Friday, April 24, 2015

What's the Buzz at Transy?

A Season of Discontent

University bungles response to racial issue

While the presidential candidates are whittled down, we must acknowledge the importance of bringing this issue to their attention. And, more importantly, we must continue our efforts in staying united under diversity and inclusion. As a campus supposedly built upon ideals of diversity and inclusion and made up of students of all different backgrounds, our need for support has grown beyond what has been supplied...
"Students cannot sit idly by and expect that the new president knows what we need," James wrote. "It is not enough to admit the diverse – when we simply admit and do nothing more, we risk engaging in tokenism – but we must also strive to make them feel welcomed and included."

In a February lecture, Carey agreed with that philosophy.
“I think the biggest challenge college students might face is alienation,” he said, “The student who’s not so connected—if you recognize that and you act on that to make them feel connected, that would be huge… If you did that, you would create a really unique campus. And that’s what I think Transylvania can be.”
One month later, a former student who had felt alienated on the Transy campus from 200-2004, by "daily acts of racism," decided to reminisce on BuzzFeed. That led to a turbulent spring.

This from Rachel Smith, Editor-in-Chief of the Transylvania Rambler:
A series of BuzzFeed essays written by an alumna sparked various emotions from people on campus which ranged from validated to sad to angered—and sometimes, that was all within one person.

The first of the essays, titled “A Black Girl’s History with Southern Frat Racism,” was published on March 19. In it, author Tracy Clayton ’04 detailed some of her experiences at Transylvania, alleging that “daily acts of racism occurred in front of my face.”

Editorial cartoon by Jesse Johnson
In her article, Clayton specifically mentions the Transylvania Kappa Alpha (KA) Order chapter as displaying Confederate flags and being unwelcoming to students of color, particularly black students.
“The experiences described by the reporter when she attended the school in 2000-2004 are unacceptable,” said current KA President junior Josh Buckman in an email statement. “There is no place for racially insensitive words or actions.”

He continued, “Our fraternity’s values of gentlemanly conduct and respect for others are paramount in all of our interactions on campus and with others. We are looking forward to opportunities on and off campus to promote inclusiveness. Our chapter, as a whole and as individual members, is actively getting involved to ensure we play a part in moving our campus community in the right direction.”

Acting Director of Diversity and Inclusion Serenity Wright ’05 was one reader who had mixed emotions about Clayton’s essays, and one who agreed with Buckman in that things are moving in a bit of a different direction now.

“From my personal reaction, I was appalled—I was angered, I was hurt—on a lot of different levels,” said Wright.

Wright said that, as someone who attended Transy at the same time as Clayton, she felt that Clayton had not done enough research into how much progress the university had made in the last 15 years.
“I hear her, that it’s part of her healing process, and I get that,” said Wright. “And while I think that some students feel validated by the national publication of her feelings, it wouldn’t surprise me if some also felt discounted because there’s no mention of the hard work they’ve put in to make this place better.”

Students expressed both of these sentiments in their initial reactions to the article.

“I felt very validated, because a lot of those things were things my friends and I had been saying our entire time at Transy—specifically the part when she talked about transferring,” said junior Angelica Miller.

Miller, along with other members of the Black Student Alliance and several sociology students, organized a demonstration shortly after the essays were published to protest against the way the university handled Clayton’s words.

“We really felt that the university wasn’t taking the article seriously,” said Miller.

At the same time, said Miller, she was frustrated that the university had missed an opportunity by not acknowledging progress made by staff, faculty and students in the recent years.

“(The university) could have used it as a launching pad to showcase the efforts that they have done, and instead they didn’t,” she said. “They basically closed their ranks. And that’s not useful for projecting a progressive image. It’s also not useful for validating your staff who are doing that work on a day-to-day basis.”

Wright, on the other hand, said she still hoped that these essays might help push her office toward bigger, more tangible change on campus.

“My job right now as is, is supposed to be focused on solely student programming, and that’s not going to be enough,” said Wright. “For me, I want to continue to be a place where students can come and vent; where they can express their feelings; where they can get help; where, if they have an idea, we can use the weight of this office to carry it forward; where I can advocate for them, whether it’s socially or academically. I’m hopeful that (Clayton’s essay) continues to give amplification to all of the voices on campus working towards creating an inclusive environment.”

While it might do that at some point, some students feel that there are many important dialogues which will lead to that destination. Sophomore Justin Wright, who helped organize a series of community forums alongside fellow sophomore Teddy Salazar and junior Brooke Jennett, said he feels that letting everyone react to these essays before attempting to move forward will be key.

“It’s a whole systematic thing, and we need to address this,” said Parker. “If this is the place that we start, that’s great, but we need to go further.”

