More than 250 faculty and staff and more than 120 students joined Chancellor Ronnie Green, Executive Vice Chancellor Donde Plowman and other top administrators Feb. 9 for frank discussions of campus climate and other issues arising after the public identification of a student as an admitted white nationalist.
Listening sessions for students, faculty and staff were scheduled after Antifa Nebraska circulated an internet video in which the student endorses violence and voices racist beliefs. Many on campus have called for the student’s expulsion. Though Green, Plowman and other officials have strongly denounced the student’s beliefs, they also say his statements are protected by the First Amendment.
“To be absolutely clear, I personally abhor and am morally outraged by the views of individuals and organized groups who spread hatred and instill fear in our community,” said Chancellor Green. “Views of racial supremacy or domination are inconsistent with everything I believe but even more importantly, with the values of our university. We cannot let hate-inspired rhetoric or groups allow us to lose our way as an institution of public higher learning.”
The sessions were heated at times with people expressing fear and frustration, but administrators stated they heard the concerns and pledged to keep safety and security on the campus a top priority, while also working on ways to continue the important dialogue with the campus community.
Afterwards, Green described the sessions as productive and critically important.
“Both were important conversations,” he said. “I recognize that we have a lot of work to do, but these are not empty words. Not only should all students and faculty feel safe here, they should feel welcomed and recognized as an integral part of the campus community.”
Green and Plowman cited a number of efforts in progress to improve campus diversity and inclusion as well as to address the issues raised by the situation involving the self-described white nationalist student
They include: - A vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion will be appointed. - Beginning later this month, training efforts will begin to help faculty and graduate students manage First Amendment issues and difficult conversations in the classroom. - Efforts are underway to revise the Student Code of Conduct to to address contemporary issues.
Plowman’s office will be announcing some first action steps in the coming days.
Charlie Foster, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and director of the Gaughan Multicultural Center, said she has a unique vantage point as a staff member and as the mother of a student who is troubled by the handling of the white nationalist student’s case.
“This feels really messed up,” she told students. “But it is an opportunity. It gives us an opportunity to reach students we couldn’t reach before. This is the moment. We can get this done. We can do it.”