The meeting brought together students and people in positions of authority who may not otherwise be able to communicate effectively. Students and citizens were able to ask questions about their safety on campus and learn about the resources available to them.
UNC Student Government’s Multicultural Affairs and Diversity Outreach Committee hosted the town hall meeting on safety in response to the controversial attacks on people of color and police officers over the summer.
Chancellor Carol Folt introduced the meeting as a response to students who wanted to speak out against the injustices they read about or affected them personally.
The conversation started with panelists saying one word to describe their response to the recent shootings involving people of color and police officers.
“My word in terms of lost black lives is tired,” O.J. McGhee, instructional media services manager at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, said. “And when I say tired, I mean exhausted ... There have been black lives and Latino lives lost at the hands of bad policemen, in this country, almost since the beginning of policing.”
Similar words were shared for the loss of officer lives.
“The whole shift in the dialogue we are seeing in the media and the dialogue we are seeing on campus is making it seem like there are different lives that matter more. We need to talk differently about the lives that were lost prior to the officers,” Desirée Rieckenberg, senior associate dean of students said.
Along with police encounters on a national scale, students asked panelists how to hold administrators accountable and how to stay safe on campus.
Jeff McCracken, director of the Department of Public Safety, said students should download the app LiveSafe as a way to feel safer on campus. Coupled with the app, McCracken said police officers are encouraged to get out of their cars and maximize casual interactions with students to build trust.
McCracken said both students and officers should actively work to improve relationships — students through talking more with officers and officers through bias training.
“The training group talks about recognizing bias and in doing so making sure that those biases don’t cause officers to have a negative impact with their decision making,” McCracken said.
Panelists said everything would not be solved overnight, but opening up the conversation and educating students would be the start to effective change.
The next town hall meeting will be in November, but MADO will announce earlier meetings with officers in non-enforcement settings as well as healing spaces to talk amongst students.