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The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
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Campus community converges for conversation

By Lisa Oyolu

Responding to student interest expressed throughout the previous academic year, on Tuesday, Sept. 24, the College held two town hall meetings—one in the afternoon and another in the evening—to bring students and administration into an open discourse.

“The primary purpose [of the meetings was] to explore another way of having civil and serious discussions about the challenges that we as a community face,” President Raynard Kington said.

The discussions were moderated by Ombudsperson Chinyere Ukabiala and SGA Vice President for Student Affairs, Ope Awe ’15. The conversations focused on sexual respect and Title IX, diversity, and alcohol and drug use. However, because the audience members differed between the two town hall meetings, there were some differences in discussion.

Each of the sessions began with Ukabiala establishing certain guidelines and reminding audience members to be mindful of safe space rules. Following this introduction, various representatives of the College administration gave brief presentations about their areas of expertise.

Jen Jacobsen ’95, Wellness Director, discussed student wellness initiatives, including substance abuse, bystander intervention training and addressing issues related to the secondhand effects of alcohol.

Jacobsen also pointed out improvements in students’ awareness of their health, specifically in relation to drug and alcohol consumption.

“Illustrative of the focus of addressing alcohol and other drug use on campus over the last five years, it is worth noting that when asked if they had received information from the College about alcohol and other drug use, in 2007, 44.3 percent of our students answered ‘yes,’ and by 2012, that number more than doubled to 93.8 percent,” she said.

Ombudsperson Chinyere Ukabiala at the town hall. Photo by Eve Lyons-Berg
Ombudsperson Chinyere Ukabiala at the town hall. Photo by Eve Lyons-Berg

Poonam Arora, Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Dean of the College for Diversity and Inclusion, also spoke at the sessions. Her presentation stressed the importance of “promoting diversity of all perspectives to enhance efficiency, innovation and capacity building in all aspects of Grinnell’s operations.”

“We want to be inclusive and excellent [at] the same time, and we believe that there is no contradiction. In order to get there, we must have a deliberate and strategic transition from cultures of exclusivity to what we call inclusive excellence,” Arora said.

The final speaker, Angela Voos, Interim Title IX Coordinator, discussed the changes in the College’s Title IX policies.

“Title IX is about opportunity,” Voos said. “It’s about a healthy environment that allows everyone to take advantage of the opportunities that Grinnell has to offer, specifically about sexual harassment.”

She then summarized the College’s goals regarding Title IX.

“What we are trying to do, with the help of students and faculty and staff, is to make an environment where people trust that if they come forward, they will be connected to resources and their privacy will be respected,” she said.

Following these presentations, the remainder of each session was dedicated to open discussion, during which audience members took the floor to voice their questions and concerns regarding a wide range of campus issues.

Questions touched on numerous topics, including a perceived bias against students of faith, both inside and outside of the classroom, the equal application of the College’s Title IX policies and the existence of a culture of political intolerance at Grinnell.

Despite the discourse which occurred, Kington acknowledges that the town hall meetings are just the beginning.

“I hope that each of these gatherings generates another hundred conversations that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. That’s where the real culture change occurs—it does not occur in a room like this,” he said.

The conversations initiated as a result of the town halls were of special importance to some students.

“There is a clear disconnect between what the administration thinks is going smoothly and how we feel about a lot of issues,” said Jacob Washington ’15.

Arora noted that these meetings were a step towards sparking greater conversations.

“There are some difficult conversations to be had on campus,” she said.

However, many recognize that town hall meetings like the one that happened on Tuesday are a good place to start.


Another set of town hall meetings are scheduled to take place on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

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