Some covered their faces
Some held their mouths agape.
Others sat with ambivalence.
Students conveyed anger and frustration during a town hall meeting yesterday. The assembly invited various campus organizations and officials for a discussion concerning the recently surfaced racist email sent by a former Kappa Sigma member.
President Wallace Loh stated Wednesday, in a campuswide email titled “Rise above odious words,” the University’s Office of Civil Rights & Sexual Misconduct along with local law authorities, ascertained the “private” racist email, while abhorrent, did not violate this university’s policies and is protected by the First Amendment. Officials also found no subsequent conduct that raised safety concerns.
Loh stated in the email he accepts the officials’ findings and encouraged the university community to move forward. Loh’s statement also included an apology from the author of the email, where he declared he was “deeply sorry” and “committed to becoming a better person, a person that appreciates differences.”
As previously announced, the student will not be returning this semester. However, Loh wrote the student offered to undergo diversity training and community service.
During the assembly, Loh’s words were brief, and often during chaotic moments of questioning, he stated he was not qualified to answer or handed the microphone to a fellow panelist.
Students asked various questions concerning racism, prejudice and potential initiatives and programs to foster a healthier multicultural environment on campus.
The panel consisted of Loh, Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Clement, Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President of the Office of Diversity & Inclusion Kumea Shorter-Gooden, Department of Fraternity & Sorority Life Director Matt Supple, and University Title IX Coordinator and director of the Office of Civil Rights & Sexual Misconduct Catherine Carroll, and eight student representatives including Andrew Mayton co-president of the Asian American Student Union.
Students also used social media, tweeting questions using the hashtag #RiseAbove. Frustrated attendees also used the hashtag #LohBlow, a perceived form of resistance against unsatisfactory responses to questions.
Moriah Ray, a senior government and politics major, said it appalled her that her questions were not addressed. Ray said the event was “very politicized, and it was very clear that [Loh] had practiced his responses.”
Ray also observed the emotions of the audiences members surrounding her.
“The person next to me started crying because she was so ashamed that her university would respond in such a way,” she said.
Colin Byrd, a student and the chairman of national membership for this university’s NAACP chapter, posed a question regarding the renaming of Byrd Stadium.
Byrd, a senior sociology major, said he also felt the event was highly politicized.
“Quite frankly, I thought that [Loh’s] responses were empty,” he said. “[To me], they were meaningless, they weren’t specific, they were not direct, they were noncommittal and they honestly did not seem genuine.”
Chris Bangert-Drowns, co-president of the Student Labor Action Project, said he doesn’t have confidence in the university and its policies.
“How could any student feel safe on this campus, when we have trouble even trusting the administration that governs this campus?” Bangert-Drowns asked.
Solidarity, Chaos, Camaraderie and Passion
Loh stressed the importance of student safety.
“Safety is absolutely essential,” Loh said. “I also want to make one thing very clear from where I sit as president: My responsibility is to ensure the safety of all of the students.”
Loh said it pains him when students attack the sender of the email via social media. He explicitly condemned violence and threats of violence to individuals.
About 250 attended the forum, causing organizers to create an overflow room adjoining the town hall. Sponsored by the SGA and MICA, the forum ran for approximately two hours.
Most students, however, stayed where they were out of a newfound solidarity with the rest of the individuals in the room. They became progressively more animated, some began fiddling with their sleeves, others nodded their heads at one another in agreement.
Prior to the event, students were distant from each other, staying close to those they found familiar. However, as the forum progressed, strangers seemed to become friends.
Catherine Carroll, Title IX Officer and director of the Office of Civil Rights & Sexual Misconduct, said sexual misconduct training raises awareness for students. However, she said online training an individual does while distracted by music or “a million other things is not going to make them change their behavior and attitude.”
She called for the campus community to “step back and have some grace.”
“We’re doing the best we can […] I’m not here to criticize, I’m here to move forward,” Carroll said.
Linda Clement, vice president of the Division of Student Affairs, said she was pleased the president chose to attend.
“For him to come here and listen – everybody wouldn’t do that,” Clement said.
One of Loh’s most extensive responses was in relation to defending the email’s language under the First Amendment, where he drew a parallel between the email and Charlie Hebdo. He referenced Muslim police officer Ahmed Merabet, who died trying to protect the Charlie Hebdo employees from the terrorist attack.
The audience responded with rampant cries of disapproval from.
Matt Supple, director of the Department of Fraternity & Sorority Life, said he enjoyed the event’s turnout and energy.
Supple said he did not take offense to the moments of student animosity or anger.
“I am still saddened that we have members of our community who think it is acceptable to say such offensive things,” Supple said. “This is a starting place [and] there is always going to be a certain sense of disappointment that the questions were not answered sufficiently.”
Julian Ivey, an undecided freshman and a participant in last week’s protest, said he thought this university needed a stronger stance on many topics.
“[Loh] has repeatedly taken weak stances on strong topics,” Ivey said. “What the University of Maryland needs most in this time of turmoil is strong leadership. He should have followed in the footsteps of the president of Oklahoma University and swiftly expelled the student. Not only to show the student how serious this topic is, but to show the students of this university what it means to be a Maryland Terp.”
Andrea Holterman, a sophomore business major, said, overall, the forum perpetuated a false sense of accomplishment.
“I understand that President Loh is under a lot of heat, and that his hands are tied in many of the situations students brought up,” Holterman said. “However, I thought the way he reacted to many of the students’ statements/questions could have been better. He seemed extremely defensive and often used anecdotes that the audience couldn’t relate to.
“I think he did a poor job of really trying to meet the students where we are, regardless of his position as president.”
Raye Weigel is a freshman English and community health double major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.