By Katie Ziesloft and Shannon Hoffman
Videography by Andrew Wakelee
Video editing by Shannon Hoffman
Months after students demanded an apology for the perceived racist actions at last fall’s homecoming incident, President Soltz read a written statement of apology and offered a list of 40-plus recommendations made by a three-person panel he appointed to investigate the incident.
The purpose of the open forum held last night in Carver Hall was to make public the findings produced by the panel selected to investigate the incident occurring at homecoming.
On November 1, 2008, approximately 500 students gathered at the Kehr Union for the homecoming dance. Later that night, there was a clash between students and both university and town police.
As Soltz explained as part of his apology last night, “There was a convergence of several factors that produced a regrettable situation.”
Investigations deducted that these factors included a faulty check-in system, delays in setup, inappropriate behavior by some students, and inadequate communication between on-campus and off-campus police. Some students who attended the dance were also under the influence and irritated by the cold temperatures they were forced to endure while waiting to enter dance.
Approximately 300 people attended the first forum, held on November 10, 2008, when students and faculty voiced their disgust over the incident. (Read the article and watch the video.) Soltz announced that he would appoint a three-person panel to conduct interviews and formulate an action plan for the university.
Last night, Soltz announced to an audience size that was far short of the first forum his commitment to making sure the university followed through on the short-term and long-term goals regarding the campus climate and the role of the university in providing safety and security to all members of the community.
“This is the start of a process,” he said.
The panel consisted of Dr. Terrell Jones, vice provost for Educational Equity at Penn State University, Dr. Kahan Sablo, dean of student life at Edinboro University, and Mr. Jack F. Dowling, president and principal of UD Security Consultants, LLC., Downingtown, Pa. The panel released their final revisions on February 3, however the document wasn’t made available to students until yesterday afternoon just a few hours prior to the forum.
When questioned repeatedly last night by students about why the document was posted on Blackboard so late, Soltz offered a tautological response, some parts of which were muttered and difficult to understand: “The reason it wasn’t released earlier is that we chose to have the recommendations released tonight and then have the discussion… We’d rather get the recommendations out first, have the people think about them, then…”
Soltz opened up the forum with a written apology, which seemed specifically intended for the innocent bystanders in the crowd who were Maced or treated forcefully by police forces.
“As president and on behalf of Bloomsburg University, I sincerely apologize to those who without their provocation, were unfortunately, negatively impacted by the use of pepper spray and crowd disbursement procedures,” said Soltz.
This apology seemed to fulfill the recommendation made by the panel to ease tension and “heal the campus climate.” (IX. Recommendations A. Healing the Campus Climate 4)
Soltz went on to present the 40-plus recommendations. “We’re looking at the homecoming incident and we’re broadening it to look at the entire university,” said Soltz. Much of his focus was on what could be learned from the event and to move the university past this incident.
When the forum was opened up to questions from those in attendance, senior Inas Shabazze expressed her skepticism about the university’s ability to move on.
“I don’t think we can move forward until we’re honest about what happened. This is not telling me anything we do not already know. What I want to know is what happened that day,” said Shabazze.
Clearly caught up in emotions, Shabazze, who was not in attendance at the dance, emphasized her points with the word “friggin,” to which Soltz responded, “I think you need to be civil right now.”
“I think you missed the mark, Dr. Soltz. What we want to know is what happened and who is responsible for the blatant—oh my god—racism,” she said.
Several students who offered comments and questions thanked Soltz for holding the forum, and expressed appreciation toward the panel. Arlene Edwards was one of these students, but she also said that she feels the issue is getting “swept under the rug.”
An unidentified student asked Soltz point blank if he believed there was excessive force used at the homecoming dance.
“There was a lot of force used for the size of the crowd. I wouldn’t want to see that on our campus again,” responded Soltz. The student pushed Soltz for a yes or no answer, but the closest the president came was, “It looked like an overreaction.”
The panel recommendations made it clear that “high risk” events require greater security measures than other events. Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, Jeff Long, outlined what makes an event “high risk:” the number of students and guests in attendance, how large the event space is, and the duration of event time are taken into account in determining this classification.
Dr. Irving Wright, Director of Act 101, made a comment that spurred applause from many students and faculty. “I think we need to concentrate on making these short-term goals as quickly as possible, but ultimately I think we need to change our culture here at Bloomsburg.” His main suggestion was to alter the mission statement here at Bloom, which states:
“…It strives to foster openness in communication and involvement in decision making through a participatory governance structure. In this atmosphere, faculty, administration, staff and students attain a genuine respect for one another, a concern for the enrichment of their experience, and the achievement of their common purpose. The university community is committed to the principle of personal and academic freedom within the framework of ethical responsibilities.”
Dr. Wright concluded, “Diversity also enhances excellence.”
The panel’s recommendations can be found on Blackboard, where there is also a message board available to express reactions to the document and forums. Soltz told BU Now that the comments made on the forum, which will be visible to all students and faculty, will be considered by his executive staff. At the time of the article’s publication, there were no comments posted on the forum besides Soltz’s invitation.
BU Now contacted Soltz for further questioning, but at he time of deadline the had yet to respond.