Over 500 students, faculty and other members of the Kalamazoo College community gathered in Stetson Chapel this Wednesday to discuss the recent threats to the campus faculty and members of Student Commission (StuComm). President Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran led the group discussion and encouraged students to share their stories in the safe space Stetson provided.
“The hate speech that occurred last night is absolutely reprehensible. Our first goal is to make sure the campus is safe,” said President Wilson-Oyelaren. She said safety is the main priority on campus right now.
The faculty will try to address all safety concerns. The Director of Campus Security Eric Wimbley was at the reflection but did not speak. He is working with both the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KPDS) and the FBI to gauge the threats and determine who is responsible for making them.
“At this time we have not determined that any of the threats are credible,” said Assistant Chief of Public Safety Donald Webster. The President encouraged that students still attend classes tomorrow.
President Wilson-Oyelaran discussed how the threats have negatively impacted the campus community before opening the floor to students. She said, “I understand there is a difficulty to focus on intellectual work while you feel frightened and traumatized.”
The College will be able to change the email addresses of StuComm members who have been harassed since their private information had been made public last night. The school is working with Google to find the perpetrator. The President described the involvement of the FBI as a positive development.
President Wilson-Oyelaran shared an individual story of dealing with racism and sexism before opening the floor to all members of the audience. Over thirty students stood up in front of a fully packed Stetson and shared their various stories.
Students talked about their individual experiences with threats, racism, sexism, homophobia, social class inequality and many other hateful things that have affected them. Many students expressed their concerns for the safety of themselves and their friends on campus. One student got up and said, “I feel powerless, and it terrifies me.”
Another common thread shared was that Kalamazoo College once appeared as a safe place for people, but now it feels very unsafe for many students. One student exemplified this by saying, “I have never ever felt unsafe before in my life until today.” These sentiments have also been expressed the past few weeks through the trending #UnsafeatK.
Although many speakers talked about a common fear felt across the campus community, nearly all of them talked about the strength the community reflection brought. One student said, “We are doing something right here. We should all feel a pride in this. Ironic though it may be.”
This idea of doing something right was carried forward by President Wilson-Oyelaran as she concluded the reflection after an hour and a half. “Everyone who spoke here showed courage. Now we hold core commitments. Commitments of respect, commitments of diversity and commitments of sticking with each other through the struggle.” A roar of applause from the audience concluded her speech.
“I know people who make anonymous threats in the middle of the night are cowards,” said President Wilson-Oyelaran. She stated that it is every member of the community’s job to work toward institutional change, but that it will be a struggle. She finished by saying, “The hard work now begins. Love is hard work. Struggle is hard work. Building a community is hard work.”