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UNT holds first presidential town hall on equity, diversity and civility

UNT holds first presidential town hall on equity, diversity and civility

UNT holds first presidential town hall on equity, diversity and civility
January 29
10:00 2020

UNT President Smatresk held the first of monthly presidential town halls on Tuesday in the Lyceum with student leaders from the Student Government Association to gauge student and faculty response on the topic of equity, diversity and civility.

Smatresk said the administration wanted to provide the UNT community with a more candid way to provide feedback. The town hall meetings are open to any students, faculty or staff who wish to attend and the topic will vary each month.

“Things that come [to the administration] are very filtered,” Smatresk said. “This is a way to connect to kind of authentic voices. When we listen to people and what we’re saying, we find out what’s broken, what’s working, what’s not working.”

Smatresk started the town hall meeting with a follow-up on the administration’s efforts to meet SGA’s demands surrounding diversity and inclusion from November after a UNT System employee used a racial slur at the “When Hate Comes to Campus” event.

“As sad as it was when the students brought all of this to our attention, I think it had a profound impact on our campus,” Smatresk said to the crowd. “It made us realize that we needed to think harder, do better and we need to be changed. Since that time, the students gave us a list of requests we thought were pretty thoughtful and quite reasonable.”

Smatresk said each vice president of the administration will ensure all faculty and staff will receive training on diversity, inclusion and harassment. Incoming students and faculty will receive cultural competency training beginning this summer, and the administration is assessing the Multicultural Center’s resources to determine how to adequately meet the needs of students.

“It’s not a complete answer or solution,” Smatresk said. “But it’s a start. We are increasingly concerned with our students’ success initiatives around equity gaps and achievement gaps. We’re concerned with our hiring policies and how we can bring in people who are more representative of the populations we serve.”

The town hall consisted of two portions: one where attendees commented on what the administration was doing well to promote equality, diversion and civility, and one where attendees gave suggestions on what the administration could improve upon.

UNT student regent Alexandra Harrel, who serves as a student voice on the Board of Regents for UNT, UNT Dallas and UNT Health Science Center, said she thought the town hall meeting was a good start to creating a dialogue between students and the administration.

“I think transparency with students is important and giving students a platform to voice their concerns is especially important,” Harrel said. “We’re all here to gain an education and better ourselves and having the ability to speak up about things that really matter to students is important.”

While SGA President Yolian Ogbu and Vice President Deana Ayers served on the panel after the administration invited them, Ayers said they found the experience “pretty unsatisfying” because it seemed like they were put in a “powerless situation” with administrative members dominating the conversation.

“I don’t want to say I felt like a prop, but I definitely felt the way this event worked, I was sitting there to be like ‘we have students on our panel,’” Ayers said. “It’s clear that this was not created to have student government representatives speaking but to hear student concerns and university admin defend themselves. I don’t want it to be reflected that I don’t care or don’t have something to say about it.”

Ogbu said that while she thought it was a good start to facilitating conversation, she shared Ayers frustrations and many of the issues brought up were institutional issues within the university administration that SGA does not have access to solving.

“Probably every single one of those issues brought up, I have encountered in one way, shape or form,” Ogbu said. “It’s just frustrating because I had to sit there and hear the same [response] every time. It’s not something I feel like I have the agency to be able to really change. Our SGA is attempting to address these institutional issues, so hopefully we can continue these conversations.”

Smatresk said the points attendees brought up gave the administration a lot to think about and hopefully address in the future.

“There were a lot of great points and things we can do that we’re working on actively,” Smatresk said. “The hardest part is how do you judge how high of priority something is and how to balance the limited pool of resources that you have in order to meet needs, and in a world of limited resources, how do we maximize the gain so we can support our students’ success.”

Featured Image: SGA President Yolian Ogbu speaks at the Presidential Town Hall on Jan. 28, 2020 in the Union Lyceum. The topics for discussion included equity, diversity and civility. Image by Paige Bruneman

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Brooke Colombo

Brooke Colombo

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