The frustrated voices of students were finally heard, and propositions of future resolutions were given at this week’s Black Student Caucus meeting regarding the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority incident from earlier this fall semester. Dr. Amy Palder, the Associate Dean of Students and Chief Conduct Officer, was invited to the club meeting on Monday, Nov. 9, to hear what students had to say regarding the sorority incident and the repercussions for the members.
On Sept. 6, a video surfaced of members of the sorority - also known as Tri Sigma - using racial slurs while singing along to a popular rap song, which took place in the sorority house. In the event that took place, the sorority members are seen dancing and singing, and the video was posted by one of the members on their Instagram story. Many students were affected by this video and one student, who asked to remain anonymous, sent the video to Michelle Hall, the vice president for Campus Life and Dean of Students.
Since this incident has occurred, Tri Sigma members have been sanctioned by Oglethorpe University and given allowance to be in their sorority house after having been removed.
Palder addressed the concerns that were brought to her before the meeting regarding how the sorority was disciplined and further actions. She took the time to address that the details of the sanctions the sorority received “are between the organization and the University only and are more than just a slap on the wrist.” In addition, Palder told students that the school is planning on having restorative justice circles hosted by a restorative justice consultant to bring in more insight. The goal of these meetings is to bring members of Tri Sigma and the general student body together to openly discuss the event that occurred, let the people who were offended by this voice their hurt, and discuss necessary engagement. The purpose is to learn how to build and facilitate the change of the environment on campus in a collective way.
For these meetings, Palder is looking forward to a diverse group of people to come out and voice their opinions. These sessions are not mandatory for students but mandated for Tri Sigma.
The meeting also served as a forum to discuss the student’s viewpoints on Oglethorpe’s handling of the situation and how it affected African-American students and other students of color. The main concerns of the students that attended were situations being handled in a timely manner, and the transparency between administration and the student body.
One student mentioned how the time frame of the incident leading up to now is an issue in itself. “It has been over two months since the incident has occurred, and little to no information has been given to the student body on the outcomes of it,” one student stated. With how far removed the incident that took place is from now, it seemed that Oglethorpe was taking no action at all. Students want to be kept informed on issues like these at a decent rate of time and given substantial information.
The lack of communication is what encouraged students to keep speaking about the situation and going to the administration to push for answers.
Members of the Black Student Caucus wrote up three solutions for improvement on the administrative end: more transparency, starting a Grievance and Discipline Committee, and mandatory diversity and sensitivity training. The committee would have students on the board, much like the honor council, and help hold the school accountable to act on incidents that occur on campus. The diversity and sensitivity training would be included in the orientation weekend for freshmen to teach them about these issues and help them understand the impact their actions have.
With there being no direct mention of racism in the Oglethorpe University Bulletin under the subsection “Code of Student Conduct,” these propositions of improvement from the club will help the school administration greatly.
“Dean Palder is eager to help us push through our ideas and has already begun some plans of action for them,” Co-president Sydney Payne said. “We are very hopeful and positive that good change will come to our campus as a result of this meeting.”
Palder encourages students to speak up in a timely manner so issues can be resolved faster and wants students to come to the administration to express their feelings, whether it is anger or sadness - all voices will be heard. In doing so, the school can create a space where everyone feels included and believes the students should voice how it should happen.
“I hope you feel heard, I hope you feel seen,” Palder says to the students as she closes out her piece.
The dates of the restorative justice circles are still being planned by Dean Palder and the restorative justice consultant.