By Gabrielle Fellows
Students Speak Out was a panel held from 8-10 p.m. in the Presidential Suite in Kilcawley Center that allowed students to speak face-to-face with university leaders on the topics of race relations, policing and the racial climate in Youngstown.
William Blake, director of the Office of Student Diversity, acted as the moderator between the student attendees and a panel that consisted of Shawn Varso, YSU acting police chief; Jonathan Bentley, executive director and human relations commissions of Youngstown; and Eddie Howard, assistant vice president of Student Experience.
All types of questions were allowed at the event as long as they were polite, politically correct and didn’t contain profanities. Blake said these requirements are not normally enforced in open discussions, but due to the sensitive topics being discussed, it was important to establish boundaries.
“We wanted to engage students in the conversation about what’s going on in society and on this campus,” Blake said. “If we want change [in our area] we need students to tell us their opinion.”
Howard said “Black by Popular Demand” was back because faculty wanted to possibly incorporate students’ opinions in future policies.
“We wanted to have this discussion so students could speak about the issues they care about. We want to provide an outlet — whether that be in writing or vocally,” Howard said. “We want to create an opportunity for communication and understanding.”
Students talked about topics ranging from perceptions of Black Lives Matter to Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest to the relationships between white students and students of color.
Being a student of color was something that came up often in the panel. Students said they feel constantly aware of their skin color on campus. Some said this experience impacts how they hold themselves around their peers in the classroom versus how they hold themselves around their friends.
Howard sympathized with those feelings and said as a black college student, he often felt like he was struggling with his identity.
“I had a struggle — how do I come to terms with my racial identity?” Howard said. “It’s not just about me, but about all minorities. What can be done to make sure we are working toward racial equality?”
Shannon Tirone, the associate vice president of University Relations, attended the event and said it was an eye-opening experience for her.
“Until you understand the different perspectives from different parties, you won’t be able to discover a solution,” Tirone said. “Talking to students, faculty and others allow us all to meet communal needs that would have gone unnoticed otherwise.”
Blake said there are plans to have another Students Speak Out event in the near future, but the exact date and time are undetermined.