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News
Black students, alumni demand changes at university

BOONE — A group of “concerned Black Mountaineers” at Appalachian State University wrote a letter to university leadership out of “deep concern and exasperation” with a list of 23 demands they seek to be fully implemented within the next three years.

Demands were broken into categories such as admissions, faculty, student retention and support; health and wellbeing of students of color; curriculum; change in organizational culture; campus culture and leadership; and endowment and scholarships. The group submitting the letter consisted of current students and recent alumni who have served in some leadership capacity on the university’s campus under the name of Black at App State.

The demands ranged from calls for mandatory bias training for all faculty or staff; the hiring of professionals who are Black and others of color in roles such as university counselors, coaches, faculty, staff and administration; the drafting of a plan from university athletics to “end the exploitation of Black student-athletes” and the institution of more initiatives in the Intercultural Student Affairs office.

“We have attended every town hall, been a member of every committee, task force and panel,” the letter stated. “In our time at the university, we have noticed a profound contradiction between App State’s mission, and its treatment of its students from marginalized groups.”

The group also created a petition that the public could sign in support; the petition had 3,157 online signatures as of the following afternoon. The petition can be found at tinyurl.com/BlackatApp.

The letter was sent on July 6 and addressed to Chancellor Sheri Everts, university administration, Student Affairs personnel and the Board of Trustees. The group demanded that Everts give an official response no later than July 10, and stated that the three-year time span would start from the time a response was issued. If demands are not met, the letter stated that Black and App State participants will take appropriate, nonviolent actions that will disrupt university operations and escalate until demands are met.

On the same day the demands were sent, the Appalachian Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pass a resolution of confidence in the leadership of Everts during a special conference call meeting, in which the resolution stated that Everts brought experience in diversity and inclusion from numerous other educational institutions. The resolution also stated that Everts “recognizes successful diversity initiatives must ‘go beyond the numbers’ and include broad cultural changes that foster inclusive excellence.”

The resolution notes that during Everts’ tenure, the proportion of ethnically diverse students has risen 46.6 percent, to 17.4 percent during the 2019-20 academic year. It also noted that since spring 2019, 90 percent of the university’s academic departments have hosted trainings on implicit bias, and currently, 32 percent of new faculty hires are from underrepresented populations.

During the July 6 meeting of the university’s Faculty Senate, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown mentioned that he had seen the petition. At that time he said he was looking forward to engaging in deeper conversations in how the university will move forward, and that the university has to “do more” when it comes to supporting students of color.

Similar concerns were voiced during a June 25 virtual town hall hosted by Black in Boone. The event consisted of current App State students as well as alumni who discussed their experiences of being a Black student and racial injustices they faced.

As an alumna, Mary Lyons — an organizer of Black in Boone — asked fellow Black alumni to not donate or give money to App State in solidarity as “they are not intervening in racism.” She advised that people should also advise prospective students to not attend the university. Bailey Gardin serves as a student orientation leader for the university, and said Black and other minority students have asked him about the culture on campus.

“It’s difficult because you don’t want to lie to them,” Gardin said. “You want to be honest with them, and you want to tell them … that (the university doesn’t) really want to stand up for you or advocate for you when it’s time to stand up and advocate. I don’t like lying to my students.”

Jay Edwards is entering his last semester at App State, and said he had approached administrators with a complaint about a professor who used a racial slur during class this past spring semester. According to a February article in The Appalachian, the professor read aloud the N-word during her African American Literature class. The publication stated that the chair of the Department of English had expressed that the department regrets if content from their courses caused pain to Edwards or other students.

According to information in The Appalachian, the department of English planned to have conversations to address the situation, and administrators were engaged in the situation as well.

Edwards said there wasn’t a policy that barred faculty from using that language, but that there was a policy stating that you can’t make a hostile classroom environment. The university’s Discrimination and Harassment policy includes language indicating that a hostile environment is creating by conduct that is severe, persistent or pervasive that is considered hostile, intimidating or abusive.

