One week following the conclusion of an intense and thorough investigation into an allegation of racial discrimination that raised numerous concerns throughout the community, the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith Black Student Association is hosting a public forum on conquering bias and improving understanding.
The forum, titled Safe Space: Let’s Talk Race, will be hosted Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 6:30 p.m. in the UAFS Campus Center Reynolds Room, and will aim to expand and engage the discussions around diversity, inclusion, race, and community, following a week of raw, informative and painful conversations across campus. The office of the Chancellor, the UAFS Athletics Department, the Social Work Student Network, Pride at UAFS and LEAD will co-host the event with BSA.
“We will talk openly about issues of race, identify ways that our university must improve, and discuss action steps we can take to ensure the University of Arkansas Fort Smith is a place where all students, faculty, and staff are empowered, educated, respected, and valued,” said UAFS Chancellor Terisa Riley in a campus-wide email announcing the event.
Riley will join UAFS athletic director Curtis Janz, Crystal Lougin, a mental health professional with experience in diversity and inclusion efforts, Wesley Hooks, UAFS Technical Coordinator and president of the LeFlore County branch of the NAACP, and University police chief Ray Ottman on stage to answer questions collected from the campus community by the Black Student Association, as well as questions posed by the audience. UAFS professor Dr. Daniel Maher will moderate the panel.
“Our goal as an organization is to enlighten and educate students, faculty, staff, administration, businesses, and the general public on issues and decisions that affect minority students’ academic and social success,” explained Black Student Association president Karissa Cole, who will be hosting the event with BSA vice president Christopher Hamilton and other members of the organization. “We hope students who come to this event will use this opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns, both on this situation and on all the emotions that come with it.”
“It’s about truly embracing each other. Knowing that our strength comes from our differences, and that coming together makes us stronger,” said Janz. “During times like these, when so many are hurt, we have to be humble enough to listen, and courageous enough to act. My goal is to listen, to fully hear what our students and our city are feeling, so we can help build a more loving community.”
Cole added that she hopes the community will not only gain a greater understanding about racial discrimination but see first-hand just how much words can hurt.
“The recent events at UAFS have varying sides, and it is imperative to be able to see different perspectives in order to move forward and create an atmosphere of understanding, respect, and healing,” said Ila Debose, faculty advisor of the Black Student Association.
“Once our students leave UAFS, they will embark upon a world filled with diverse people,” Debose continued. I want our students to be change-makers in the world, and they must develop a positive sense of self to take on challenges in addition to a good education. UAFS is their home, if only for a short time, and what better place to begin making change happen then at home.