Local university gives voice to students on issues such as race, religion, immigration

| November 24, 2015
Kenneth Christmon, associate vice chancellor for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at IPFW (Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne)

Kenneth Christmon, associate vice chancellor for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at IPFW (Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne)

FORT WAYNE—In the wake of the Paris terrorist attack tragedy, couched in the already heated rhetoric of the U.S. presidential debates and a variety of critical issues in the U.S. consciousness, many are tense and unsure, perhaps even frightened. And, when people are that uncertain about the future, it’s important for them to be heard. That’s the idea behind a free speech project at a local university.

Kenneth Christmon, associate vice chancellor for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at IPFW (Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne) is one of those working to ensure those concerned voices are heard. His department recently instituted a program in which topics are posted on a wall outside its office and invites students to openly post their comments and ideas about the subject.

(Watch video of the interview at the bottom of the page)

Given the recent upheavals at institutions of higher learning—such as the University of Missouri, in which high ranking officials have been forced to resign after students protested their handling of racial issues on campus—Christmon said it is important that students know that someone is listening and acting on their concerns to ensure the nation’s secondary schools operate effectively and progressively. Those schools, he said, cannot operate without such dialogue, because if students are shut out and leave, there is no one to teach and the institution fails. The wall outside the office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs helps to bring out conversations before they unexpectedly explode. The exercise, he said, however, isn’t one designed just to let people blow off steam but also said the project has netted a number of positive gains to the school.

The wall of dialogue provides a way for staff to hear and know what students are thinking and incorporate a discussion of those ideas into the faculty’s already exceptional efforts to share and spread knowledge.

“We’ve noticed that we need to continue to be better listeners of our students. And, our philosophy is, I don’t care what you teach, I don’t care what your administrative position or your title is, I don’t even care how beautiful the grounds of the buildings are, if there are no students at IPFW, there’s no job—there’s no reason for anybody to teach, there’s no reason for anybody to administrate,” Christmon said.

And, he said, if students don’t feel they are being heard at an institution or included in its efforts to move forward, they will go somewhere else.

Christmon also explained that the effort is grounded in the highest law of the land, the U.S. Constitution, which protects the rights of all.

“We believe very strongly at the university that that particular wall was an avenue to open the voice of the student. The second part of that is the university is deeply steeped—and we believe very strongly—in the First Amendment. And, people can say what they want to say, but at the point it becomes a threat, at the point that it infringes upon other people’s rights or abilities, the First Amendment is pretty clear on those tenets,” explained Christmon.

Still, he said the administration recognizes that this open exchange of ideas and opinions sometimes will prove contentious.

“It’s been interesting, but ahead of Mizzou (University of Missouri), ahead of a number of things that have happened in our country, but also in the backdrop of your Michael Brown situations, and Hands Up Don’t Shoot, that wall is a place for people to come to express and maybe let some air out of it in some ways, but in other ways to create some more tension about what we need to talk about.”

Along those lines, he said one of the central discussions brought up is race.

“At the end of the day, race is something we’re not comfortable with. Are we better? Yes. Are we stronger? Yes. Has the house of God helped that? Yes. Have universities helped that? Yes. Has just the good, common working person wanting to do right? Yes. But at the same time, we’re comfortable with economic disparity and if we’re winning, we don’t say anything; if we’re losing, we cry. We’ve become very comfortable with the LGBTQ agenda. They are moving things in the Indiana House right now and throughout this country. We can talk about that and what we need to do but when it comes to race, it’s like this invisible thing and if you raise the flag, it’s as if you have some kind of mental or social disorder,” said Christmon.

“Race is something that we need to deal with and I think that the largest macro idea we have is how this Congress has acted toward our president, forgetting that he is biracial and seeing him as ‘the black president.’ And, he has led this nation as best he could with equity, I believe, in the forefront of his ideology,” he explained.

But, said Christmon, others have seen that as “taking from us to give to someone else” and race once again is at the center of that view.

“Race is a volatile situation,” said Christmon, “but it doesn’t have to be because once you get into the subject, then you start to realize there’s a lot more commonality than there is distance.”

But, Christmon said the nation has to confront its thinking on race, not just with issues of black and white but other topics such as immigration.

Christmon spoke on the idea that for the most part, there has been no uproar about immigrants from European countries—such as Bosnians, Russians and others and how race plays into the current immigration debate, even when not spoke to directly.

“Mexicans come across the border, now we want to keep the Syrians out—it’s still race. It’s just become amalgamated and you have the history, but we’ve created a quagmire because we’ve not dealt with race and how we feel about race.

“Again, it’s ideology and it’s who we’re comfortable with and what we’re not comfortable with. And whose country,… really, does the United States really belong to? It belongs to all of us,” he said. “You can’t handpick what you’re going to slice out of the pie because that’s not who we are as a country.”


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Category: Civil Rights, Community, Education, International, Local, National, Politics, Spiritual Matters

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