These conversations must begin somewhere, and to Parker, validating experiences is a good place to start—while keeping in mind that the process is a two-way street.

“A lot of people on this campus come from areas where these things aren’t something that is talked about or even thought about,” said Parker. “So we need to address that as well. It’s an educational void, an awareness void, on various issues.”

Many times, groups are discouraged from attempting to fill this void because they do not want to appear insensitive, according to Serenity Wright.

“I know there are white students on this campus who feel that they can’t have conversations with minority students because they’re afraid they’re going to get their head bit off or they’re afraid they’re going to be told, ‘That’s stupid,’ or ‘You don’t know. You can’t sympathize with me. You’ve never felt…’ And that’s really unfortunate on both sides, because who’s to say that person hasn’t felt any aspect of oppression?” she said. “Diversity includes a lot of different things. It’s not just, did you check a box that says you’re not white?”

To Serenity Wright, this means that everyone embodies some kind of diversity; as such, it becomes a greater struggle for everyone.

“We as minority students can’t just speak about these issues to ourselves,” said Justin Wright. “If we’re going to do what the university preaches about open and successful dialogue, we have to speak about these issues that happen to minority students, and through them, we have to speak to non-minority students.”

Serenity Wright said she recognized that students, faculty and staff who identify as part of a minority group are tired of taking on this burden, but she hopes that through programming like the microaggressions workshops that she has helped sponsor—the next of which is scheduled for April 30—this kind of intervention will continue getting easier.

“As my first boss told me as a young teacher advocating for my students, count to 10 before you respond,” said Serenity Wright. “I think we all need to remember to take a deep breath. I don’t think there’s anybody on this campus who can say they don’t care, or who truly doesn’t care.”
She continued, “So now it’s just a matter of how are we going to move, and are we going to move together?”
This from Tracy Clayton at BuzzFeed: (Clayton background at InsiderLouisville and LEO)

A Black Girl’s History 

With Southern Frat Racism

I was one of few black students at a small college in Kentucky in the early 2000s.

Every day I was reminded just how unwelcome I was there.
When footage of the University of Oklahoma’s SAE fraternity singing a disgustingly racist chant — which included the phrase “there will never be a nigger in SAE” — emerged a couple weeks ago, I felt many things, but surprised wasn’t one of them. The video may have been taken at a private fraternity event on a bus, but I know firsthand that pervasive racism in white Greek organizations is not a new thing. I spent four years at a mostly white college in Kentucky, where daily acts of racism occurred in front of my face. So after seeing the way that some Southern white college students act in the presence of black people, it did not surprise me at all that they’d sing a fun little song about lynching niggers when they think we can’t hear them.

Transylvania University is a small college (yes, it really exists; yes, that’s really what it’s called; no, I didn’t major in bloodsucking) in Lexington, Kentucky. The school was a handful of blocks away from the better-known University of Kentucky and an hour and some change away from Louisville, where I’m from. That’s why I chose the school, in part; I was an anxious kid who wanted to start over with a new group of classmates, and nearly every high school student in Louisville enrolls in either the University of Kentucky or the University of Louisville. Transy was far enough away from home yet still close enough for regular visits, had a great academic reputation, and a really cool name. And they gave me a scholarship. I decided to commit to Transy without visiting the campus; I felt like I knew enough about it, and again, they gave me the biggest scholarship of any other school I’d been accepted to (I was also really into vampire lore at the time). But on move-in day, my already rioting heart nearly stopped beating altogether as my mother and I turned into the dorm parking lot to find a Confederate flag in every window on the second floor of one of the boys’ dorms.

When I enrolled at Transylvania in 2000, there were about 1,100 students, and about 20 of them were black — which, as I understand it, was a school record (Transylvania was founded in 1780). A quick Google image search of the school name yields acres and acres of smiling white faces, except for the occasional basketball player. The college itself is about two blocks of bright green grass and rich brown brick buildings punctuated with trees that explode white in the spring. The apex of the campus, the building proudly displayed in their marketing materials, is a stark white building with big, stately columns called Old Morrison. There’s no sweet way to say that Old Morrison looked like the Big House on an antebellum plantation, so I won’t try to be poetic about it. So: It looks like massa’s house, and paired with all the heavy limbed trees and the blazing pink blooming trees and the bluest sky you’ve ever seen in your life arching forever overhead and all the melodic country accents traveling along with you as you walk through the courtyard, it sometimes feels like you’re walking through a scene in Gone With the Wind. And we all know what that was like for black folks. (Spoiler: slaves. We were slaves.)
Tracy Clayton caricature

The back of the school, known as “back circle,” is anchored by a large oval lawn punctuated with trees here and there. Transy’s student dormitories are situated around this circle; the flow of traffic, once you enter the circle’s entrance on the right-hand side, moves right, past the two boys’ dormitories collectively known as Clay/Davis. You first come to Davis Hall, home of upperclassmen and fraternity members — this is the building that housed the row of Confederate flags that greeted my mother and me. After that is Clay Hall, where Transy’s freshman boys live. Davis Hall was named for Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, while Clay Hall was named after early 19th century Kentucky politician Henry Clay, who owned slaves (but magnanimously freed them after he died). Davis attended Transylvania, and Clay was once a faculty member there. Forrer Hall, the girls’ dorm, rounds the circle. (Another man with the last name of Clay — Cassius, who was an abolitionist — is also a Transylvania alum. There aren’t any buildings named after him.)

