The independent panel put together by President Dr. David Soltz, for the purpose of investigating the Nov. 1 Homecoming incident, held an open forum for students and faculty Monday, Dec. 1.
The purpose of the forum was to allow the Bloomsburg University community to voice their concerns and experiences of the incident to help the panel with their investigation.
Held one month after the incident itself, this was the second forum held to discuss the incident. Dr. Soltz, however, was not in attendance.
The independent panel assembled by Soltz consists of Mr. Jack Dowling, president and principal of JD Security Consultants LLC; Dr. Terrell Jones, vice provost for educational equity, Penn State University; and Dr. Kahan Sablo, dean of student life, Edinboro University.
Soltz, himself, is not a part of the panel conducting the investigation.
“We decided they would be independent and make recommendations to me,” Soltz told The Voice.
Jones told those in attendance, “If you’ve got factual information, we’d like that.” He also added that any concerns or feelings are welcomed as well.
Marcus Scales, Co-President of Bloomsburg’s Black Cultural Society was the first to speak. He addressed his desire for an “equal playing field” for the organization and planning of events.
Scales’ statement is a common one. At Dr. Soltz’s forum held in November, various students expressed their concern of possible racial profiling taking place when events are planned at the Kehr Union.
Inas Shabazz, President of the Rho Iota chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, told the story of planning an event, “Rock the Vote,” at the Kehr Union in April 2008. Shabazz says she has seen repeated discrimination against minority events often forcing them to provide added security or deal with last-minute planning changes.
Sablo said the panel plans to look at past events and determine whether or not there has been discrepancies and what sort of standards exist.
Dowling, who is also former director of security at Bucknell University and Philadelphia University, cleared up a comment about police pointing firearms at students during the incident, a comment heard often at the past forum, by clarifying that the weapons they were using were 40 millimeter canister guns used to fire tear gas and pepper spray at large crowds if needed. They were not rifles of any sort.
“We talked to very many people who were intimidated by that, and that’s natural,” said Dowling. He also stated that these weapons would not have been fired in an enclosed area.
When the presence of police dogs at the incident came into question, the majority of the crowd claimed there were at least two.
Sherrol Browne, a C.A. at Luzerne Hall, said he was not present at the incident, but he did organize crowd control as students flooded the lobby of his building after being dispersed by police. He spoke of the previous forum and how reoccurring references to the incident as a “riot” had upset him.
Browne had also obtained the official police report of the incident, which referred to the incident as a riot and stated that the students taken into custody were described as being part of a riot.
The panel, which was unable to obtain a copy of said police report, asked Browne to make them a copy.
Browne expressed his concern for the arrested students who’s records have been “tarnished” by an incident that was not their fault.
Browne also feels minority students were targeted in the incident and that the University must take responsibility for the situation.
Christine Moore, a C.A. at Elwell Hall, cited a letter from Dr. Soltz to the University community, which stated that police are allowed to use pepper spray on unruly individuals, however some others were affected by it during the incident. Moore asks why the responsible police force has yet to release any statement or apology concerning the incident.
At this point, Sablo asked the crowd how important an apology is in the situation, and nearly everyone in attendance replied that it is very important to them.
Moore stood up again, later in the evening, saying that a possible remedy to the situation is to bridge the gap between students and police, and that an apology would help get there.
Shabazz called for a “thorough and precise investigation.” She claimed she has witnessed such treatment and pressure at previous events and that she is tired of this being called an isolated incident.
Shabazz also felt, by definition, that the students at the event were not causing a riot, but rather, the police were.
“They were rioting,” said Shabazz, “we were not.”
Shabazz’s final concern was that this forum was being held a month after the incident and that it has been too long without results.
The panel had questions as to whether or not there is still a need for psychological support for those involved a month later.
Since Monday, a counseling session for those involved in the incident has been planned for Thursday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. in the lobby of Luzerne Hall. The session will be run by Dr. Bill Harrar from the University Counseling Center.
“We’ve got a difficult task,” said Sablo. He and the rest of the panel remained optimistic about the investigation.
“Bloomsburg,” he said, “you are bigger than this incident. You will survive this.”
Dr. Soltz told The Voice that the investigation would consist of 30-40 interviews involving students involved in the incident, members of University and Bloomsburg Town Police forces and Kehr Union staff members.
Soltz said the panel was hoping to have the results out to students before the end of the semester, but it will most likely not be available until next semester with this semester’s end rapidly approaching.
The Voice attempted to contact Bloomsburg Police Chief Leo Sokolowski to ask questions regarding the incident and the investigation. His only response was that, “it is a University Police issue” and that they should be contacted instead.
Soltz’s response to this was surprise. He also stated that it was his understanding that Sokolowski was to be one of the many interviewed in the investigation.
Soltz said he expects the panel to correct the process in which future Kehr Union events will be planned to avoid similar situations. The investigation will also look at police response as an issue.
“We’re looking forward, not backward,” said Soltz.
The members of the panel were mostly recommended to Soltz by presidents of other universities. All the panel members have some previous familiarity with Bloomsburg University.
After several attempts, The Voice was unable to contact University Police Chief Robert Klinger before the time of publication.