“There was no policy that was protecting me,” Edwards said. “When I (asked) them where is the policy and what policy can we put in place, I was told not to change the policy but to change the culture. That’s what happens when we speak up. That’s the answers we get when we do tell these kind of testimonies to administration. A lot of times they will reach out … and then don’t do anything to stop it.”

University spokesperson Megan Hayes said App State has processes, procedures and policies in place that provide students opportunities to express concerns with faculty. Policies and procedures for how students can file a complaint can be found at tinyurl.com/Student-Grievance. Hayes also stated that the Faculty Handbook does not address matters of race regarding the curriculum, but does address professional ethics. The Faculty Handbook can be found at tinyurl.com/Faculty-Handbook.

A demand in the letter called for the creation of a Bias Incident Reporting Protocol for student complaints about biased comments, attitudes and actions made by students or university employees. Reports would be submitted to the office of the associate vice chancellor of equity, diversity and compliance, according to the letter.

Faith Montgomery is a graduate of the university who spoke during the June 25 town hall, and mentioned serving as an equity peer under the Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance while attending as a student. Montgomery said the equity peer group was short lived, and that they felt the group’s hope of having a bias reporting form as a requirement on syllabi was not seen as a priority by the university.

When asked if the university was willing to look into rejuvenating the equity peer group or the bias reporting system, Hayes said that it is a matter that the Student Government Association and Faculty Senate have engaged in before. Hayes said she understood that SGA wanted to revisit this conversation, and said that Student Affairs would be willing to help facilitate those discussions.

The letter listed three demands pertaining to curricula: greater inclusion of Black and brown scholars and contributions of people of color in all disciplines; the allocation of additional funding and support to faculty and staff of color researching social justice, anti-Semitism and anti-racist work; and the creation of a social justice designation requirement for all general education.

Lyons presented information during the town hall about recommendations that were presented to the Equity, Diversity and Compliance office in 2015. Some were represented in the July 6 letter in a similar format, such as requesting that the university hire Black and LGBTQIA+ affirming medical professionals in roles such as nurse practitioners, registered nurses, office staff/support, counselors and a sexual assault nurse examiner.

Hayes said Student Affairs and the Counseling and Psychological Services Center are committed to increasing the diversity of staff in the center, and continue to hire and work with counselors of color to support students. She added that while some of these are adjunct positions, a multicultural-focused counselor was hired in summer 2019.

As a member of the university’s women’s track and field team and the president of the Black Student Athlete Association, Kynda Bichara said she felt that Black student-athletes weren’t given the opportunity or the support to pursue interests outside of athletics. Athletic Director Doug Gillin gave an update on diversity and inclusion initiatives within the athletics department during the June 26 meeting of the board of trustees athletics committee — including starting a voluntary athletics department culture committee that will be comprised of athletic staff and student-athletes to “lead in change.”

Additionally, Bichara said she feels the university doesn’t support offices concerning race and race relations financially or with proper staffing — a decision she feels is done strategically. Bichara said she thinks Chief Diversity Officer Willie Fleming’s office isn’t given the proper tools to help meet student demands and needs.

Hayes said the Intercultural Student Affairs office — formerly Multicultural Student Development — has a new director who began work July 1, and two assistant directors along with several graduate students to support their work. An additional coordinator position was added in summer 2019 to further support the work of the office. Hayes said Everts and Fleming are in discussion about additional needs of that office.

Additionally, the letter asks that the university commission an unbiased comprehensive report compiled by an independent third party regarding diversity, equity and inclusion at the university. The group also demanded the creation of a standing committee —comprised of nine individuals including Black students, faculty, staff and alumni — charged with accountable implementation of equity initiatives.

“I’m really hoping that the next time we have conversations it can be action plans to help our … students who are the most marginalized on campus,” said Korbin Cummings, director of diversity and inclusion for the App State’s SGA. “What I don’t want to happen is continuously having the same drawn-out conversations that lead to nowhere and frankly, just leads us on a wild goose chase.”

To view the full list of demands, visit www.wataugademocrat.com.


News
Le Beau hired as Boone Police chief

The town of Boone announced on July 7 that after serving in an interim capacity, Andy Le Beau has been promoted to chief of the Boone Police Department effective July 4.

