Olian and other administrators discuss inclusivity behind closed doors

At a town hall meeting closed to students and student media on Monday, Nov. 4, faculty members asked President Judy Olian and other administrators about Quinnipiac’s commitment to being an inclusive community. 

The meeting, attended by a crowd of more than 200 faculty and staff, began with a discussion about the issues Quinnipiac is facing as it attempts to become a more welcoming and diverse institution, and moved on to concerns about security and efforts to become more environmentally sustainable.

Connor Lawless
Olian addresses faculty and staff at a closed town hall meeting Monday.

Associate Professor of Journalism Margarita Diaz  tweeted at the university on Oct. 28, asking why it continues to host Chick-fil-A food trucks on the Quad given the owner’s foundation supporting anti-LGBTQ stances. 

Since then, she has spoken to local news outlets and triggered numerous letters from both sides of the argument. She asked two questions to open the discussion – what the university is doing to be more welcoming to all community members, and when the conversations will take place to address the problem.

Don Sawyer, vice president for equity and inclusion, said a meeting would be held next week about the food truck debate and inclusivity at Quinnipiac overall. 

Olian pledged her support to Diaz. She said Diaz has a right to express her opinion and that Quinnipiac needs to welcome a plurality of opinions when it comes to controversial topics. But Hilary Haldane, a professor of anthropology and director of general education, said she respects that all people are entitled to their own opinion, but when some sides of an issue deny the other side’s humanity, it’s not appropriate to create an equivalency. 

“I just don’t think we can (say) are there good people on both sides where Chick-fil-A represents an organization where there is an active denial of people’s rights to be fully human and participate in a fully human way through all institutions of society,” Haldane said.

The discussion returned to Chick-fil-A at the end of the town hall when Sawyer said the question was not fully addressed at the beginning. He said it is possible to insert “-isms” into everything, meaning that as a university, Quinnipiac must address all forms of discrimination at a structural level if it wants to create an inclusive experience. 

The second pillar of the university-wide strategic plan is to create an inclusive, excellence-driven community and Diaz said the response Olian gave her at the town hall did not live up to the standards that she believes Quinnipiac should hold itself to.

“President Olian may have missed an opportunity to talk about the need for different culture at our institution and ultimately this is not about Chick-fil-A or any other vendor,” Diaz said. “It’s about what the university stands for.”

While being inclusive was a theme at the town hall, the invite list was much more exclusive. Students were invited to the event in an email from Olian on Oct. 30. Vice President and Chief of Staff Bethany Zemba emailed students three days later to say the first email had been sent in error, and they can attend a separate town hall on Dec. 3.

Olian declined to comment about the town hall.

Haldane said including students in all events that do not involve personnel issues is an important part of creating a sense of community.

“I think when it is an open town hall, I think to err on the side of transparency is better,” Haldane said. “I mean I understand that Judy is still getting to know the community but it is hard to be a community if you don’t have everyone involved.”

The second question addressed what the university is doing to become more environmentally sustainable. Olian and Provost Jennifer Brown announced a new environmental studies program in the College of Arts and Sciences and assured that all future construction at Quinnipiac will be certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

Dennis Richardson, professor of biology, asked what the university is doing to increase security. Richardson expressed concerns about the Buckman parking lot, since it is one of the few parking lots on campus unguarded by a security checkpoint, such as the Eastview lot on York Hill.

The conversation then shifted to employee’s rights. A campus committee is forming to give nonunion staff a platform to vocalize concerns. This will be similar to the faculty senate, which represents the faculty members and gives them a voice on campus. 

Anna Spragg, interim associate vice president of human resources, said the university has made “tremendous” progress regarding union negotiation for safety and facilities workers, and the committee will meet again on Nov. 13 and 14. 

Next, administrators talked about some of the aftermath of the $3.2 million budget cuts announced earlier this semester. The hiring freeze that was enacted as a result of the cuts will remain in place until the end of the fiscal year, but some exceptions will be considered in January by administration.

“The concerns were how to make sure we have the resources that we need and the support we need to deliver the promise of the education that we offer our students,” Haldane said.

The budget cuts came as a result of low enrollment in the current freshman class. Olian discussed enrollment goals for the coming year and said the Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid office hopes to improve financial aid packages and reach out to students in new geographical regions.

Diaz said Quinnipiac needs to make a change in its culture to recruit more diverse students, which could be a lengthy process.

“It’s not like President Olian or anyone here can just wave a magic wand and things change,” Diaz said. “No. It’s a long process and it requires intentionality. It needs to come from the top, from the students and the faculty, but also from the top.”

The town hall did not address an email Director of Residential Life Mark DeVilbiss sent to all students Monday morning about racist incidents in the residence halls. Haldane said the issue probably wasn’t brought up because faculty was not notified.

“If we know these problems are happening, more of us care to stop them than the few people who perpetuate them, so why don’t you get all students and all faculty and all staff as part of solving the problem?” Haldane said.

Haldane expressed high hopes for the student town hall next month. She said students should come prepared with specific questions.

“I would encourage all students to go, be organized and get the answers you deserve,” Haldane said. “This is your education and I think that it’s really imperative that you ask those hard questions. Use the town hall as a way of making sure that you get your answers.”