On the evening of Sept. 25, the same day as a demonstration against discriminatory events took place on campus, President Mauri Ditzler answered student’s questions that had arisen during the semester at a Student Senate meeting.
The Senate, which had been attempting to hold a forum with Ditzler for three weeks, moved their meeting from the fourth floor of the Kellogg Center to Upper Baldwin, anticipating a large audience.
Of the 14 students who posed questions during the 90-minute forum, all were related to polarizing events on campus, from that day’s demonstration to campus Rock paintings to Ditzler’s email response to each controversial event.
Some students, like Katherine Maher – junior from Troy, Michigan, and liaison of LGBriTs – and Olivia Conover – senior from Flushing, Michigan, and president of Umbrella — expressed their concerns over what they saw as the Albion College administration’s lack of consideration towards underrepresented students. For the past two years, Umbrella has tried to implement a four-page list of seven demands into the Student Handbook. So far, only two have been approved. One promoted a position in Intercultural Affairs while the other placed sexuality and gender in the nondiscriminatory list.
Ditzler said that while the college may not have addressed the remaining demands directly, it had implemented programs that strove to meet each goal. It was now, he said, a time to assess whether the programs were effective. Ditzler continued by stating his office was always open in case of needed discussions.
Most of the students, however, voiced their concerns as conservative students or voiced their discomfort over that day’s demonstration in front of Baldwin.
Expletives compared to potentially hateful, violent rhetoric
Senior Senator Lucas Harder of Naperville, Illinois, and sophomore Senator Coleman Schindler of Elk Rapids, Michigan, both expressed concerns about double-standards when it came to freedom of speech on campus.
Both mentioned a sign held by a demonstrator that stated, “F-ck white privilege.” Harder asked why Ditzler would send out an email stating that he was disappointed in students who painted the a pro-DACA Rock with pro-Trump wordage, but not be disappointed in students who used expletives on their posters.
Schindler stated he had a problem when an open access Google Document circulated within the College Conservatives — a group Schindler is a part of — by one of its members could lead to punishment, but the student holding a sign with expletives would be getting a “slap-on-the-wrist kind of deal.”
The Google Document will be investigated by the college for racist and violent remarks. The College Conservatives have claimed that the Doc was composed of notes taken off of a video by Ben Shapiro for discussion within the club.
“Do you condone expletives on posters?” asked Harder to Ditzler.
“No, I don’t,” said Ditzler. “And I don’t want to get sidetracked on that.”
Ditzler focused instead on the difference between speaking freely and knowing when to speak freely. It comes down to how a community sets its standards.
He gave an example of making a joke about a bomb in luggage. You can make such a joke in a dorm room. You can, too, on an airplane, but responses and repercussions would be much different. The community on the airplane aligns itself differently. The same goes for discussing the rights of the elderly, but not at Thanksgiving with one’s grandmother sitting close by.
The same reasoning could be used for the repainting of the pro-DACA rock, Ditzler said. He wanted to have a wholesome debate on the DACA repeal, but wanted to give DACA students, some of whom were first-years experiencing their first weeks on campus, time to know they were supported. When the Rock was painted over with pro-Trump wordage a day after being painted with pro-DACA wordage, the debate came too fast.
“The disappointment wasn’t that in the spray itself but movement too quickly,” he said.
Classroom conversation concerns
“I had a two-hour lecture that was not covering any class material,” said Schindler. “It was completely based on the Rock being painted, and I pay three to four thousand dollars per class, and I’d really like to cover the class material.”
Snaps from audience members showed support of Schindler’s concern.
Ditzler responded with a story. He, too, got upset as a sophomore while taking an American History course taught by a young, passionate professor during the Vietnam War. The professor would stray far from the syllabus at times, focusing instead on current events. But 20 years later, in having a discussion with the same professor, Ditzler realized that the only information he retained from the class was what he learned during the days the syllabus was forgotten.
Senior Senator Nick Smith of Midland, Michigan, and president of the College Conservatives had concerns that voices were not being heard, particularly in the classroom.
“Here at Albion College, there is a difference between the culture on campus that we advertise to prospective students and the culture that actually is here at Albion College,” he said. “And I think no matter what everybody’s interpretation of that statement, I think most of us would agree with that.”
Smith said for the past three years, the campus community has agreed that there needs to be more dialogue between its members. Each year, though, it never happens. In order for a campus to thrive, Smith said that both voices needed to be heard. And that includes in the classroom.
“I don’t have enough fingers and toes to tell you the number of times I’ve engaged in political discourse in a class and I’ve either been pulled aside by a professor afterwards, I’ve been called to their office hours [and] I’m the only person who gets an assignment back where everybody else just gets the rubric, but I get the rubric with a four-page letter talking about how my political point of view was inappropriate.”
Ditzler said there were two goals that a college should achieve for its students. First, to get students engaged in difficult issues in the civilest manner. Second, to love and respect every student, doing everything they can to ensure they’re successful.
Ditzler said he dreams of the day when difficult conversations are had openly, but sometimes it is not in the class’s best interest to have those conversations between all. So, sometimes faculty will pull aside students who can have that conversation.
Possible demonstration harassment called a “mistake”
On behalf of his girlfriend, Ashley Witowski, a sophomore from Wyandotte, Michigan, Trevor Hill, a sophomore from Kalamazoo, Michigan, asked Ditzler if he was aware of harassment that took place during that afternoon’s demonstration.
Witowski was attempting to enter Baldwin Hall with her roommate through one of its side entrances where protesters stood. While going in, Witowski was reportedly shoved and verbally harassed.
Hill stated the incidents went against procedures outlined in Albion’s Student Handbook. He called attention to the “Irresponsible Student Action” section, which forbids the use of force or violence, and the “Rallies and Demonstrations” section, which states that demonstrations must not interfere with the college’s orderly process. Baldwin Hall is a pre-designated area for demonstrations.
Ditzler said that mistakes were made, and that he hopes the demonstration would have an after-action conversation to address them.
“Obviously, on a busy day, lots of protests, on a hot day, lots of things happening, people are going to make statements they regret,” he said.
Ditzler also stated that when he heard students felt intimidated to walk through the side doors of Baldwin, he wanted to tell them that there was no need to be, as he would not have been intimidated. But, Ditzler said, he couldn’t speak for them.
“I think what our demonstration is doing is saying that some people feel intimidated every day of their lives,” Ditzler continued. “We want to give them an opportunity for only one day to see what we go through every day.”
Witowski left the Senate meeting visibly upset after Ditzler’s response to Hill’s question.
Ending with inclusiveness
Glendale, California, sophomore Ari Ruiz was the last speaker of the night. In response to the campus community’s want for dialogue, Ruiz announced she created an organization called Universal Alliance. The club is a place for people of all backgrounds and viewpoints to come together and have conversations.
“If you are an individual and you’re breathing, let’s hang,” she said.
On Oct. 12 at 7 p.m., the Student Senate and Mauri Ditzler will be hosting a second forum, this time on issues that extend past the semester’s events.