Whitlock talks Campus Climate, Greek Life, diversity growth - The Herald: News

Whitlock talks Campus Climate, Greek Life, diversity growth

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Posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2017 11:15 am

Interim Chancellor Doug Whitlock is currently working with members of the A-State community to make the university a more inclusive campus.

In a letter sent to the A-State community, Whitlock addressed several issues that led him to begin the formation of a Campus Climate Council (CCC). The idea was originally proposed to him by Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Lori Winn and Assistant Vice Chancellor of Diversity Maurice Gipson.

Whitlock cited an instance of racial insensitivity that occurred in the fall 2016 semester as one of the events that led to the formation of the council.

Last semester, three members of Alpha Gamma Delta were photographed wearing T-shirts meant to depict President Trump’s border wall. The photo was originally captioned “Build that GAM wall.” 

The photo received criticism toward both the women pictured and their sorority. Alpha Gamma Delta issued a statement that said the organization in no way endorses any candidate, but does support their members’ rights to free speech. 

Several students on campus expressed that the photo angered them, referencing Trump’s campaign promises that made many international students feel unsafe. Responses from the campus community included the social media campaign “#IAmAState” and an open letter sent to the university asking for them to take the matter seriously. 

The open letter written by three student activists was addressed to Chancellor Whitlock.

“While we are aware that this issue has been addressed privately, this seems to follow a pattern of situations like this being handled discreetly, or worse, being overlooked,” the students wrote. The three stated the situation violates A-State’s sense of diversity and inclusion.

Greek Life has risen to a prominent position at A-State. Approximately 41 percent of students enrolled at the university are affiliated with a Greek organization. 

According to Rick Stripling, vice chancellor of Student Affairs, the positives of these groups “far outweigh” the negatives when it comes to Greek Life.

“Greek Life is a valued cornerstone of student life at Arkansas State University,” Stripling said.

Stripling also noted that Greek students lead various campus organizations and also participate in community service.

The Alpha Gamma Delta incident was one of several precipitating incidents that led to extreme actions by the A-State officials. 

In the early weeks of the spring semester, several high-profile incidents were reported to student conduct, including two incidents of violence at registered events in February. 

The first was an alleged rape at Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity house, which is said to have occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 10.

According to a University Police report, 19-year-old James Key Chambless, a member of AGR, was arrested Feb. 16 after voluntarily submitting to questioning at UPD in connection to the assault.

The victim, a 19-year-old A-State student alleged that Chambless strangled her until she partially lost consciousness. During this time, the victim alleges that Chambless restrained her legs and forcibly assaulted her.

While in custody, Chambless admitted to having what he considered consensual sex with the victim.

Chambless, whose court date is pending, was released Feb. 18, the same day another violent attack occurred.

University Police officers were dispatched to the Kappa Alpha fraternity house in reference to an assault that had already occurred. 

Bradway reported that two females has engaged in a physical altercation and one hit another over the head with a glass bottle.

Because of the frequency of reported incidents, A-State officials placed a temporary social ban on all Greek Life events to conduct educational training about social function management, alcohol use and misuse, student conduct, Title IX, bystander intervention and the Silent Witness Program.

These incidents, in part, led to the creation of the campus climate initiative by Whitlock. 

In a Feb. 9 email, Whitlock addressed several incidents that have had a negative impact on campus climate in the last year. Whitlock mentioned several key points of concern, including diversity and inclusion.

“This is important to me for a number of reasons,” Whitlock wrote. “Above all is my conviction that a college or university must be a place that celebrates diversity and recognizes that a respectful, civil climate is not only the right thing to do morally, but also the smart thing to do educationally.”

A poll conducted by The Herald surveyed whether the social events ban on fraternities and sororities was fair. The poll received more than 440 responses. Of those, 392 or 88.3 percent, disagreed with the ban.

Some began posting on social media using the hashtag “ThisIsGreekLife” to show the positive side of the organizations.

Ultimately, university officials were adamant that the ban would provide adequate time for risk-reduction education for all members of A-State’s Greek community, and Greek Life was allowed to return to active status on April 1.

“The episode last year with the Alpha Gams and the shirts about the wall, that’s kind of the conundrum that we find ourselves in on a campus,” Whitlock said. “On one hand, what those ladies did was clearly protected speech, but on the other hand it did reflect, in the views of many, cultural insensitivity.”

Whitlock said the population at Arkansas State is very diverse and, as that diversity increases, it’s incumbent to maintain a comfortable environment for all students.

According to Whitlock, an increase in diversity could serve as a valuable educational opportunity for the campus community.

A-State’s student population is 74 percent white. Minorities make up only 26 percent of the student body.

The purpose of the CCC is to identify any issues that impact campus climate and provide recommendations for appropriate responses.

“The CCC will serve as a university-wide resource that provides strategies for addressing issues affecting campus climate,” the interim chancellor said.

Other primary responsibilities of the council will include sponsoring educational and informational projects, supporting individuals who have been affected by an incident, collecting data regarding incidents on campus and building awareness, among other duties.

To ensure that the committee is a collective voice of various student representatives, a member of the following organizations will be asked to participate in the CCC: Student Government Association, Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, Office of Student Conduct, Campus Police, IFC, NPC or NPHC, Gay-Straight Alliance, Muslim Student Association, HOLA, BSA, Office Global Initiatives, a Christian-based organization, Office of Disability Services, Athletics, Women and Gender Studies and Residence Life. All student appointments are for one year.

Individuals in the CCC will be asked to create subcommittees that research and address issues that may affect campus climate.

The council will be under the direction of Winn and Gipson.

Whitlock said the council has not had its first meeting yet, but the first meeting will likely occur during the summer.

He also said the council will not be responsible for finding guilt or issuing punishments for guilty parties.

“The climate council is not going to be something that finds guilt and meets out sanctions,” Whitlock said. “It’s going to be an educational, consensus-building group.”

The longevity of the CCC has yet to be determined. It may only be a permanent fixture as long as it is deemed a necessary asset.

“You can’t assume that anything is going to be permanent,” Whitlock said. “I guess it would be conceivable that this climate council could do its job so well that it could get to the point that it wouldn’t be necessary.”

Rape culture is also a problem the council will address and the pattern of victim-blaming that has occurred on campus.

“This whole issue of what a number of people have categorized as ‘rape culture’ is something the climate council can work on ameliorating,” he said. “What I’ve seen in my time here is a tendency of some people, in instances of sexual assault, to blame the victim and further victimize the victim.”

The CCC also will be responsible for creating an inventory of campus climate data. 

“They will develop a survey instrument designed to measure the campus climate attitudinally on a variety of things,” he said. “That survey will show areas that might need attention.”

The survey will be administered to A-State students periodically. Whitlock said his previous university had a body that assessed the campus climate throughout the year so this is something he is familiar with.

His goal, as he closes out his time at A-State, is to make the campus a place where students can freely express themselves.

“This is important to me for a number of reasons,” Whitlock said. “Above all is my conviction that a college or university must be a place that celebrates diversity and recognizes that a respectful, civil climate is not only the right thing to do morally, but also the smart thing to do educationally.”

 

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