Student Government Hosts “Jaspers for Justice: A Conversation About Race”

by Gabriella DePinho, Editor-in-chief 

The newly elected and installed Student Government Association executive board held a town hall, entitled “Jaspers for Justice: A Conversation About Race” on Thursday, June 4, after several days of nationwide and international protests that started over the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a police officer while in custody. 

The meeting started with remarks from Shannon Gleba, a Quadrangle reporter and newly elected student body president. 

“This is not my time to speak, lead the conversation or give my opinion,” Gleba said. “This is my time to listen. I am begging you to trust me and to be open with me. There’s nothing more that I want to just be a vessel for change for every single student on this campus.” 

Gleba noted that this town hall was “the beginning of a much larger conversation that needs to occur on this campus.” After opening up the conversation, Gleba announced that DeVaughn Harris, the newly elected and installed student government vice president for residential affairs, would be the town hall’s emcee. 

“Although I’m a newly elected student leader on campus, I’m here this evening simply as a student standing in solidarity standing in solidarity with you, sharing the same concerns and willing to hear new concerns in this safe space with all of you,” Harris said. “This event is meant to act as a forum to voice your concerns about life in Manhattan College. In this space criticism is fair, criticism is necessary and criticism is invited. If the school has failed, you tell us how. We’re listening.” 

Their opening remarks gave students the time to request to join the Google meet that was live streamed and recorded for later distribution. Harris first invited comments about how students were feeling and then encouraged students to share personal experiences and suggestions. 

Liz-Marie Lee, from the class of 2021, shared an experience in which she felt racially discriminated against by a classmate in front of other classmates. She never reported what the student said to her. 

“What may have been an offhand comment to him is something that will always stay with me forever,” Lee said. 

Leicy Ortiz-Jupiter, a May graduate of the class of 2020, studied engineering and noted a lack of diversity in Manhattan College’s school and the profession as a whole. 

“We need to really emphasize that, as an engineer, there’s not a lot of women in the field,” Ortiz-Jupiter said. “There’s not a lot of diversity. And we need to make people feel comfortable. We need to actually promote that.” 

Students shared times in which they, or other classmates, were discriminated against with openly offensive comments by classmates and professors alike. This town hall and this freedom to share experiences comes after an anonymous Instagram page, @letstalkaboutitMC, took off with students sharing anonymous experiences in which they felt like the people at or the institution of Manhattan College had failed them. 

“I haven’t experienced this but it’s horrifying to think that my fellow students are going through this, especially in a school that promotes these values, these Lasallian values so much,” Beatriz Paniagua-Santana, a rising senior, said. “To see them just be brushed aside like this, it’s honestly horrifying. And it makes me wonder, like what type of people are we putting out in the world?” 

Some students came to the town hall ready with suggestions. One suggestion came from history major Reese Hollister. 

“If the whole goal of the School of Liberal Arts is to create Lasallian values or trying to bring students into the world well-informed with all of the roots classes, it’s pretty sad that the only 150 class or roots class that’s not part of the requirements is critical race and ethnic studies,” Hollister said. “I feel like the school should step up and realize that race, in our world, is important, if not more important of a topic than history of music or art or whatever.” 

Students in the School of Liberal Arts and the School of Science are required to take “roots” courses, which are a wide-range of 150 level courses that cover a number of topics in the humanities, from social sciences to the arts. 

Students in the School of Arts also have a six-credit “global/non-western” requirement. Classes that are tagged with that label are courses about a wide-range of topics in a wide-range of departments that cover ideology, practices and works from cultures that are not European or American. 

“Many generally see [the global/non-western requirement] as like ‘okay, I have to take this to graduate’ or ‘I have to take this class because it is a crossover requirement’ and I think we need to revolutionize our thinking around that,” Liam Moran, a recent alumni who was present at the town hall, said. 

Hollister also noted the perceived divide between commuter students and resident students as a point of concern. He pointed out that policies, such as access control, which was largely protested across campus in August and September of 2019, and losing scholarship money for community, hurts commuter students. 

“If Manhattan College likes to flex their diversity, and they do, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of the school’s kids that are diverse in the school are mainly commuters,” Hollister said. “And if you treat them unfairly relative to resident students, that’s just de facto racism. And they may not they might not realize it, that’s almost as bad as if they do realize it.” 

Another proposed solution was presented by senior math major, Rachel Roca, who suggested more of a crossover between STEM and the humanities. 

“As a STEM student, I think there’s a big divide between us,” Roca said. “So for me, I’m a math major and we don’t talk a lot about social issues in algebra class but I think that we could really work on that. There are fields in math, specifically on math and democracy, and I think it could be really important to look at how math and science and ethics go together and how we can apply these more technical and analytical skills to help others.” 

As the town hall wrapped up after an hour and ten minutes of questions, suggestions and emotional expression, newly elected and installed Student Government Executive Vice President Anthony Bradley gave closing remarks. 

“This isn’t the last town hall meeting,” Bradley said. “This isn’t a be all, end all. This is just the tip of the iceberg. This is just to spark conversation, to get us to be on your side, to get us to know where you’re coming from. Again, we are on your side here.”