Hot Topics Emerge at Wake Forest Town Hall

by Daniel Schere

Students and faculty gathered in Wait Chapel on the campusof Wake Forest University Wednesday night for a town hall discussion on campuspolicing, treatment of minorities and other student concerns. The discussionfeatured a four- member panel that included Vice President of Campus Life PennyRue and Regina Lawson, chief of campus police.

During the question and answer period, one of the hot topicsthat surfaced was the recent sighting of messages written in chalk such as”Wake will lie for your money” that suggested the university was not providinga safe environment for minorities. Rue called the chalking “an act ofcowardice” in the campus newspaper, Old Gold & Black.

Brittany Salaam, a junior, has written messages in chalkbefore and addressed Rue from a microphone in the audience.

“I take great offense to being called a coward,” she said.Furthermore it’s worth saying that I easily could call members of theadministration cowards.”

Salaam is concerned that an unhealthy environment is beingcreated for student activism on campus.

“As someone who’s personally had my life threatened on YikYak, I remember being monkey-called as I walked through Manchester Plaza, andwitnessed my best friend have a lit cigarette thrown at her and then asked doesthat make me racist,” she said.

Rue responded to Salaam by saying she is always open tomeeting with students about any issue, and hopes her comments do not dissuadestudents from coming to her in the future.

“Yik Yak is vile,” she said. And it brings out the very worstin people, and sadly the Wake Forest community. But that doesn’t mean we stopthere, so I’m committed to continuing to work with students and if I’ve harmedyour ability to trust me because of my statements in the Old Gold & Black, Iregret that.”

Rue said she was angry when she found out about the chalkingand called it an act of cowardice because she felt someone was trying to harmefforts to bring diversity to the student body.

Professor and MSNBC commentator Melissa Harris-Perry wasalso in attendance Wednesday and defended Rue’s comments.

“To the extent that we are going to be courageous and braveor cowardly or not, I’m going to stand here and say that I publicly also saidthat and said it directly to students, and also invited students to come into myoffice and have a conversation with me that I believe that the chalking was anact of cowardice,” she said from the audience.” I also believe that one cancall an act an act of cowardice without saying that someone is a coward.”

In addition to the chalking issue, students brought up othertopics surrounding minorities. Gracie Harrington, a senior, spoke about thedifficulty of her experience of coming out as bisexual during her sophomoreyear. She is calling for gender-neutral housing and restrooms, which issomething some of the UNC-system schools are currently exploring.

“Ultimately I’ve heard that this decision will be left up toan elite group of campus, which is the board of trustees, and I wanted to comeup here today to say that I think that is an injustice,” she said.

Beside her was sophomore Dani Benitez, who told a compellingstory of transitioning from being a woman freshman year to identifying as Genderqueerthis year. Benitez, who medically withdrew from the university last week,followed Harrington by calling for similar gender-neutral reforms.

“Wake is my home for eight months of the year,” Benitezsaid. “I don’t want to be stared at, or treated like I’m some sort of freak athome without people knowing who I am.”