Alumni meet to discuss effects of ABC forum discussion

The Association for the Advancement of Black Culture’s “Blackface” forum triggered discussions about civility and communication at the Alumni Council’s most recent meeting, held on Saturday, Nov.13.

The Council’s principal purpose, according to Allegheny’s website, is to strengthen the bond between alumni and Allegheny College, its students, faculty, administration, and Board of Trustees. It serves as the governing body of the Alumni Association. Allegheny’s Alumni Association is unlike those of most other colleges and universities in that all persons who have graduated from Allegheny are automatically granted free membership to it. Council members are selected from within the Association. The Council is made up of alumni ranging from the class of 1963 to 2007, as well as one current student selected from each year’s senior class.

President Jim Mullen was also present at the meeting to discuss the Blackface forum with the Council.

“President Mullen took about a half hour to explain the Blackface incident to the Alumni Council,” said council member Carole Williams, ’65. “I was impressed by…[his] appreciation for the benefits of the forum to provide conversation and education, and his obviously deep emotional reaction to such an incident happening at Allegheny, where there is such a commitment to diversity, respect and civility in public discourse.”

Alumni Council President Rick Stenberg, ’69, said that the Council took the issues presented at the forum very seriously.

“We were concerned and saddened by what we heard about this incident,” said Stenberg. “But I think it’s very important for the Allegheny community to come together to discuss issues of such significance. My understanding is that the forum did allow participation from students and faculty across our community.”

Phil Foxman, ’90, associate vice president for development and alumni affairs, said that the Council’s main questions were whether or not students had a voice, and whether or not the forum had been civil.

“We had so much emphasis on political civility,” Foxman said. “But we do need to make sure that civility, a wonderful concept, is present in our community.”

Foxman said he felt as though ABC did confront the issue in a civil manner.

“It was great how the students chose to work with the community and educate as a forum,” he said. “That’s what Allegheny does so well.”

Some members, including Williams, questioned how Allegheny can move much further without identifying those who perpetrated the incident.

“Without knowing their motivation for wearing Blackface or their lack of understanding about the inappropriateness of their decision, further discussion is hampered,” Williams said. “Also, without knowing who the perpetrators are, no specific disciplinary action can be taken. The fact that some students know who the perpetrators are but won’t or can’t convince them to come forward is troubling.”

Another topic of discussion was the controversial language on the ABC members’ T-shirts. Foxman said the Council did not debate whether or not the members’ decision to wear T-shirts with the ‘F’ word on them at the forum was appropriate.

However, some Council members disapproved of the vulgar language on some of the T-shirts.

“My personal view is that those who chose a vulgar message for their shirts tested the limits of civility themselves,” Williams said. “Other [ABC members] chose to convey the same message without vulgarity on their shirts. I think this was the right way to go.”

Stenberg said that the ‘F’ word on the T-shirts also made him feel uneasy.

“Language can make people feel uncomfortable,” he said. “But in this case, it was an effective way for the ABC members to express their discomfort that they felt coming out of the incident.”