Be Heard Town Hall discusses free speech, mental health

This piece was written for “The Towerlight” at Towson University as a Staff Writer. Check out this, and other stories from The Towerlight here:

http://thetowerlight.com/beheardfreespeech/

The student government’s latest ‘Be Heard’ town hall meeting, hosted Oct. 26 in the Chesapeake Ballrooms, focused on free speech in higher education and the treatment of mental health in students of color and marginalized groups on campus.

These topics were chosen under advisement from students who shared concerns at last month’s meeting. Those students wanted to know ways Towson supports students around different mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression, due to violence happening specifically to black people across the country.

The first panel started with Chief Legal Officer Traevena Byrd, from Towson’s Office of General Counsel, who said that Towson can’t enact certain disciplinary responses regarding offensive language because it is a public school.

However, Byrd explained that there are certain things people can say that will result in them not having protection from the first amendment including true threats, fighting words, obscenity, libel and defamation.

Chief of Police Bernie Gerst explained that someone can hold a protest or demonstration on the sidewalk, but if someone is intentionally blocking people from going down the sidewalk, it is illegal because it disturbs the peace.

“That’s our goal – to protect everybody’s rights,” Gerst said. “We’re here for you, no matter what the issue is. We address many, many issues here. We’re here to do problem solving and to help everybody here feel safe when they come here to work, and study and live.”

In the second panel discussion, faculty members from the Disability Services Office, the Counseling Center, the Center for Student Diversity and the Division of Student Affairs discussed how each of their departments offer help to marginalized groups on campus.

Director of Student Success Programs Raft Woodus explained the people in the SAGE program in the CSD “want students to know that they are heard and that they feel welcome.”

We want any student to come into our space and say ‘This is what is happening, this is what I feel good about, this is what I’m concerned about,’” Woodus said. “We’ll take that information and give it to the powers that be…to try to address it.”

The SAGE program has 68 mentors. The mentors are sophomores, juniors and seniors that help guide their peers in their academic and personal development.

The Center for Student Diversity also works with minority groups including the LGBTQ+ community, and also helps women with the social repercussions they may face because of their sex.

“Limiting yourself to one community – it stifles your own personal growth and development,” Woodus said.

Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs for Diversity Santiago Solis expressed disappointment from the turn out of the audience at the event.

“The whole goal of these meetings is to be transparent and to hear directly from students,” Solis said. “Unfortunately it is very disappointing that they’re not showing up…My challenge for [SGA President Taylor James] is that we invite them, and challenge them and encourage them to please join us so that we can continue hearing from them so we’re able to provide them with information and updates.”

 

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