Law student calls for QU inclusion

Mark Dipaola

Through a petition that has already circulated throughout Quinnipiac’s School of Law, the Black Law Students Association, (BLSA) is calling for a more united campus in order to collaboratively combat acts of bigotry.

According to Christian Philemon, a fourth-year law student and president of BLSA, the petition is meant to close a rift that he believes is dividing the law school and undergraduate population.

“We feel that it’s important that when something happens on the undergrad campus, we’re not isolated from that,” Philemon said. “We’re part of the QU community. What we feel is that we have an obligation to speak to social injustice, not just in the courtroom but outside of it.”

BLSA, Philemon said, has already reached out to a handful of organizations functioning on the undergrad campus, including the Student Diversity Board, the Student Government Association, the Black Student Union and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

“We really haven’t gotten that far because we don’t know how to infiltrate the campus,” he said.

According to Philemon, BLSA is in the process of planning a forum that will examine the legacy of racism from slavery through the years of the civil rights movement. The event, he said, will be a collective effort between BLSA and organizations on the undergraduate campus. The program will also highlight the efforts of civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and will feature an exhibit of slave artifacts.

“I think one of the things that need to happen is there has to be a connection between the law school and the undergrad campus, which is what we’re doing with this next event that we’re planning,” Philemon said.

He noted that in discussing the issue, input from the undergrad community, which has been more directly affected by the racial incidents, is essential.

“We realize that we can talk about this until we’re blue in the face, but we’re still a bunch of law students,” he said.

Philemon was critical of President John Lahey for his response to the racial incidents that have occurred this semester. In late August a racial slur was written on the door of a Black student in one of the undergraduate dormitories. The same slur was written on three doors in a different dormitory in September. In an e-mail that contained the organization’s position statement, along with a letter to Kathleen McCourt, the Vice President of Student Affairs, Philemon refers to Lahey’s alleged “inaction” in the face of recent events.

“President Lahey has an obligation to address this issue on his own campus,” Philemon said in an interview. “To think that someone in his position would say that they do not want to talk about diversity in any forum, whether it’s with students, with the press, in private, it’s incomprehensible. He should speak on the record about diversity and make a very strong statement that he supports diversity and that he denounces acts of bigotry, neither which I think has been stated clearly.”

Philemon added, “I think, and this is my personal opinion, that his inability to act somehow encourages this culture of tolerance of that type of behavior, and I think if the administration had taken a much more aggressive step when this issue first happened, you wouldn’t have these repeat offenders.”

Philemon expressed concern that if the administration does not respond adequately, tension may escalate and the incidents may become more severe.

Through John Morgan, the Associate Vice President for Public Relations, Vice President of Public of Affairs Lynn Bushnell defended President Lahey and the administration against these allegations.

“The president issued a memorandum to the campus community on Sept. 6 denouncing the racial slur, calling it a despicable and cowardly act of bigotry that represents a gross violation of everything that Quinnipiac stands for as an educational institution,” Bushnell said in the e-mail forwarded by John Morgan.

The e-mail continued, “He (Lahey) met with the student involved to apologize on behalf of the university community. In addition, he met with a group of concerned faculty and staff members. The president also sat down with The Chronicle editor for an exclusive interview about the incident which ran on the front page of the Sept. 12 issue. Please be assured that the president takes these matters very seriously and to suggest otherwise is grossly unfair.”

BLSA, according to Philemon, hopes to at some point present the petition to President Lahey. The president, Philemon said, has shown little interest in meeting with organization members.

In a second e-mail, Bushnell denied these claims.

“The level of misinformation on this subject is astonishing,” Bushnell said. “The president and I should not respond to every student allegation via the media. I can assure the campus community that the president is always willing to meet with student organizations as his schedule permits.”