Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top

Third virtual town hall discusses social justice and diversity on campus

Published on March 24, 2021

Third virtual town hall discusses social justice and diversity on campus


Eastern Connecticut State University’s student chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Eastern’s Multicultural Leadership Council welcomed more than 130 students, faculty and staff for the third and final virtual University Town Hall meeting of the 2020-21 academic year on March 22. The town halls emerged from a formal “Call to Action” letter from students to the University almost 10 months ago requesting that Eastern take action to address systemic racism and discrimination.

“I congratulate the students for staying focused in their effort,” said President Elsa Núñez. “It is important that we fight this together. I admire students, with everything that is already on their plates, to keep thinking critically to offer solutions to the challenges facing Eastern.”

The students’ areas of concern include a lack of African American police officers, the teaching of African American history courses, and more diverse mental health resource outlets. “It should not just be the responsibility of minority students and students of color to ensure that we are being heard and acknowledged,” said NAACP President Khalifa Karim. “This weight should be shared among the Eastern community. Through unity and understanding, we can make great strides on campus.”

The first issue addressed in the town hall was the creation of a mandatory, culturally responsive training program for faculty, staff and students. Students in the meeting noted that it is mandatory for residential students to participate in online training on diversity, equity and Inclusion. They said about 99 percent of residential students and 39 percent of commuter students have completed the training.

“However, faculty and staff cannot be left out of this,” said moderator Barnabus Perry, hall director and faculty advisor to the N.A.A.C.P. He encouraged consideration of mandatory training for the entire campus community — students, faculty and staff.

President Núñez said the Board of Regents (BOR) is the body that would have to make training mandatory. “I cannot fire or penalize faculty and staff for not training. I only have my power of persuasion. Most faculty and staff do take the training. Some do not. Requiring training is not the problem. Getting people to do it is.” Rebecca Glaudin, NAACP second vice president, asked Núñez to reach out to the BOR on this matter. Nunez said she would discuss the issue with the BOR and the Council of Presidents.

During the town hall, Cara Bergstrom-Lynch, professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Criminology and Social Work, presented a racial climate survey conducted by her department. While students had a positive evaluation of the racial climate in classes in her department overall, the survey showed that on nearly every indicator, white students had a more positive view of the racial climate than students of color.

On March 29, Bergstrom-Lynch she said 20 faculty and nine students are coming together on Zoom in a department book club to discuss “Caste,” written by Isabel Wilkerson, with an emphasis on how they can put her book into action. Last semester, the book club read “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi.

Ymari Rigby, president of the Fashion Forward student club, head of the Ad Hoc Diversity and Inclusion Committee of SGA, and representative of the Multicultural Leadership Council, read the second Call for Action: “That the university hires Black professors who will teach Black history-based courses.” 

Stacey Close, associate provost and vice president for equity and diversity, said the University cannot hire professors solely based on ethnicity. He also noted that “Eastern has a more than qualified white man who currently teaches (the African American history) course. We work very hard to hire African American professors.” Close also said Eastern is working hard to retain minority faculty, with funds available through the Office of the Provost to send faculty to conferences to enhance scholarship production and professional development.  Nunez indicated the University is not hiring anyone currently due to the impact of COVID-19 on the budget.

Tara Nguyen, president of the Asian Cultural Society, addressed the rise in anti-Asian racism and hate crimes across America. She noted that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of attacks on Asians have increased more than 150 percent over the past year. She said discrimination against Asian people is not a new reality. 

“As an Asian-American, I worry deeply for the mental health and safety of my Asian peers,” said Nguyen. “Although Asians are a small percentage of our student population, we want to feel safe and protected at our university. Many of my non-Asian peers are unaware of the attacks against Asians and the history of anti-Asian racism in America. I believe it would be beneficial for the University to host events about anti-Asian sentiments and how we can address them. Our Asian community is hurting, and our hurt should not be invisible or ignored.”

Walter Diaz, vice president for student affairs said his office is working with counselors of color to address the needs of all minority students.

Written by Dwight Bachman