Dean DelliCarpini watches as the forum participants respond to questions prompted by facilitator Dr. Howard Smith. Photo courtesy of UTSA

On Friday, Nov. 18, the College of Human Education and Development (COEHD) held an open forum for UTSA students and employees to express their concerns in the wake of a contentious election cycle.

Six months ago, Associate Professor of Biliteracy and Dual-Language Education Dr. Howard Smith began to organize such a forum before finally coordinating the event with Department Chair Dr. Belinda Flores and COEHD Dean Margo DelliCarpini.

“I had one openly gay doctoral candidate, several Muslim women who wore the hijab, Mexican nationals and Christian Middle-Easterners as my students,” Smith said. “(They) said that our department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies was an oasis, but they did not feel that way outside of our department and even less across the campus.”

As the forum began, attendees formed into small groups. The organizers then passed around note cards and displayed a set of questions. Participants were asked to respond to the questions, and the note cards were collected and redistributed anonymously. Each participant was asked to read another person’s response within his or her group.

Smith, who was facilitating the discussion, explained that having everybody read each others’ responses anonymously would not only ensure that everyone was able to express themselves without fear of judgment but also encourage them to assume other perspectives.

Members from each group then summarized their groups’ conversations, which ignited discussion involving the entire room.

The discussion was generally centered around the state of political discourse on campus—how students can be more inclusive and what role faculty plays in the changes that many believe need to occur. Among the topics of discussion were prejudice, privilege, polarization, safe space, the concept of “whiteness” and display of ideological symbols.

The most vocal participants advocated social justice and anti-bigotry while others, including freshman history major Mason Melnar, dismissed those concerns.

“Beforehand, (people were) discriminated against by state, federal law,” Melnar said. “Now, it seems like we’ve made it to equality. It feels like (people) have to start making up new things because (they’re) angry.”

Discussing the importance of involving education specialists in this process, Smith expressed Texas’ public education system’s failure to combat bigotry through education.

“We, as a society, but especially as a state, have done a poor job of infusing our educational curricula with positive information about the multiple groups in our society,” Smith said. “It is difficult to accept that sometimes, we need to drink a big glass of STFU and allow somebody who doesn’t look like you to be in the spotlight.”

 According to Smith, more of these discussions must take place and more students must be engaged to make real difference. COEHD plans to host more open forums in the future.

Related Stories

More from Brady T. Phelps

Brady T. Phelps

On Thursday, Jan. 5, Vice President Joe Biden issued a call-to-action to college and university presidents regarding sexual assault on…

More In News

Heather Montoya Co-News Editor

UTSA sent out an alert on Nov. 3 to inform the university community of an off-campus incident near Main Campus.…