Town and Gown: A Lack of Transparency

I had family in attendance at Tuesday night’s Jenna Fischer Q&A event at DePauw University. Similar to the confusion that other town members have expressed throughout social media, they too were unaware of the racial slurs, threats, or feelings of insecurity that had plagued DePauw’s campus recently. For them, the protest came out of nowhere, coming as a bit of a shock to a town that retains a general quietness year round. In the moment of the protest they felt confusion, fear, and powerlessness. Later, like the rest of us townside, they found that these were the same feelings DePauw students have been harboring for some time now.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen numerous conversations about the protest on social media, but as anyone with a Facebook or Twitter knows, this often comes without much conversation. There seem to be two sides to the protest. One side illustrates that the discomfort felt throughout the crowd was a momentary expense, as the event was an opportunity for students to finally have their voices and need for security heard. The other side claims that the protesters were disruptive, fear inducing, and that the choice to protest during an open community venue was inappropriate. It’s easy to tell someone they’re wrong on social media. It’s harder to come up with solutions on both sides and, eventually, empathize.

The protest and social media response reveals a need for better communication between the people of Greencastle and DePauw. No student should ever be earning an education while in fear for their own personal safety. A student should not have to sit through class with the knowledge that racial slurs or threats are scrawled on the sides of bathroom stalls or in parks. That offense is an issue that DePauw and Greencastle should be addressing together.

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Miscellaneous structures on Campus

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At the same time, the needs of DePauw shouldn’t have to come to the attention of people townside in a way that confused unfamiliar audiences, making them feel unsafe themselves. Jenna Fischer was told about the potential for a protest before the event. It feels strange that the administration didn’t attempt to enlighten the greater Greencastle community about the potential for a protest, or explain to the community why there would be a protest in the first place. This is especially important given the fact that DePauw opened the door for all citizens to be in attendance, which included children. The reality is that no one knew who all was sitting in the audience, and this created a lack of safety for the protesters and crowd members alike, because there wouldn’t be any knowledge of how people would react to the unexpected.

I haven’t witnessed any complaints about the needs that students represented in the protest. What I have seen, are people who’ve stated audience reaction would have been much different if people unfamiliar were made aware of the Q&A’s potential for the protest to begin with, as well as having been made aware of the pertinent issues facing these DePauw students in the first place. That fault is on an administration side, not on the side of student protesters. The negative positions on the protest don’t appear to be out of disagreement over the content of the protest, but out of the randomness and the shock that occured. It’s a quiet town, people were expecting to simply hear Jenna Fischer speak. The fact that DePauw was aware of what several community members weren’t and didn’t extend the same formality they did to Fisher to community members hindered the protests from reaching the ears of several community members present.

I’ve seen several posts that make claim that those in town critical of the protest reveal a community that doesn’t want to support minority students at DePauw. While it’s true, like anywhere in the United States, that there are racists in Putnam county, it does not speak for my experience living in Greencastle. I’ve always seen active support running on both sides for eachother. I’ve seen countless volunteer activities, fundraisers, and church events helmed by both Greencastle or DePauw affiliates, crafted to aid and improve the lives of others on both sides, never minding race, religion, or sexual orientation. I’ve lived a life surrounded by diverse DePauw families, friends, teachers and coworkers who hold a deep care for the university and the town as a whole.  Greencastle and DePauw bleed on issues together, care for their people together, and, ultimately Greencastle and DePauw will always succeed together. There just needs to be transparency, and an open conversation so that we can all continue to help one another.

A Greencastle native, Brandon Pershing is completing his journalism degree at IUPUI. An avid film buff, Pershing is also a comic book enthusiast. He and his wife, Lindsey, live in Greencastle.

Featured Image courtesy of DePauw University Photographic Services:

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