Joining the evolving national conversation about race and inclusion on college campuses, about 400 Franklin & Marshall College students, faculty and staff gathered in Mayser Gymnasium Nov. 17 to initiate an open dialogue about the importance of creating and sustaining a consistently inclusive and respectful culture at F&M.
Spurred by student concern about cases of racial bias at F&M, President Daniel R. Porterfield and other College and student leaders convened the forum in order to hear thoughts, concerns and suggestions from students of diverse backgrounds.
On Nov. 13, Porterfield called for an unvarnished discussion of what it means to be members of under-represented groups on campus and how the College could build on its commitment to making F&M an even more inclusive community.
In his opening remarks, Porterfield told the gathering that recent anonymous social media attacks on students of color were unacceptable and violate the College's Student Code as behavior that is unacceptable in the F&M community.
"Franklin & Marshall must always think of itself as a national leader in dealing with issues that matter in our world," Porterfield said. "We are called to do great work here, and great work only can happen in an environment of trust, where each of us is respected and understood for who we are. Only then can we take the tremendous risks that are absolutely necessary for that great work to occur."
"If you are here to make a difference, to make this campus a more inclusive and more understanding place, then I want to assure you that this is your college," he continued. "You are at the center of what is F&M."
Diplomatic Congress President Donnell Bailey '17 then kicked off the open-microphone part of the discussion with a reminder that F&M has a tradition of confronting important social issues.
"Some of you may not know this, but we are in the very gymnasium where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about civil rights and the Vietnam War in 1963. That is a historic event," he said, "but today, I believe we are making our own history. We are moving in the right direction by having this conversation. If we are not having this type of conversation, then something is wrong."
For the next hour, more than a dozen students, faculty and staff took turns giving powerful voice to their experiences, suggesting ways to strengthen the community fabric, and urging continued dialogue about inclusion on campus.
Porterfield ended the community forum with a promise to keep the discussion going in the weeks and months ahead.
"This event is not the end; it is the beginning," he said. "We at F&M are committed to continuing the conversation."