Last spring, when the University’s new President, Dr. Judy Olian, was first revealed to the school, I was ecstatic – to both see a woman in the seat, as well as to find out that she is an international woman.At her reveal ceremony, as I was in the middle of my term as the Vice President for Student Experience for the Student Government Association, I chose to ask President Olian what her plans were to both increase diversity on campus as well as to better include those that feel as though they don’t belong on campus. She then said that she of course wanted to work on these things, and make students feel like they belong at QU, as the goal of any University employee should be.
Obviously having known that she hadn’t even officially started her role as the President of the University, I wasn’t expecting much of an answer, but I wanted her to know that, to many of us, these are pressing issues on campus, and ones she should be aware of even before officially starting. After she said this, it made me excited to work with her in my role on SGA, as I thought she would be understanding of the issues on this campus, willing to enact actual change, work to see things improved on campus that her predecessor refused to even acknowledge, and be open and transparent with the campus community about her work.
On Aug. 24, I met with President Olian during her first office hours, something I’m very thankful of her for hosting, regarding an incoming first year student that’s mother was facing deportation on the morning of Aug. 23.
After some brief introductions, I questioned her as to why the University has failed to release a public statement on the issue, whether that statement be showing support for Samir Mahmud (‘22), whose mother is facing deportation, condemning the actions of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in regards to this, or at least letting the campus community know what the University was doing in regards to the situation, if anything.
President Olian then went on to say that sometimes public press releases aren’t the best option in order to enact actual change, which, while is true, doesn’t show students of this community that the University is willing to fight for and support our minority and underrepresented students on campus. This is something that President Olian said that she was going to push for when I first questioned her on diversity and inclusion when she was first revealed as the new president of the University in the spring.
Additionally, she stated that because this was Mahmud’s mother facing deportation, not Mahmud himself, the school felt that it wasn’t necessary to make a public statement because the University isn’t able to do so for every parent that has had something bad happen to them.
Again, yes this is true, but it does nothing to show support for our students or prospective students that are already terrified to attend a predominantly white institution. Additionally, this is directly affecting a member of our community, which affects our whole community. The university did have a faculty member with Samir last week at a press conference, as well multiple student affairs employees reach out to him, but from my perspective and the perspective of many university community members, this simply isn’t enough. The University needs to, at the very least, inform the campus community what is being done to address these issues, rather than continuing sweeping every controversial issue under the rug, as has been done for years.
After I saw that arguing for the school to release a public statement on this wasn’t going to change her mind, I switched gears to giving her the letter that then Junior Class President Jack Onofrio (’19) wrote last year. I informed President Olian that former President John Lahey had refused to agree to support DACA, even after both SGA and the Faculty Senate passed resolutions asking the President to do so, and she essentially said the same thing that she said in reference to the incoming first year student, that public statements aren’t always the best option in order to enact actual change.
President Olian said that she would rather DACA students have a one-on-one relationship with the University knowing what it can provide for them. However, there is nothing stopping the University from doing both, especially when doing so would show so much support to many students already here at this university under DACA status. These actions taken by the University, or lack thereof, are only contributing to the University’s continuing behavior of sweeping issues under the rug, and being reactive instead of proactive.
During President Olian’s welcome weekend address to the Class of 2022, she spoke quite a bit about diversity, even going as far as to say that “[Quinnipiac is] a diverse community that is warm and welcoming,” even though the inactions of the past two presidents in regards to controversial issues have now made this campus a less welcoming place. This has been President Olian’s first opportunity to show minority and underrepresented students that she is going to fight for and support them during her tenure here, yet, she has failed to do much of anything.
President Olian, you said not to be afraid to challenge people, and to not be afraid to make conflicts, as long as it is done with civility and respect. You also thanked me for my activism, and my passion on campus. Keeping that in mind, you have to know that when students on this campus want to see things changed, and want to see our university be on the right side of history, we don’t back down easily.
(The opinions expressed in this article are that of the writer, and do not represent any organization that he is a member of.)