Conversations about what changes need to be made at Washburn to make the university more diverse and inclusive have been ongoing, especially this past month.
On Wednesday, March 27, faculty and staff stood outside of Mabee Library and Carole Chapel holding signs with written messages showing their support for students. Over 40 members of Washburn faculty and staff were present.
Many of the signs read “we support you,” “we hear you” and “we are proud of you,” along with the Twitter hashtag #WUCanDoBetter. The hashtag was created by a Washburn student for other students to share their experiences of discrimination and ways they believe WU can do better.
Sharon Sullivan, theater professor, shared that she was contacted by a fellow faculty member about the event and knew she had to be there. “Kelly Erby called me and said that they wanted to get faculty and staff to stand out here and show support for the students who were very brave to address their concerns and their experiences on campus. I wanted to be apart of that,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan expressed how she wanted to be involved in the push for reformation on campus. “It is really important to me that we create the community we want to be part of. And those young people stood up, and so it’s important that we stand up for and with them, as well,” Sullivan continued.
Liz Derrington, English lecturer, explained how the hashtag #WUCanDoBetter motivated staff to stand up and express their love for students.
“The way that the hashtag was used on Twitter, there are a lot of students sharing stories on ways that they have been made to feel marginalized and unsupported and unheard at Washburn. That is something that we as faculty are in a position to help fix. We want to help fix that,” said Derrington.
The faculty wanted students to know that they hear their voices and are advocating for change alongside them.
Andrea Thimesch, Information Literacy Librarian of Mabee Library, stood to advocate for student voices and push administration to listen. “Administration should try to work with students and actually give them the voice that they deserve to have,” stated Thimesch.
Thimesch explained her belief of how the Washburn community should know the university’s values and what they stand for. “I believe that people should be more cognizant of what they’re putting out, especially those who are students, faculty or staff. They [students, faculty or staff] should be able to represent values associated with our mission statement and diversity statement. People should be made aware of that and make sure they can live up to it,” said Thimesch.
Izzy Wasserstein, senior lecturer of the English department, stood among other faculty and staff, holding a sign that said “We Support You.” Wasserstein said that faculty gathered that Wednesday to show students that they support, hear and value them.
Many of the faculty and staff who held signs that Wednesday were also present at the Town Hall meeting Monday, March 18.
Kerry Wynn, associate professor of the history department, was among those who attended the Town Hall. Wynn was inspired by the brave students who came in holding their experiences for the audience to read.
“When students came in and really called for the university to do better, I think that from the standpoint of a faculty member, if we can do something to facilitate making the university respond to students and follow their lead, then I think we should do that,” explained Wynn.
Sullivan explained, “Sometimes it’s easy to focus on the big problems and not see the ones that aren’t as massive or don’t affect as many students. But it is important that we pay attention to those students, as well. Everybody has a right to an education and the best education they can get. When you have to deal with racism, sexism or violence on campus, that inhibits your ability to get the education you deserve.”
“I never want anyone to miss out on opportunities because of their gender, their identity or the color of their skin,” Sullivan added.
After standing in front of Mabee Library and Carole Chapel, the group paraded their signs through Stauffer Commons during lunch time to spread their messages. During lunch, Stauffer Commons is filled with about 120 students. Thus, faculty’s message reached hundreds of students that Wednesday.