Here’s why there was a Confederate flag in each of those windows on the second floor in Davis Hall. The school, being as small as it was, had Greek organizations, but rather than having separate Greek housing, they had Greek floors in the dorms where all members lived. The floor with the Confederate flags in the windows was inhabited by the men of Kappa Alpha Order, known as the KAs. Every black person on campus (and those who were attuned to racial insensitivity) knew to stay away from the KAs. They were the good ol’ Southern boys, and the organization itself was founded on loaded terms like “chivalry,” “modern knighthood” (gee, why does that sound familiar?), and the “ideal Christian gentleman.” They list Confederate commander Robert E. Lee as their “spiritual founder,” which still doesn’t really make much sense to me, and though it wasn’t their official emblem, they were very, very fond of the Confederate flag. Those windows and the flags in them belonged to the KAs.

When I saw the row of flags in the building I instantly told my mother that I wanted to go back home. She told me, of course, that wasn’t an option, and so I dealt with it as best I could. I went to class, tried to be open and sociable, and vented to my handful of black friends when we were alone. But those flags never let me forget that I was not wanted at any point in history, not then and not now, not in my temporary home, the place where I slept, the place my mother was spending her hard-earned money to send me.

Growing up in the hood, you assume that living where white folks live means safer streets and unlocked doors. But I never feared for my safety more than I did at Transylvania University. Those flags were often the first things I saw in the morning and the last things I saw at night, smugly watching me scurry to class, snickering, mocking. Well, I do declare! Look at that uppity coon, making like she belongs here, like she’s one of us. This is what happens when you teach ‘em to read. Hope that nigger makes it home before the sun goes down.

I couldn’t understand why we had to work so hard to get the KAs and their supporters to understand that those flags were unwelcoming to nonwhites, that they meant something totally different to us, descendants of people who were enslaved and murdered and disenfranchised on the turf that those flags flew over. I didn’t understand why they pushed back so hard against us. We do not feel safe, said black kids in campus forums and anonymous discussions and newspaper articles. This is painful. This hurts us. This distracts us from learning. And the fact that you don’t care for our happiness or well-being hurts us even more.

Their rebuttal was, “It’s heritage, not hate.” The flag was just a symbol of Southernness and Southern pride, not racism, not slavery. The cognitive dissonance makes me laugh even today.

Another incident: During my freshman year, I remember going to my dorm room window, which faced a big green lawn across the street, after hearing chanting outside. It was dark and raining, and through the streetlights I could see a bunch of shirtless KAs, at least one draped in the Confederate flag, singing “Dixie” beneath the trees (“Dixie” is listed as one of the “Songs of Old KA” and members are reportedly to stand facing the South when it plays).

I don’t think we changed any minds, but the Confederate flags were eventually taken out of the KA windows. At the time I thought that it was because of the fuss we made, but according to these KA laws, displaying the flag was banned in KA chapters everywhere in 2001. The flag business was just the tip of the iceberg. Long after the flags were removed their whispers still clung to the air and became screams inside my head whenever I saw someone I knew to be a KA.

Some time after the flags had been taken from the KA windows, I went to my first and only frat party. I had a natural mistrust of fraternities — they aren’t exactly known for being pro-woman — and my time at Transy gave me motivation to mistrust white men in particular. Throw liquor in the mix and it seemed like an all-around bad idea for a black woman to wander right into the heart of the cesspool. But I was curious, so I went with two of my best friends on campus, both black women, to check out the scene. We may have moved through the halls of Phi Kappa Tau, Delta Sigma Phi, and Pi Kappa Alpha, but I’m not certain. All I remember is the KA Hall, my heart in my throat, my eyes wide as spotlights trying to keep an eye simultaneously on my friends, all the drunk men, and the nearest exits.

I remember the stares, people silently but obviously wondering why we were there. In a sea of skinny white girls and burly blond boys, three thick black women definitely stuck out like flies in buttermilk. I was instantly uncomfortable — the flags had been removed from the windows, out of public view, but many of the KA brothers still had their flags displayed in their rooms. The flags seemed oddly glad to see me and the fear on my face. You scared, nigger? You should be scared. Somebody oughta put you in your place. Maybe tonight.

