freshman Almira Karajic came to the discussion after attending the walkout. She said she was skeptical about the nature of the meeting, but was happy with how the discussion was handled.
“I came in with a lot of frustrations and I expected it to be kind of hostile and for faculty to kind of be ignorant on the topics, but I was surprised by how much I gained from it. … I feel like there’s hope for things to get done and in my small group discussion I feel like people genuinely cared and wanted Knox to be better,” she said.
Professor of Anthropology Jon Wagner said that prior to the walkout and Town Hall meeting he was unaware of many of the issues that were brought up.
“I’m very idealistic about Knox. I’ve been here over forty years … so I was really horrified at some of the things people were saying, not that I didn’t believe what people were saying, it’s just that I thought, ‘We are not who we think we are. … What hurtful mistakes do I make and who would tell me? How would I know?’”
Freshman Diandra Soemardi spoke out at the walkout on behalf on international students. She said that international students are often excluded from classroom settings because they come from different backgrounds than American students.
“The Knox culture is not just American culture and not just other groups’ culture, it’s Knox. We say that we’re a diverse community, so we need to be diverse,” she said. “We can’t just assume that everyone grows up the same way. I think the culture needs to be open and not judging to other people with different backgrounds or different opinions.”
Wagner said that because Knox brings in such a diverse student body, the college must ensure it meets the needs of all students.
“Knox does a pretty good job of communicating that we want to be a culturally and [economically] diverse community. We succeed in bringing in a class with those expectations, but if you can’t follow through … then your initial success on bringing that class in becomes a liability. You’ve succeeded in getting yourself into a position that then you can’t deliver on. That’s worse than not having succeeded in the first place.”
During the discussions the facilitators took notes on the conversations within their groups, which will be passed on to Dean of the College Laura Behling. Behling said that she will compile the notes and use them to set an agenda for how the college should move forward.
Karajic said that she hopes these discussions will become an annual event on campus.
“I think that we should have an annual discussion with staff, faculty and students maybe sort of like this just to check in. … Every year is different and every student body is different and we really have to accommodate to everybody’s needs of each different year,” she said.
Behling noted that dialogues like these give community members the opportunity to discuss the state of the college in a safe and productive manner and hopes to continue to have more meetings of a similar nature.
“When you can get people talking to each other about their experiences in a very safe, non-confrontational way, I think that’s a positive and that’s an important part of the education that we’re offering here which is an opportunity to talk about differences and come together to improve a situation, I think it’s a great part of the Knox education.”