With the expressed goal to “listen first and learn from what members of our community have to share,” as according to the town hall description, the Town Hall for Campus Unity was held on Monday, Dec. 5. At 4:00 p.m. in SUB Ballroom A. With about 150 students, community members and faculty in attendance, audience members were encouraged to both voice their concerns about the state of the community following the election, as well as listen to and support one another in an open atmosphere. A panel of six MSU representatives including ASMSU President Garrett Leach, ASMSU Vice President Geneva Zoltek, Dean of Students Matt Caires, Director of University Police Robert Putzke, Vice President for Student Success Chris Kearns and Director of the Diversity Awareness Office Ariel Donohue were also present. Their goal was to listen to the concerns of community members as well as comment on what the university has already done to address the “heightened level of fear and uncertainty since the election,” as stated in the town hall description.
Sara Rushing, associate professor of political science, hosted the town hall meeting and began by quoting Aristotle’s simile, explaining that, like sailors, everyone in a community is working towards the same goal. Once the floor opened to community members, there was a steady stream of attendees who voiced their opinions and personal experiences concerning the direction that MSU and the Bozeman community is heading following the election and the political intolerance that has since followed.
Early on, a common theme developed and was mentioned throughout the night: MSU needs to release a statement that the university is a sanctuary for immigrant students as well as a safe space for marginalized students. Putzke responded that the goal of the university police is to make MSU a safe place for everyone, no matter their background and political attitude, and explained that MSU is statistically one of the safest places in the country. The student who initially posed the suggestion found the response to be lacking, saying that silence is a form of agreement, and that the university and police department must be vocal in declaring MSU a sanctuary. Although presented by an MSU student, the issue was echoed by faculty and community members alike throughout the night.
Another common theme that developed was addressing racism in Bozeman. A few faculty members came forward to disprove the false assumption that Bozeman was not racist before the election. One faculty member told a story of an international student of color in her class who was once asked to get off a Streamline bus because he made the other passengers feel uncomfortable. In another incident, that same student’s life was threatened at a Streamline bus stop by two white men. When the international student told the bus driver what had happened at the stop, again the student was asked to get off the bus for causing trouble.
The night was not all negative, however. In addition to the deeply personal stories and tears, there were also hugs between members of opposing parties. One minority speaker explained that because he loved everyone in attendance, he was not afraid of anyone, and he hoped the same was true regarding attitudes towards himself. At the end of the town hall meeting came a promise from the ASMSU president and vice president that student government will continue to work hard towards their diversity goals.