We did not stay long. We made our grand exit after seeing a mountainous white boy walking toward us, cheeks flushed raspberry red, blond hair aflame, full-size Confederate flag draped around his shoulders. His face and eyes were blank; he seemed asleep on his feet, stare transfixed, walking a slow, deliberate pace. We moved out of the way as he approached and he moved past us, continuing his trek. We left immediately after and I felt like I’d just survived something, like I’d escaped rather than walked calmly out the front door. As we walked back to our dorm, the sound of rap music snaked through their open windows behind us, barely concealing the taunting of the flags on the walls. Look like we got ourselves some runaways! Don’t stop walkin’ till you get to Africa, nigger!

As if Confederate flags and singing Dixie in the moonlight and terrifying parties weren’t enough, there was Old South Week, a weeklong celebration leading up to the KA spring formal. It includes a parade wherein the men dress as Confederate soldiers and the women in attendance (nearly always white) dress in hoop skirts, high-piled curls, and other Southern belle regalia (just look at how much fun these Texas Old South partygoers were having back in the ’70s, complete with a guy in blackface with “slave” written on his chest just in case someone didn’t get it).

The first and only time I saw one of my schoolmates dressed as a Confederate, I was alone, walking the paths through the impossibly green courtyard lawn. I saw him in the distance, wearing pale blue from head to toe, and I chuckled and shook my head thinking about how crazy it would be if he were dressed as an actual Confederate soldier. The closer I got, the deeper my heart sank until my sadness was interrupted by a cackle that started at my toes and bubbled up and around my teeth before thudding heavily into the ground. What else can you do but laugh when you see someone in this century dressed as a Confederate soldier? What does anyone do in the face of absurdity? You laugh. But it wasn’t funny.

KAs celebrate Old South Week at many colleges and universities in the South. KAs at the University of Alabama issued a formal apology to the historically black Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority after their Old South parade — in which they were decked out in full uniforms — “happened” to pause in front of an anniversary event they were having.

Kappa Alpha issued a national ban on the donning of the Confederate uniforms the following year. But, like the moving of the flags from the windows, nothing really changed at Transy. I still felt unsafe and unwelcome. Could’ve had something to do with the huge portrait of Jefferson Davis hanging in the lobby of the hall that the KAs called home.

My friend’s dorm room door. Tracy Clayton
The boys’ dorms may have been named after both Davis and Clay, but Davis received the most fanfare. A 9-foot statue of Davis hung in the lobby of his namesake residence hall, and a huge bust of him lived in the campus library. In April 2001 (April also happens to be “Confederate History Month” in the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia and in spots of other Southern states), someone vandalized the door of a black male friend of mine by scrawling “nigger” on it in black marker. My friends and I hurried over to take pictures of the graffiti before the administration painted over it, which we knew they would do quickly. Newspapers reported that someone scratched another slur into the same door later, but I don’t remember that.

The incident spurred another round of “important conversations” on campus that typically lead nowhere, but this time did lead to the removal of the portrait of Jefferson Davis, which I definitely saw as a good-faith effort to at least pretend to care about whether or not students of color felt safe and welcome on campus. I hoped that we were finally chipping away at what really was a modern-day Confederate fort housing men who actually thought of themselves as Confederate soldiers, who flew the stars and bars and faced the south to sing “Dixie.” Then-university president Charles Shearer said of the incident and the portrait, “If you have African-American students who live in that hall … I can understand how that would make them feel.”

His understanding apparently ran out four months later when the portrait was rehung in a different part of campus (“A portrait of Confederate president Jefferson Davis has risen again at Transylvania University,” reported the Associated Press), its removal now positioned not as an attempt to ease worried brown hearts and minds as it was before, but as a preplanned maintenance removal. The same article contained praise for Shearer’s decision to rehang the picture from the Sons of Confederate Veterans and a nod to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

And so Davis Hall remained Davis Hall, home to Confederate sympathizers of all ages. I often wrote articles for the school paper complaining about the racial climate on campus (the newspaper staff was amazing and allowed me to run some pretty sharp-tongued pieces), and at least one was ripped out and taped to a wall in Davis with the words “A FINE EXAMPLE OF IGNORANCE” scrawled across it with a marker that looked a lot like the one used on my friend’s door.

The day before my graduation day, I walked about the lawn of Old Morrison, strewn with lawn chairs placed for the commencement ceremony. We’d already gotten our seating assignments and I wanted to check mine out. Mine was near some scaffolding on the side of the stage, and hanging loosely from the scaffolding, within eyeshot, was a tiny black noose. I don’t know if someone put it there knowing that I would see it. But it sure felt like it.

