By Anna Toth
In October, the university garnered national attention from outlets such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post when university President Ronald M. Berkman spoke of anti-LGBTQ posters as free speech.
Since then, Berkman has apologized, a new university president-elect has been announced and the campus community seems to be moving on.
Maurice Stinnett, vice president of university engagement and chief diversity officer at Cleveland State, has held multiple meetings with community leaders, students and minority groups to find how to move forward from the incident in October. Community Unity Roundtables are going to be a way to communicate changes within the university to students, faculty and staff. The round tables will also be a way to get ideas on how to effectively combat hate on campus.
“People are always going to do awful, hateful things on this campus,” Stinnett said. “But we can battle it and create new ways of dealing with it.”
The first Community Unity Roundtable was held on Thursday, Feb. 1, in the Student Center Ballroom. The room held around a dozen round tables and attracted less than a dozen people.
Under half of the attendees were students. The students who did show up were representatives of an organization, such as the Student Government Association or the Queer Student Alliance.
To start off the round table session, Stinnett and other members of Cleveland State’s administration discussed what had already been implemented in direct response to the anti-LGBTQ posters in October.
One of the first things was the Biased Incident Response Team (The BIRT), a new way to report incidents that offend or target an individual or group based on aspects of their identity. The BIRT is lead by Stinnett, as well as members of significant university offices such as the Office for Institutional Equity (OIE) and the Student Government Association.
If appropriate, Stinnett will alert the OIE as well as the university police about reported bias incidents. If needed, he will also organize a joint response to get the university on the same page.
The next change to university policy involved the bulletin boards, some of which were host to the exact posters that prompted the conversation. Now, all boards must be owned and maintained by a building or department.
The smaller boards with wheels in the student center are gone as there is no way to closely monitor them since they were open to the public. Students will no longer be able to post “looking for a roommate” or similar fliers. Clare Rahm, associate vice president for student affairs, thinks that social media can make up for that specific change but acknowledges the challenge.
While not an official change to Cleveland State policy, university administration is also reimplementing the Viking Creed, something that was created under former university president Michael Schwartz’s term at Cleveland State.
After the new policies and university changes were discussed, the Community Unity Roundtable moved on to hear suggestions from people in attendance about how to prevent bias incidences and unite the community. Suggestions were written on a board and everyone spoke freely about the suggestions.
Stinnett himself sat at the back of the group and let others have the floor.
A variety of ideas were put forth, including more bonding events like Tea Time for Peace and Hijab Day, both of which involve allowing students to learn about other cultures while enjoying free food and activities.
At the end of the Community Unity Roundtable, people used three stickers to vote for their favorite suggestions of the night. Having more diversity classes in freshman foundation requirements was the people’s choice of the night. Stinnett suggested the possibility of a diversity 101 class, similar to what Case Western Reserve University has.
While the Community Unity Roundtables are still starting off, Stinnett says the other two round table events will all follow the agenda of updating students about changes to university policy and then getting suggestions on how to better handle hateful incidents.
“This is something that’s going to evolve as the conversation does,” Stinnett said. “But for now, it’s going to be the same.”
The next Community Unity Roundtable events are Tuesday Feb. 6, at 11:30 a.m. and Monday Feb. 12, at 1:30 p.m. in the Student Center Ballroom.