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Race and diversity issues addressed by President Ross


Central Michigan University students, faculty, community members and staff asked university president George Ross (middle) questions about diversity and inclusion at noon on Friday, Dec. 4 in Plachta Auditorium. The panel included junior Justin Toliver (from left to right), junior Rebecca Detroyer, Ross, Heather Syrette of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indian Tribe and CMU NAACP chapter president junior Angela Hill.

Central Michigan University President George Ross encouraged open dialogue with students to address problems regarding diversity and inclusiveness in the first in a series of discussions.

Ross, when asked, talked about his personal experiences with racism at CMU and in Mount Pleasant. He said he has been followed around stores in the community before and experienced racism on campus.

"When I hear those stories (about racism) from CMU students or faculty, I believe them because it has happened to me," he said.

Director of Public Relations Steve Smith said the panel, which took place on Dec. 4 in Plachta Auditorium, had been planned a couple of weeks in advance due to students identifying issues of diversity on college campuses across the nation. Racial tensions on campus, lack of funding for the Office of LGBTQ Services and increasing cultural awareness within CMU's curriculum were among issues addressed by a panel comprised of Ross, CMU NAACP chapter president junior Angela Hill, junior Justin Toliver, junior Rebecca Detroyer and Heather Syrette of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indian Tribe.

The panel was moderated by Student Government Association president Chuck Mahone. Questions from students were solicited from students using the hashtag #CMUtogether on Twitter.

Hill commented on students' inability to unify and promote social justice instead of competing with different groups of people on campus in order to make changes together.

“The conversation today was at my request. I talked to students, faculty and staff all over campus. I’ve been doing it for the last five or six years," Ross said. "Given what was happening across the country, I thought this conversation, should not be the last conversation but would give us the opportunity to come together. I (wanted) to give each and every one of you the opportunity to speak up."

Toliver asked Ross if there were plans for adding in any more required cultural diversity classes to CMU's curriculum.

"To incorporate diversity across the curriculum I would be open to that discussion but as critical as that is, I believe our primary responsibility is to prepare (students) for the careers in front of (them) and the lives in front of (them)," he said.

Diversity or sensitivity training for faculty have a two day period conversation about any number of things and sometimes address diversity, he said.

"In terms of (diversity training for faculty) I am open to that but I'm always leery of things called 'mandatory'," Ross said.

Multiple people, including students and a staff member, raised the concern that the Office of LGBTQ Services was underfunded.

"There are some things people in this room want to do but we can’t afford (due to financial restrictions)," Ross said.

He said lack of funding from the state could be one reason, but said there is no plans about raising LGBTQ issues on campus.

Saudi Arabia senior Raghdah Alajlan believed the discussion was effective because it gave exposure to many problems within the student body regarding diversity, which is often ignored.

“It was beneficial to the international students,” Alajlan said. “I didn’t know anything about the transgender community. They typically don’t have the opportunity to speak about their issues.”

Flint junior Anjanette Haggard, who raised a question on steps being taken to solve diversity and inclusion issues on campus, said the discussion was productive on a surface level.

“The forum was well-intended. It’s great that there was a good turnout of people, and I know from personal experience that there are more issues that go on throughout the campus than were talked about,” Haggard said. “It’s a good first step, but it is a process.”

Southfield junior Christian Bankston felt unsatisfied with the inability to go more in depth about the issues.

“Something as sensitive as this topic should be given more time to address everything it can,” Bankston said. “Plenty of people had important questions for others to hear on that type of platform and there wasn’t enough time to get them across.”

Another discussion in the series of conversations on campus will take place in January.