I don’t mean to suggest, of course, that everybody living in the dorm or on campus was racially insensitive and addicted to Confederate insignia — I met some truly wonderful and beautiful people of all races at Transy. Nor am I positing that members of KA were the only racially insensitive people on campus. But I do mean to paint a picture of why that SAE video, while jarring, did not surprise me. For a black girl fighting to get an education in the South, fraternities were an early introduction to privilege. I learned then that certain people could essentially do and say what they wanted with little more than a slap on the wrist or a moved portrait as punishment.

White fraternities seem to attract the most privileged of already privileged men and boys, and they become breeding grounds for all the “isms” that white exclusiveness can create — sexism, classism, racism. And their offenses are often explained away as mistakes. Someone wrote “nigger” on a black kid’s door? A prank gone wrong. A girl is raped at a frat party? Boys will be boys. A group of white frat boys sings a song about hanging niggers on a bus? Everyone makes mistakes.

This week, as I clicked through my alma mater’s website to jog my memory to write this essay, I noticed that all references to Jefferson Davis seem to have been quietly removed, even from the short list of notable alumni that ends the brief telling of Transy’s history. Davis is slated to be torn down and rebuilt soon. I wonder if they’ll quietly drop his name from that too.

Clayton's article must have been an unwelcome reminder for those progressive members of the Transy community who had hoped, and perhaps believed, that such attitudes were a thing of the past. But for some reason the university's reaction felt more like a cover up, which only goes to suggest that there is still something to hide.

Indeed, for a short time, a student named Drew (who posts on Facebook under the name Zeta C. Peninsulae) provided one more defiant and tone-deaf defense of Old South traditions in the Rambler. Before I had an opportunity to capture his rant, which rejected conversations about racial issues on campus as a waste of time (he does not feel like he needs any more) the message was taken down and replaced by a message from the editor stating:
"The author of a letter to the editor that was published last night has asked that it be retracted in full. The Rambler has deleted the letter from the website and social media, as it does not accurately reflect the views of the author. We will no longer accept comments regarding it."

Asking some of my own questions, student Mike Laney responded to the Rambler.
"I’m a little confused here. The author wrote his opinion in a letter to the editor, He then retracts it because it doesn’t accurately reflect his views. Either he had a Paul on the road to Damascus moment or he may have been bullied into the retraction. I don’t know. But I would appreciate the author explain his reasons rather than have the editor just post this note. This leaves a very unsettling feeling in my mind. While I did not agree with everything the author wrote, I sure hope that there was no pressure on him to retract. By the way, I feel that the Buzzfeed article was written by a marvelous fabulist."
 A former writer for the Rambler added,
"I agree. I’m a little weary about this, considering how Transylvania handled the first couple rounds of PR following Tracy Clayton’s article."
The extent to which the Kappa Alpha attitude is shared by the rest of Transy's Greek Community is unclear, an done ought not assume it is anything other than an outlier. But the strength of the fraternity system on campus is not in question.The Princeton Review ranked Transylvania University Second nationally for Greek Life in 2013-14.

 More tangible evidence of the university's response came from the university's Director of Student Involvement and Leadership, who apparently decided that leaders should suppress free expression.

This from Tracy Clayton at BuzzFeed:

Transylvania University Told Some Students Not To Share BuzzFeed’s Article On Fraternity Racism

On Thursday, after I published an essay about the racism I experienced as one of the few black students at Transylvania University, students began contacting BuzzFeed saying that they were being discouraged from discussing the piece on social media.

On the heels of the SAE controversy, the essay detailed the practices once employed at the Kentucky liberal arts college by Kappa Alpha fraternity, an organization that lists Robert E. Lee as its “spiritual founder.”

The university's Director of Student Involvement and Leadership on Thursday sent an email to the Greek students on campus, urging students not to discuss the article on social media.
The university's Director of Student Involvement and Leadership on Thursday sent an email to the Greek students on campus, urging students not to discuss the article on social media.
Here's what one student tweeted about the letter:
One sorority member, who asked not to be named, told BuzzFeed News that her executive council threatened members who shared the article with discipline. Other students said they wer told not to share the essay.
Still, Transylvania's Vice President for marketing and Communications, Michele Sparks, said on Twitter that the university was "not forbidding any student from posting/sharing."

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Sparks claimed that students were told not to comment on the piece, though denied that they were told not to share the article.
…We did not ask Greek students to not share the article on social media. We asked our Greek students to refrain from commenting. We didn’t want any kind of retaliation or lashing out. We wanted to respond carefully and thoughtfully to your article. We would never seek to censor our students.
We are taking your article very seriously and it has sparked deep and thoughtful conversations on our campus—which we are looking to continue in meaningful ways in the coming days and weeks. We are always concerned when we hear about injustices towards any of our students.
A request for comment from the Director of Student Involvement and Leadership has not yet been returned.

