Diversity panel discussion ends in chaotic scene
By Celeste Simmons and Nicole Brown | Published on Dec. 10, 2015
Just hours after authorities charged Kean University alumna Kayla-Simone McKelvey on Dec. 1 with creating racially charged death threats on Twitter during an anti-racism rally, a university panel on diversity escalated into a chaotic event with angry questions from the audience.
The university announced via email blast on Nov. 30 a panel to discuss “Conversations on Civility & Acceptance: Diversity, Communication and Safety.” The panel consisted of faculty and students, including those who were involved in the Nov. 17 rally in which McKelvey, who is African American, allegedly participated.
But on Dec. 1 the charge against McKelvey was announced and the media descended on campus as it had after the initial Twitter threats surfaced. Several outlets attended the event, including NBC, NJ Advance Media and others.
Held in the Little Theatre inside the Miron University Center, the event was filled with a standing room crowd — so many that people were turned away at the door — an unusual event for a Kean panel discussion.
President Dawood Farahi opened the panel with prepared remarks about tolerance and then left afterwards.
“We actively support activism,” said Farahi. “However, no cause or issue gives anyone the right to threaten the safety of others.”
The panel began discussing campus safety, but it quickly escalated into a heated conversation about race.
Some students became irate and accused Dr. Charlie Williams, director of the Office of Affirmative Action, of skipping questions because media were present and recording the meeting.
Williams, who was one of the moderators , had instructed students to write questions down on notecards that were handed out at the door.
Others claimed the panel was not answering the questions he asked.
“They weren’t answering our questions because they did not want people’s opinions on the air,” Doreen Burgess, a sophomore public administration major, charged after the meeting.
There was a complaint about a lack of communication on the night of the threats. One student asked why the university did not send out an email about the threats until the next day.
The Kean University police used its emergency alert system – a text and phone emergency system that alerts participants to emergencies – twice in the night. An email from campus police came at about 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 18 alerting students of the Twitter threats.
Another student complained that the email the university did not send population to the threat, but then told students to use their own judgment about whether to attend class.
An African American student in the crowd yelled out a question regarding the university’s decision to remain open after the Twitter threats were made.
“If the threat had been against white students on campus, do you think the school would have been shut down?” he charged.
After that question things started to get a little heated. Other students yelled out in agreement
Executive Director of the School of Justice and Public Administration Dr. James Drylie, a former police captain who was a speaker on the panel, said safety was never compromised.
“The police look at the facts that they have at the time,” Drylie said. “Police officers plan for things like these and pre-planning allowed them to make a decision. e threat was not imminent.”
As Drylie spoke, students were still yelling out, re-asking the question, saying the panel needed to answer that one before they would move on to another.
Students as well as some faculty members started walking out. Others were yelling out and some were walking towards the stage.
Following the event, Tanaera Green, a student panelist who was also one of the rally’s organizers, accused Drylie of avoiding the question regarding campus closures.
“I think his reasoning in averting that question was because he wants to keep his position or because he understands his white privilege and he doesn’t want to speak on it without getting attacked by everyone here.”
She added: “If this was a threat against white students, the school would have been shut down. I do think that.”
Reached by email to respond, Drylie wrote that he didn’t avoid any question and noted about her remark, for a response, that the question-answer format answer drifted to “something more spontaneous.”
“I do not see this as an argument, and I would hope that this is seen as a way to learn from each other and to strengthen the university overall.”
Other members on the panel included Director of Africana Studies Department and Associate Professor of Anthropology Dr. James Conyers, Kean student and resident assistant Michelle Diaz, Student Organization President Nigel Donald and Graduate/ Part-Time Student Council President Chazz Fellenz; Kristal Noyan, president of the Pan- African Student Union, and Dr. Yvonne Segars, Esq., a lecturer in the School of Criminal Justice & Public Administration.