Does BCC represent you?

Written by: Sumedha Majumdar On May 20, 2008, students, faculty, staff and administration came together to participate in a two-hour discussion titled, “Does BCC Represent You?” It was comprised of six of panelists: three represented administration and faculty and three representing students. The event started at 12:30 p.m. in D126. The main objective of this meeting was to openly discuss issues faced by the students at BCC. Also it aimed to increase the levels of interaction between the members of the college. It was concerned with finding possible solutions to issues regarding age, disability, gender, race and religion. The discussion was broken down into five parts, namely Non-traditional Students (Running Start/Career Education Options (CEO) students), Disability, Gender, Race, National Origin, Ethnicity, and last but not least, Religion. One hour was devoted to discussing these issues and the other hour was reserved for a detailed question and answer session. The first topic of discussion was about Running Start students and the issues they face during their time in college. It was brought to everyone’s attention that Running Start students are often treated differently from other students simply because of their age and the program they are engaged in. It is because of their age that people sometimes feel they are not yet ready for college. Recently, in an email, an instructor stated that eight of his students were failing the course and five of them happened to be Running Start students. The email, however, did not mention how many students in that class belonged to the Running Start Program. It just mentioned the number of them failing. This information was shared by the Running Start representative, Austin Mayo, who felt it was unfair to pinpoint a particular group of students like that. When asked about the measures that the college has taken in order to make Running Start students feel welcome, Mayo said, “The first thing that I think was the most productive thing we could do so far was to eliminate progress reports that professors receive from high school programs and that basically does not let the professor know if it’s a Running Start student or not.” Mayo feels that all students should be treated equally, no matter if they belong to Running Start or not. Responding to Mayo’s information, Jennifer Stanton, English Instructor at BCC, said that over the years she has taught many Running Start students and has found them to be just at par with the other students when it came to academics. The second topic discussed was disability. The questions were mostly directed at Susan Gjolmesli, Director of Disability Support Services. Gjolmesli feels that access for physically and visually impaired people is pretty good at BCC, but she also mentions that access means much more than physical access. “We must provide access to services and course content. Being a welcoming and inclusive institution depends on our access, yes, but it also depends on the attitudes held by our communities within our institution.” Gjolmesli said that there are 54 million people in this country. And one out of ten students has some disability or the other. Students can lend a hand by simply being courteous and helpful. Simple things like keeping the ramps and staircases clear would help greatly. She also urges people not to use inappropriate language. The third topic of discussion was sexism and homophobia. When asked whether these issues exist in BCC, both of the student panelists answered yes. In fact both of them made an almost identical point saying that it all comes down to respect. Thomas Pritchard, Dean of Students, feels that sexism is more of an issue than was before. However, there hasn’t been that many complaints regarding sexism in the recent past but one cannot deny the fact that it exists. Both the faculty and the student panelists agreed that faculty and students need to stand up to make people feel safe on the campus. Pritchard mentioned that the college is providing more learning opportunities about issues of sexism, gender and homophobia, but the college is also trying to explore other ways of educating the students about these issues. Also discussed in great length was one regarding race and national origin. When commenting on race, Thomas Pritchard said, “We tend to think of race as simple biological markers. Skin color, slant of your hair, type of hair, things like that. Very superficial biological markers.” Referring to bias crimes, the student panelists said that they mainly happen because of ignorance. People who find it hard to accept the values and beliefs of others often end up doing something completely irrational. Pritchard feels the need to educate people about our differences and recognize our similarities. And one should also learn to engage in civil discourses. It is possible to disagree with someone or something but that disagreement can be debated in a civilized manner. He also encourages students to report any incidents of hate to the Bias Incident Response Support Team (BIRST) to better cope with this problem. The last topic discussed was expression of religious views. The panelists welcomed the idea of expressing religious freely in the college. It was re-iterated that all religious views needed to be expressed. However, Pritchard feels that not all religious views are represented equally in BCC, the reason being that some religious groups are not as vocal as the other ones and hence have little or no representation. When asked how the college can facilitate more interfaith dialogue on campus, it was said that BCC provides discussions and debates on religions and faith, but a lot more need to be created.