The Herald-Leader picked up the story and wrote,
Transylvania University officials continued to deal Monday with the fallout from an article by a former student that detailed the racial hostility she felt there...The essay got even more publicity after a Transylvania official urged students not to comment about it on social media.

On Friday, Transylvania President Seamus Carey issued a letter to the campus community near downtown Lexington, calling for a series of conversations about race.

"All of us who have read the post must take the issues it raises to heart, both institutionally and individually," he wrote. "How can we learn from them and ensure that they are not a part of our culture moving forward? An adequate response to these issues cannot be captured in a letter. It must be realized in the open, free and sincere exchange of perspectives and ideas." ...

"Ms. Clayton's personal narrative depicts racially insensitive decisions made by the institution as well as hurtful behaviors of members by a fraternity chapter," Carey wrote. "These mistakes are not only a regrettable part of Transylvania's past, but of our country's as well. However, for us they are more regrettable because our primary reason for existing is to elevate the knowledge, wisdom and moral character of our students."

Carey said campus training on micro-aggression — subtle acts of exclusion, derogatory or aggressive behavior — had already been planned for student leaders in May, and the training will be expanded to the rest of campus in the fall...

The national KA chapter in Lexington, Va., issued an apology to Clayton for "any offensive words or actions directed at Ms. Clayton or others." ...A statement from the national KA office in Lexington, Va., said the fraternity has banned all Confederate flags and costumes because "gentlemanly conduct and respect for all are the core values of Kappa Alpha Order." ...

Lydia Lissanu, a Transy senior who is vice president of the Black Student Alliance, said Monday that Clayton's story brought her relief.

"I felt sort of a sense of relief that someone had voiced their opinions about something that had made so many people of color uncomfortable, and that's the KA fraternity," she said. "It's a very contentious issue, with a lot of anger, a lot of fear, a lot of hurt, it's an issue that is very politically loaded on this campus."

Although no longer allowed to hang Confederate flags, the fraternity's roots in old South nostalgia are still potent, Lissanu said.

"The organization is predicated on a history of hatred, but they have an incredible amount of power," she said. "I think there is going to have to be discussion, but I think there has to be action. What steps will they (Transy) take to really deal with this issue?"

KA members at Transy referred all questions to the national chapter on Monday.

Echoing Ms. Lissanu's point, Clayton posted, "Why 'Starting a Conversation' about race on campus isn't enough."

This from BuzzFeed:

When I hit “publish” on the essay I wrote detailing my experience with racism while I was a student at Transylvania University, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I figured the article would resonate with other students of color who had or are having similar experiences; it would be spread around by the handful of us who have been through it all before; people would nod their heads and say, “Yep, this is what it’s like,” or, “Wow, I didn’t know that’s what it’s like.”
But the essay exploded online and is currently closing in on 200,000 views, a first for any essay I have ever written for BuzzFeed. I was invited to appear on All In With Chris Hayes and The Melissa Harris Perry Show. It also blew up on Transy’s small campus in Lexington, Kentucky, so much so that some were cautioned not to discuss the article on social media. There was an outpouring of emails from people who could identify with my situation, emails that I can’t imagine ever having the time to respond to with the thoughtfulness they deserve. Many of those emails came from current Transy students who said they felt silenced by the same institution I felt had silenced me.

When you are young and full of fire and you feel you’ve had your voice stolen from you, you don’t feel whole until you’re able to say everything you couldn’t say then. I definitely feel heard, at last, but there is no sense of resolution, of tied ends, of repair. I always knew that I wanted to write about my experience once I left Transylvania — but not to make the school look bad. Healing is never about the people who hurt us; it is about us and our wellness. I just wanted to be able to breathe again, to shake loose the boulder of everything I couldn’t say from my chest and breathe freely. I did not want them to hurt. I wanted them to hear me...
When it comes to difficult things like race and change, something that people love to champion is “starting conversations.” When something deplorable happens and people demand change, the thing to do is say, “Well at least people are talking about it now! At least we’ve started a conversation!” But we’ve been having these conversations for centuries.

