FIU Town Hall Meeting Discusses Systematic Change At University Level

Screenshot of the panelists who attended the town hall meeting on June 5 at 3 p.m.

By: Muriel Almeida / Staff Writer

FIU hosted its first town hall meeting to discuss how the university plans to address diversity and unity among the FIU community.

President Mark B. Rosenberg spoke on several actions in light of the recent events concerning the death of George Floyd. FIU Vice President, Pablo Ortiz, started off by introducing the panelists and faculty members who attended the meeting.

FIUPD Chief, Alexander Casas, proposed further action to be taken in addressing racial biases on behalf of the police department. He believes with the support of members from the South Florida Police Benevolent Association “they are able to further address issues such as racial profiling.”

Chief Alexander Casas spoke about Police Reform at FIU Town Hall Meeting. 

President Rosenberg followed up with the importance of higher education funding by, “…pursuing an aggressive review of our curriculum to foster greater institutional awareness of institutional racism, social equity, and the generation of an amelioration of disparities.” 

He also pressed the importance of expanding scholarship funding for eligible low-income students that cover tuition and campus housing due to education and opportunity gaps which lead to income gaps. 

“We grasp that and we’re going to intend to be more aggressive in closing those gaps.”

President Mark B. Rosenberg tackled FIU Initiatives at the Town Hall meeting. 

FIU Provost and Chief Operating Officer, Kenneth Furton, acknowledged that student diversity is prevalent but that faculty diversity is “lagging behind”. 

Furton spoke about the Diversity Mentorship Program, a program that brings in tenured senior faculty to be mentors for minority faculty, and announced that they will hire 10 additional diversity mentors over the next few years. 

When it comes to state-mandated certifications, Vice President of Human Resources and Chair of the Faculty Senate, El pagnier K. Hudson, said, “continual education and professional development are at the core of combating ignorance and misunderstanding.” 

These state certifications will help foster training in courses that encourage humanitarian development, continuing education both on a personal and professional level.

Hudson encourages the community to take personal responsibility about the current social issues and to participate in the voting process. 

“I’m really inspired by the voices across the world that have spoken out and are involved in peaceful protesting and making our voices heard,” said Hudson about combating systemic racism. 

Chair of the Faculty Senate and Professor of Physics, Joerg Reinhold, stressed the importance of faculty hiring and the training courses needed to combat implicit bias throughout the hiring process. 

“The goal is to make all faculty more representative to what our student population actually is,” said Reinhold.

Reinhold also addressed the “constant stressors” when it comes to the mental health of the black community at FIU. His proposed solution was to train faculty to recognize these symptoms of mental illness, to have those conversations with them, and direct them to the right student services on campus. 

SGA President, Alexandra Valdez emphasized the importance of FIU resources and to let students know that this is available year round not only when situations like the current ones arise.

Senior Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, Dr. Elizabeth M. Bejar, said the Healthy Living Program is “working actively to design programs that students are able to participate in.” 

According to Bejar, the Counseling and Psychological Services is constantly helping out individual students but they’re also designing group therapy and group counseling sessions to engage “in this important time of dialogue.”  

She further stated, “What we know is that dialogue and communication are key to our healing and to our movement.”

When it comes to the faculty’s mental health, Hudson said that the Office of Employee Assistance is also available while they navigate “turbulent times.” 

Black Student Union President, Artrice Shepherd, expressed that they want faculty to understand, specifically from the black student community at FIU, to acknowledge that this is happening.

“Right now we need to be protected… to be defended… to be cared for,” Shepherd said.

According to Shepherd, having faculty and staff that do not represent the black community should go into professional training to grasp a better understanding of the adversities they face daily.

On the other hand, it will also help students empathize and share with faculty what is happening to understand why the black community feels the way they do. 

FIU Alumni, Benny Williams, echoed the importance of having these ongoing conversations and having them “all year round.” 

Title IX Coordinator for Human Resources, Shirlyon McWhorter, brought up the importance of having diversity in the university and in the classrooms. Bringing in more people who look like our students is “very, very important in this process.”

“[This] new program will help to bring on more diverse groups of people, specifically for our black students to be able to see themselves in the classroom when they walk in,” she said. “How could that make a difference? Emotionally, mentally, physically, it matters,” McWhorter said. 

President Rosenberg stated the importance of leadership when it comes to ensuring the students’ concerns are heard and addressed by “willing to step up and help take responsibility.” 

“I believe it starts with leadership, there’s no question in my mind about that,” he said. “But also [being] more human-centered and to understand that. . . We are here for other people,” Rosenberg said. 

As the town hall meeting came to a close the panelists shared their final thoughts about the importance of initiating conversations but also including students in the decisions being made. 

“You’ll get more transparency from students about what they want and what they expect,” Shepherd said.

Williams also chimed in about the importance of faculty building relationships with students and said, “Once you make us feel that we have a voice, then you can start to see the change.”

With regard to the responsibility of filling the education and opportunity gap, Vice President of Engagement, Saif Y. Ishoof admits that it begins with FIU students and faculty but it also “starts with a recognition that if we want to drive equity in meaningful social justice. . . we have to create avenues through which our students can see themselves in the success of the world around us.” 

Chief Casas voiced how important it was for him to have a good relationship with the university community, “I would love for students to invite me into their safe spaces. . . into your student group meetings and share. . . so I can understand and hear where you’re coming from,” he said. 

Hudson shared her opinion on the next steps towards change, “We want to acknowledge the pain. . . we want to amplify our voices together.”

“There are really two pandemics that we’re living in,” Hudson said. “The pandemic that’s associated with COVID, but we have this pandemic that’s associated with racism.”

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