Creating Safe Publics: A Round Table Discussion

Juliette Gaggini, Contributing Writer

On Sept. 22, a panel of eight members of the University community had an honest discussion over Zoom about policing on campus in a talk entitled “Creating Safe Publics: A Round Table Discussion.” Four faculty members — Chief of Public Safety Steve Barilar, Officer Colbey Russell, Associate Dean Jeff Van Lone and Assistant Professor of Geography Vanessa Massaro — as well as four students — Dominic Lyles ’22, Wilder Brice ’22, Jasmine Minhas ’22 and Jerra Holdip ’23 — were on the panel. The Associate Dean of Students responsible for Diversity and Inclusion, Denelle Brown, moderated the discussion.

The discussion was split into three parts: First, Dean Brown ran the conversation between the eight panelists. Next, the panelists asked each other questions about their experiences on campus. The panel ended with an open discussion between panelists and attendees.

Brown first asked the panelists, “What would a safe university look like for you, and how might that differ from the University today?” The panelists agreed that it is important that students feel accepted on campus with spaces for students to come together and understand one another and their different backgrounds. Lyles spoke about @blackatbucknell, a student-run Instagram account where Black students share encounters with racism and prejudice on campus. Lyles said that this account shows that an overwhelming amount of students simply do not feel safe on campus.

Russell announced that he hopes to make students feel safe and comfortable reaching out to him and knowing him. Massaro answered the question saying that the University should be a place where students are comfortable to have “the space to do the intellectual work of college.”

The second question posed was, “Where do inequities surrounding feelings of safety stem from?” Holdip spoke about Greek life on campus. “The non-black Greek life system at the University is one that I feel like is not inclusive to me as a black woman on campus,” Holdip said. Van Lone also spoke about Greek life, saying that he has seen many students at the University who are unhappy with the social effects of Greek life. Russell spoke about his understanding of the different interactions with police officers that students have had and how Public Safety must recognize and respect that.

The third and final question Dean Brown posed was, “Who is responsible for safety on campus? What does that currently look like and what is the aspiration?” Minhas answered by bringing up the current issue of food insecurity on campus. “It is the upper administration’s responsibility to create a culture that is inclusive and not just in writing,” Minhas said. Students on the panel agreed that there is a need for resources for students to reach out to.

Brice said that it is not just the responsibility of one person to create a sense of safety and inclusivity on campus, but that the University as a whole — students, professors and the resources offered – should be marshaled to this end. “We cannot make it the responsibility of those who do not feel safe to make it safe, it has to be those community members who already feel safe to bring them in,” Holdip added.

During the second part of the discussion, panelists engaged with each other in a round table discussion. Barilar was asked about what he has been doing to keep the campus safer, and he spoke of his work with Professor and Associate Provost of Equity and Inclusive Excellence Nikki Young on diversity training. The panelists, as well as two other faculty members, also discussed individual and group efforts of changing non-inclusive systems on campus.

The final part of the event was composed of open discussion and questions. Among the issues brought up were students not feeling safe on campus and steps that can be taken moving forward to make sure all students feel the same sense of security. People also exchanged books, documentaries and shows for educating on being anti-racist and understanding the problems people of color face today. Books including “How to be Anti-Racist” and “White Fragility” were recommended, as well as the Netflix shows and movies “When They See Us,” “Dear White People” and “13th.”

Both faculty and students of the University hope to continue to facilitate discussions such as “Creating Safe Publics: A Round Table Discussion” to ensure a place for students to voice their concerns with safety on campus. “Campus conversations about safety are important if we want to create a community in which all people can thrive and experience a sense of belonging,” Young said. “Even more, discussions like the one tonight give people the opportunity to express feelings and stories related to the lack of safety, the absence of community, and the impact that those things have on their experiences at Bucknell.”

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