And this particular one has been happening for at least 15 years. If nothing is actually done in its wake, then it’ll be a conversation we’re having for 15 more. What do we do? How do we fix this? I’m just a writer, not a school administrator. I don’t have the answers, but I have some ideas: Don’t wait until videos like the one from the University of Oklahoma and stories like mine to become public to care about making your institutions more inclusive. Don’t dismiss the offensive pranks and practices often carried out by fraternities as “foolishness” they they are “entitled” to. Capitalize on the influence that Greek organizations have over their members by encouraging open-mindedness when it comes to things like race, gender, and sexuality. Make an honest, genuine effort to diversify your student bodies — don’t just gather the handful of brown students you have for marketing photographs. Actively seek to recruit students and professors of color. Encourage them to speak up about their hardships and concerns and listen to them when they do. Don’t be afraid to implement changes and stop offensive traditional practices because you’re worried about losing money from alumni. Make your campuses welcoming and safe for the people who will call them home for at least four years. All of them.

You can’t kill a tree by plucking at its leaves; you have to reach beneath the surface and kill it at the root. I’m very interested in seeing what Transylvania President Seamus Carey and administrators at schools across the country will do now that the stories of those who were once voiceless are being heard.

Transylvania can be a success story. Melissa Harris Perry suggested that Carey and his colleagues say, “We have been challenged on this point, let’s talk about it and that is how we indicate how open we are, how willing we are to engage in dialogue and discourse, and how unafraid we are to be challenged.” Transy can be an example of how white institutions can help their students of color be proud of their alma maters. There is still time for us. There is still time for me to not just be happy about the stellar classroom education at Transy or the friends I made, but to become a full-fledged, proud Transy Pioneer.
Allusions to the power structure at Transy and the apparent lack of decisive action over recent decades only serves to fuel doubts about the institution's true intentions. Will the last vestiges of white supremacy finally be driven form the campus? Will powerful donors resist any retreat from the school's southern roots? Only time will tell.

But for now, the university's response is being viewed with some measure of skepticism.

This from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education:
Transylvania University, a private institution in Kentucky, was caught backpedaling (ineffectively) last week after it asked students not to remark on a recent BuzzFeed article—a request that plainly contradicts the university’s own slogan, mission statement, and written policies enumerating “Student Rights and Responsibilities.” ...

In response to students’ rightful disapproval of McKee’s email, Transylvania’s Vice President for Marketing and Communications Michele Sparks...told BuzzFeed that Transylvania “would never seek to censor [its] students.” In the same statement to BuzzFeed, though, Sparks admitted that the university had indeed “asked … Greek students to refrain from commenting.”

At first glance, the two statements seem flatly incompatible. At second glance, maybe Sparks simply means that the email was a request—not a demand—for restraint. Here’s the thing though: Most requests don’t come with a suggestion to immediately report to the authorities when another person might not plan on complying. It is understandable, then, that students were under the impression that commenting on the article could lead to discipline.

And it’s understandable that students were confused about where Transylvania stands on free expression. The university boasts the following slogan at the top of its website: “Question everything. Accomplish anything.” Its mission statement declares that the university “prepares its students for a humane and fulfilling personal and public life by cultivating independent thinking, open-mindedness, creative expression, and commitment to lifelong learning and social responsibility in a diverse world.” Independent thinking, eh?

That’s not all. The Student Rights and Responsibilities section of the Student Handbook (which I could not find on its website, but which is excerpted generously in the Faculty Handbook) states unambiguously:
Students are free to discuss, express opinions, and to hear expressions of diverse opinions. As part of the freedom to learn, students have the right to hear the widest expression of enlightened opinion available to them.
It is recognized that free speech is essential in a democratic society. Students are free to discuss and debate ideas and opinions in the spirit of free inquiry.
Transylvania’s stated limits on free expression (listed in the next sentence) include only acts that cause physical damage or injury, interrupt the business of the university or its community members, or are otherwise prohibited by law. There’s no reason to think that social media posts in response to Clayton’s article would approach these limits. Even if some social media posts went beyond the traditional limits of free speech (e.g., true threats), that would not warrant a broad ban on public responses to the article... reported that Transylvania has released another statement on the controversy. While the university’s statement may allay concerns that it is not taking seriously race-related issues on campus, it does nothing to address the school’s surprise gag order on students. Nor does it declare the message of Thursday’s email to be rescinded.

So are students allowed to speak freely about the article now? It’s not clear.

Transylvania needs to issue one more statement, this time reaffirming in clear terms that students do not have to self-censor or tattle on their friends for speaking to the media. And if the university is planning on abiding by its “Student Rights and Responsibilities,” it should proudly post it somewhere that students can easily find it.
At the very moment the university should have been opening the door for the promised conversation about racial issues on campus, it was slammed shut in the face of Herald-Leader reporter Linda Blackford. 

This from WKYT:
A Transylvania University official prevented a newspaper reporter from attending a student-organized meeting to discuss race relations on campus. 
The official thwarted an effort by Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Linda Blackford to attend the meeting, which was promoted on Facebook as a "public and open discussion" of race relations on campus...

