On Friday, Nov. 16, students, staff, community members and news cameras filled Newton 202 to participate in an open dialogue about diversity and community on campus.
The discussion was organized by members of the administration as a response to continued unease regarding the "blackface" incident before Halloween, during which three students painted their faces black in order to portray black rappers for their costumes.
The move prompted a large outcry on campus, particularly from student group Fighting Against Racial Injustice (FARI), and attracted large amounts of local media coverage.
The dialogue began with opening remarks from President Christopher Dahl. He thanked students for making time to attend the discussion and stressed, "Geneseo's unshakeable commitment to building a diverse and inclusive community."
Coordinator of Multicultural Programs Fatima Johnson and Heidi Levine from Health and Counseling then explained the format of the discussion to attendees. Finally, sociology professor Elaine Cleeton addressed the crowd before sending them off into smaller groups in which participants openly discussed their opinions and suggestions for change.
When students and staff returned to the large lecture hall, each group had a chance to report on the major points of their discussions. The most widely suggested improvements involved a suggested move away from student organizations that only support one ethnicity rather than large, multicultural groups that would allow for greater unity and equality.
The groups also suggested changes to the curriculum; specifically a required freshman course on diversity and more classes focusing on minority groups, as well as an Eastern Humanities course in addition to the Humanities core currently in place.
English professor Paul Schacht agreed that the curriculum could use a change. "I don't think the curriculum has all the answers," he said. "However, we are an educational institution. It makes sense for us to be sure we're doing everything we can in the curriculum to address these issues through education."
There was a point of dissention when one student expressed his group's opinion that the incident in question did not constitute "blackface" in its historic form. Angry shouts from the audience ensued. Some people held up pictures of the three students in their costumes and some attendees even walked out.
According to junior Amy Callahan, whether or not the students participated in historical "blackface" is not the point.
"Today the issue seemed to be whether blackface is racist," she said. "Even if you don't believe that it's racist, you know it's offensive because there's a whole group on campus reacting to it."
Callahan expressed her beliefs at the podium: Actions that make people uncomfortable, regardless of whether or not they are outright racist actions, should not be excused, she said.
Freshman Donat De La Cruz, a FARI member, agreed. "We just used blackface as an outcry, like 'this is the last straw'," he said. [The administration] seems to be more reactive when we apply pressure, so we applied pressure and look what happened."
De La Cruz also videotaped parts of the forum for a FARI documentary.
Dahl expressed his desire to see such discussions become a more regular occurrence on campus.
"I think we need to have regular discussions like this," he said. "These discussions are modeled on a program that our Commission on Diversity and Community does, deliberative dialogue, and we hold those regularly, once or twice a semester."
The hall buzzed with discussion as students exited the room, still deep in discussion with their peers regarding the issues faced during the forum. Many expressed that the forum was a good place to start. As one group reported at the forum, "We live in a comfortable society. It is time to stop being comfortable."