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Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Standing in solidarity: town hall brings GV students, faculty, SLT together to share stories, promote change

GVL | Risho Wooten

Following the student-led march on March 18 around Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus that protested declining retention rates, increased admissions and lack of support for students of color, a town hall meeting was held on April 2 to publicly discuss these issues. 

In an intense display of personal testimony and policy impact, concerned students, faculty, members of the community and GVSU’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) filled the Kirkhof Center’s Grand River Room to hear stories of racial and academic inequity from students of color at GVSU. 

Helmed by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Iota Epsilon chapter President Antonio Greene Jr. and Vice President Michael King, the town hall presented an opportunity for attendees to learn more about the list of demands delivered to the SLT during the student-led march. 

As part of introducing each of the seven demands, seven designated student speakers were given five minutes to explain the significance and reason for their specific demands. At the end of each five-minute session, two people from the audience were allotted 90 seconds each to expand on the current demand being discussed. 

Included in the list of demands were seven action items that called for the implementation of accountability task forces co-led by student leaders, faculty and members of the Senior Leadership Team. The specific demands:

  • The implementation of stricter admissions criteria to ensure an appropriate student-to-faculty ratio, ensuring each student gets adequate support
  • More academic, mental health and support resources for students of color
  • Addressing the declining retention and graduation rates of Black students
  • Recruiting more faculty of color and expanding their professional development opportunities once hired
  • Mandating comprehensive diversity and inclusion training for SLT, faculty and student employees
  • Addressing microaggressions experienced by students of color from faculty
  • Addressing the disproportionate use of students of color in promotional material and advertising

One of the students at the town hall who shared their firsthand experience of the detrimental effect of lacking institutional support was Courtney Edwards, a freshman communications major at GVSU. Edwards said after being put on academic probation last semester, she was only then informed of support resources like the Student Academic Success Center (SASC) and the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), which she said have since been crucial for her academic success.

“You (GVSU recruiters) came to Detroit, you pulled us all out of our predominantly Black successful schools, you sold us a dream, we got here (GVSU) and we did not have all the tools to be successful,” Edwards said. “You see students go from being 4.0 (GPA) students (and) 3.5 (GPA) students to being 2.5 (GPA) students. Academic probation is full of Black successful students that do not deserve to be on there.”  

Edwards emphasized the importance of broadcasting services like SASC and OMA for incoming GVSU freshmen, especially freshmen of color. Edwards said these are vital resources that help prevent students from ending up on academic probation. Without proper promotion of these resources, Edwards said students of color are being set up to fail.

Some students said they were frustrated with the lack of in-person attendance and support from the administration at events organized by students of color. One student speaker pointed to GVSU President Philomena Mantella’s Instagram post on March 22, which boasted about the success of OMA’s César Chávez celebration – an event that President Mantella did not attend. This coincides with mounting disappointment from students of color regarding the sensationalized advertising of GVSU’s diversity and inclusion. 

Prior to the town hall’s conclusion, an opportunity was given to the SLT to respond to the stories and demands heard during the meeting. With a strictly enforced time limit, which Mantella attempted to test, each representative used their allotted six minutes to speak about their commitment to working with student leaders to meet the demands necessary for GVSU to adequately support their current and future students of color.  

“I can’t promise you that these stories won’t repeat, but I can promise you I will lead and move forward with clarity, intention and urgency,” Mantella said. “I am happy to consider new ways to do this work.” 

One SLT member even used his speaking time to hold himself accountable for allowing this inequitable environment to persist for students of color. 

“As this campus’ Chief Inclusion and Equity Officer, I see it as a personal failure of my leadership to not have elevated the concerns of our community in more impactful and meaningful ways,” said Jesse Bernal, GVSU vice president for inclusion and equity. “Ensuring that we are reflecting the experiences, perceptions and great thinking of our community and the employees (at GVSU is crucial). As we rethink our work in the Division of Inclusion and Equity, we need your help.”

Moving forward, GVSU’s SLT said they are making efforts to expedite the process with the implementation of the task forces. GVSU Vice President for Student Affairs Jenny Hall-Jones said including “diverse voices at the table” as soon as possible is imperative for a successful collaborative effort between students, faculty and administration.

As a leadership team, we are grateful for the student leaders and the critical role they play in amplifying the important issues impacting our student body, and specifically our Black students,” Jones said. “We have extended a request to the student leaders to begin this work immediately and hope that in the coming weeks, the task forces will be working collaboratively to accelerate and improve the important efforts necessary for educational equity at GVSU.”

With guaranteed commitment from SLT and faculty at the town hall to work with student leaders on creating avenues that will enable students of color to thrive at GVSU, the path toward true equity and inclusion demanded in the list is underway. When asked after the town hall how and when the demands would be met, Mantella refused to comment.

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About the Contributor
Dylan Hoffius
Dylan Hoffius, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Dylan Hoffius is the Lanthorn's Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Winter 2024 semester. He previously worked as an Arts & Entertainment staff writer during the Fall 2023 semester. Dylan is a senior at Grand Valley State University, majoring in journalism, broadcast, and digital media, with aspirations to critique film and write for a sports and pop-culture outlet after graduation. He loves to watch movies at the theater, play disc golf and cheer for Michigan-based sports teams, specifically the Lions and Pistons. Follow his Letterboxd account for unbiased movie reviews and rankings. Graduating Winter 2024 Major: Journalism, Broadcast, and Digital Media