Student safety concerns raised at President’s Open Forum
By Ashlyn Kelly, Sophia Harris
Following the discovery of white supremacist-related decals on campus last week, students raised concerns about their safety and what Framingham State is doing to protect them during a forum with President F. Javier Cevallos Nov. 10.
[Editor’s note: see “Two white supremacist-related decals found on campus” in the Nov. 5 issue of The Gatepost for more details.]
Cevallos began the meeting by expressing his disdain for the decals.
He said, “It [the decals being placed on campus] is disruptive. It is something that hurts. It is upsetting. And the worst part is that I know how it hurts our students and our faculty and our sta8. It is something that really bothers us and what bothers me the most about it is that these people [hate groups] intentionally do this.”
Senior Ewnie Fedna said, “These incidents have increased the fear among the students on campus for their safety, especially at night.”
She asked, “What are some things that are being done to kind of alleviate that fear for students?”
Cevallos said SGA sponsors a safety walk every semester during which students can raise concerns about “dark spots” on campus.
He added if students are alone at night, campus police can always provide an escort and “there’s always safety in numbers.”
Cevallos said to try not to be on your own and “if you ever feel afraid, to call the police.”
Senior Laury Constantin said she does not feel comfortable with the University “simply looking good ... on paper in regards to diversity” without protecting students.
Cevallos said the University does everything it can “to make sure all students feel protected and respected and feel included.
“Our police department is working hard and we are in the process of hiring a new police chief,” he added.
Sophomore Zoe Ryan-Williams asked, “What are we actually doing on campus to prevent these attacks or at least find the culprit of these attacks?”
Cevallos said the University has installed “a lot more” cameras in recent years and will continue to add more cameras and lights to campus.
He added the University “needs to diversify our police department.”
Cervallos said, “We need to have more officers of color – more BIPOC [police] officers.”
Dara Barros, SGA diversity and inclusion officer, said some of the student leaders met earlier that day to come up with questions.
One question that Barros asked was, “So what are the changes that have been done within the past four years [since a 2017 forum] regarding police training?”
Cervallos said University Police, “like any other department on campus, have gone through a lot of anti-racism and diversity and inclusion training.”
It is an “ongoing process,” he added.
Senior Marquis Knight said he has yet to “see change” from the University and does not feel as if the University “is doing everything they can do.”
He added he is “tired” and “frustrated” with the University’s response to the many calls to action against racism on campus.
“I’m not going to tell anybody to come to FSU because I don’t believe this is the place where people can go and get a good education safely,” Knight added.
Cevallos responded, saying he understands the frustration, but “we have to continue the fight.”
He added change is “something that takes time.”
Malik Martin, a junior, president of Black Student Union, and class of 2023 president, said he had heard a police officer shook hands with the person running the Turning Point USA table outside the McCarthy Center Nov. 1.
He said University Police’s job is to provide safety and security, according to the Framingham State University Police Department’s website.
“With the state of our country, with all that’s going on, with Black people being just hounded by police, you’re there shaking hands with somebody who doesn’t agree with my skin color – so how does that look to me?” Martin asked.
Cevallos responded he was “not familiar” with an officer shaking hands with a member of Turning Point USA at the table.
Cevallos said free speech is “a very complex and complicated issue” because the University is a public institution.
Aykera Jean-Jacques, a junior, made the point that Cevallos should have been notified about the Turning Point USA table on campus.
“I think it’s important to address that the police didn’t notify you about the white supremacist group that was on our campus handing out dyers to students, because if you’re the president and they’re Campus Police, why wouldn’t they let you know? And then a week later, we get Patriot Front stickers on our campus in front of McCarthy,” said Jean-Jacques.
Cevallos responded that he was notified via email after University Police were alerted about the decals.
Barros asked what the University is doing to improve transparency with students.
Cevallos said, “I try to send emails as often as needed, and try not to overwhelm you either with a lot of emails or information with things happening.
“Good things or bad things ... just making sure that I am telling you the truth,” he added. “That’s the only thing that I can do.”
Freshman Alyssa Saint-Louis asked what the University is planning to do to prevent hate group decals being put on campus in the future.
Cevallos said, “We are an open campus. It’s very hard to prevent something from happening.
“We need the help of everybody. We all have to be together as a community to come together and to point to anything that you see that can be suspicious,” he added.
Susan Dargan, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said “a lot” of faculty had attended the “anti-racist pedagogy institute” during the summer and have started instituting the pedgogy in the classroom.
She added, “I have been hearing you and listening to you and seeing you and I feel sad that you don’t feel safe. And I really hope that we can continue to work to make you feel safe on this campus.”
Cevallos said, “They [hate groups] come here to hurt us, to hurt our community, and we cannot let them win.
“That’s the most important thing,” he added. “We have to continue to be together – to keep organizing together – to know that we as a community do not tolerate that.”