On Wednesday, Julie Martinez, assistant director of communications and marketing, told WKYT that reporters typically inform the communications office before they visit the campus. She said someone from the communications office would have met the reporter. Martinez said there isn't a university policy; rather it is "a protocol in our office."

“That’s the standard thing, that’s what people normally do; that’s what our expectation would be,” Martinez said. “We are -- and always have been -- a private institution.”

Once officials found out Blackford was on campus "and interacted" with students, her office got involved. Still, Martinez said "we welcome the media" and are "very happy to interact with the media."

Tuesday's meeting was initially scheduled to be held outside but was moved to the Mitchell Fine Arts Building because of poor weather, the newspaper reported. The Herald-Leader said it was not aware of such a policy and did not notify administrators that a reporter would be attending the student-organized and student-led meeting. Martinez said reporters were welcome to talk to students off of campus.

Reached later, the Herald-Leader reported that President Seamus Carey said the incident was caused by a lack of communication from the Herald-Leader. If the reporter had called ahead, administrators would have asked the students if reporters were welcome to attend, he said.

"We welcome open dialogue at every turn at this university — my philosophy of education is that the best thing students can do for their education is to find their own voice," Carey told the newspaper. "We want open and public dialogue. We're also sensitive to the ability of students to express their feelings and thoughts in a safe environment."...

According to Blackford, Tuesday’s meeting was promoted on Facebook by sophomore Theodora Salazar as a place "where all citizens of the Transylvania community can be free to discuss their feelings and questions towards our community's internal respect or lack thereof, as well as a space to facilitate discussion through the feelings and thoughts of our peers."

Salazar said later that she would have welcomed media coverage of the meeting because it showed how determined and passionate students are about these issues.
"It showed that students are taking initiative," she told the Herald-Leader. "Part of the reason we wanted to do this was because talking on screens is not enough."
It has been my experience that whenever people are confronted with conflicting messages between what an official says, and what that official does, it is the action that is believed. On that standard alone, one would have to conclude that Transylvania is not yet ready to enter the world of free speech. Actions suggest the institution is more interested in protecting private interests.

In a follow up story in the Transy Rambler Sociology Professor Brian Rich offered his opinion. 

“I think the reaction came out of fear—that this article was going to be understood as a harsh criticism of Transy—and I think the impulse was to try to quiet things down while the administration formulated some kind of response. But obviously it backfired in the sense that students felt like they were being censored.”

Some students, greek and independent alike, spoke out against that request on social media. Senior Jen Schaefer said that she commented because she felt that the administration’s intentions were not in the right place when they asked students not to comment on the article.

“I think the reason the university told us not to comment…was they were concerned with Transy’s greek life image,” said Schaefer, “and I feel like, by doing that, they made the article much more about greek life than it is. I think it’s more about how the administration handles racism on this campus—or has failed to handle racism—and I think that by just making it about (greek life) really minimizes the issue. So I felt like I should speak up anyway.” ...

According to Carey...McKee’s intention was not clear in the email.

“It is my understanding that an email to students was poorly worded and did not convey the true intent of the author,” he said.

“At no time does Transylvania censor open dialogue. Students are always free to speak their minds. One of the major goals of a Transylvania education is to help students to find their own voice and to express it proudly and clearly,” he continued.

Since the articles’ publication and the subsequent university response, students have taken action to seize the momentum built by the essays. Several students organized a demonstration in Haupt Plaza on Tuesday afternoon, March 24, in which white students used brooms to sweep students of color under a rug in protest of the administration’s response.
Is it just me, or does anyone else hear the president attempting to play off the mishandling of this episode? He said, "It is my understanding that an email to students was poorly worded.." That sounds like he never read the email for himself (even in the days between McKee's email and his statement to the Rambler) and I'm trying to figure out how that's possible. Is Carey so detached from this issue that his statement is true? In the midst of a volatile situation, did he not have an interest in reading the email for himself, as I imagine any effective leader would?! Or did he really read it, but cannot be trusted to admit the truth? I'm not entirely sure which is worse, but I can't think of any other plausible explanations.

Referring to the denial of Blackford to attend the public forum the Rambler wrote,
Can students invite the public or media to campus without notifying administration first?

“It was just really disturbing that the school turned something that was trying to be so positive and so active…into something that they needed to fear, like they didn’t know what anyone was going to say,” she continued.

Assistant Professor of Anthropology Hande Ozkan said that though the university may have reacted to Clayton’s articles out of fear, she hoped they would not lose sight of the original message and its potential for the university.

“My initial reaction was, of course, that I was upset and also angry at the same time,” she said. “But also, I thought about it over the weekend, and I thought, this article could be used in a constructive way. Why not make this a moment to reflect and to talk about where we’re failing and where we’re succeeding?”

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