February 21, 2016

Threlkeld response favors reputation over students

file photo / The Louisville Cardinal

By Kyeland Jackson —

After a semester of controversy, scandal and questionable actions from university administration, another issue of race has surfaced.

The reports of racial issues in Threlkeld were confirmed by university administration and students this week. Racially-based comments and drawings have been going on since October. And while Dean of Students Michael Mardis said “student well-being” is U of L’s top priority, I disagree.

The fact the issue was publicly acknowledged only after the Facebook post about it became viral confirms this. First reports of the incident stretch back almost three months, yet the issue was not publicly addressed. Instead, officials took an incredibly internal route. To ensure info about it didn’t get released, residents were told not to say anything about it to other students, media or faculty by Threlkeld staff. While the notion was quickly reversed in a mass email to Threlkeld residents, the sentiment existed.

We pride ourselves as a university for being inclusive and appreciating the voices of our diverse students. Needless to say, we as students do not want any more negative publicity after the controversial year we’ve had. But does that mean we tell students to keep quiet about hostility in their own dorm, if even for a moment?

Keeping them quiet reflects the same feeling students got from the postseason ban: It’s the upper-level administration versus the students. And in both cases so far, the well-being of the students have taken a back seat to the status of the university.

The relationship between students and the university is supposed to be a reciprocal one. Students give their money, time, and education to the university in return for a quality education and learning environment. In return, the students receive academic rigor and applicable job skills. The university’s status and capital increase. That is the ideal relationship.

Instead the relationship is more paternal, with the university administration playing the role of parent to the students. Student voices, in this case Damien Lee, Trey Lewis and Threlkeld students, are ignored. Instead they’re told what’s “best” for them, and the administration proceeds how they want.

Students and faculty as a result feel angry and cheated. Threlkeld residents said they felt their voices were being ignored, and recent A&S surveys revealed the staff there are underpaid and dissatisfied.

The culture of such a relationship is made worse by the lack of immediacy the university took for this incident.

Ramsey’s inappropriate Halloween costume resulted in a public apology, staff training and propositions for campus-wide changes within a month.

Three months after the Threlkeld incident, residents have the option to file a formal complaint to Mardis or be relocated to another dorm. Training with residents has been ongoing since October, but residents say it’s been unsuccessful. They told the Cardinal some of those meetings completely ignored suggestions from both sides.

All of this stems from a dorm renowned for it’s largely honor student population.

The university housing site calls Threlkeld a “dynamic community geared to promote a high quality academic experience. They (Threlkeld) also foster resident interaction to assist in transitioning to college life.”

Such a title cannot be claimed when residents are posting swastikas and racial slurs on the dormitory whiteboard and when the staff are the ones who have instructed the students to remain quiet.

The staff and administration involved should be held fully accountable failing to resolve this situation more urgently. While the incident was not their fault, the choices on how to handle it were.

Opting for secrecy and lack of comprehensive action endangered the well-being of residents. The choices taken built the opposite of our campus vision for cultural-inclusiveness, and instead built a culture of exclusion. A culture where the administration turns their backs on the voices of the students, favoring interests they deem to be “for our own good.”

File photo / The Louisville Cardinal

1 thought on “Threlkeld response favors reputation over students

  1. It should be noted that racially based comments and offensive drawings due fall under free speech unless the fit into very narrowly defined parameters as outlined by the Supreme Court. We, as a community, should be disgusted by such speech, but we must also recognize that as a public university, we are bound by the Constitution and cannot censor nor take punitive action against another based solely on how offensive or hurtful we find their speech. Unless, individual harassment or threats can be definitively proven, the we must err on the side of the speaker.

    Part of what makes our country great is the right to say whatever you wish(outside certain circumstances), without fear of punitive action by public officials. For any students who fear they are being targeted because of their constitutionally protected free speech, I’d suggest contacting FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) for free legal advice and possibly representation.

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