Le Beau stepped into the interim position in May after the retirement of former chief Dana Crawford. Boone Town Manager John Ward said that Le Beau has served the town well for 18 years, and has risen through the ranks.

“As interim chief, he has successfully led the Boone Police Department through times that have greatly impacted our town, our state and our nation,” Ward said. “It was clearly evident during the nationwide selection process that Chief Le Beau is a standout in the law enforcement community and is clearly the best fit to lead the Boone Police Department into 2020 and beyond.”

Le Beau said he wanted to thank Ward and the Boone Town Council for his appointment to the position. He also thanked Crawford for his years of service as well as the staff and officers at the department.

“I have had the pleasure of being heavily involved with recruiting, hiring and overseeing training for most of our officers,” Le Beau said. “Our young officers have a great heart to serve and are guardians of our community. We also have a top-notch group of more seasoned officers in leadership roles that are working to develop the younger officers and ensure that we are providing the best service possible.”

Le Beau has been a police officer since 1990. He has served with South Daytona Police Department, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and Hickory Police Department. In 1999 and 2000, Le Beau also served as a police officer with the United Nations in Kosovo. He joined the Boone Police Department in 2002 and became the captain of police operations in 2013.

“We have been working to be a model agency,” Le Beau said. “We want people to have confidence that Boone PD will do the right thing, even when no one else would know the difference. We will continue to provide quality service while constantly striving to improve.”

Le Beau earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Lees-McRae College, is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and is the past president of the North Carolina Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association. In addition to law enforcement service, he is actively involved in Special Olympics North Carolina, serves as a Hunger and Health Coalition board member and is a member of the Boone Sunrise Rotary Club.

Le Beau said he’s grateful for the opportunity to serve as chief because of his love for Boone.

“Having served at other places in the U.S. and even abroad, I firmly believe that the Boone community is something very special,” Le Beau said. “I have been here with my family for over 18 years, and we have become ingrained in this community. There is no other police department that I would want to lead.”


News
Appalachian State trustees pass resolution of confidence in Everts

BOONE — The Appalachian State University Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pass a resolution of confidence in the leadership of Chancellor Sheri Everts during a special conference call meeting held July 6.

“Whereas, the COVID-19 global pandemic, recent acts of racism and inequities in our country and on our campus require strong leadership and action,” the resolution begins, followed by a lengthy list of actions taken by the chancellor and her leadership team.

With regard to the university’s COVID-19 response, the actions listed included the transition of 2,600 course sections from face-to-face learning to online instruction last spring; the development of support programs for students impacted by the pandemic; developing new work shifts to comply with social distancing; adjustments to spending and budgeting due to COVID-19 impacts; the creation of the Recovery Strategy Leadership Group and the Project Management and Implementation Team; and regular meetings with multiple staff, faculty and student groups on campus, among others.

“In a time of unprecedented uncertainty, the chancellor and members of her leadership team have been in constant communication with the UNC system office to relay and address concerns expressed by faculty, staff and students, provide updates on campus needs and resources and to request assistance with health and safety planning and logistics,” the resolution stated.

With regard to diversity and inequities, the resolution notes that during Everts’ tenure, the proportion of ethnically diverse students has risen 46.6 percent, to 17.4 percent during the 2019-20 academic year. It notes that Appalachian’s overall retention rate is nearly 88 percent, “well above the national average,” and that the retention rates for under-represented students is 87 percent and for black/African American students is 89 percent.

Since spring 2019, it said, 90 percent of the university’s academic departments have hosted trainings on implicit bias, and currently, 32 percent of new faculty hires are from underrepresented populations.

“Chancellor Everts brings her experience in diversity and inclusion from numerous other educational institutions and recognizes successful diversity initiatives must ‘go beyond the numbers’ and include broad cultural changes that foster inclusive excellence,” the resolution stated.

According to university spokesperson, the resolution was proposed by Trustees Chair John Blackburn, with input and edits from other trustees submitted in writing and by phone prior to the meeting.

"The actions and leadership of Chancellor Everts and her administration — including in particular, Interim Provost (Heather) Norris — have inspired our unwavering confidence in their ability to lead Appalachian State University through an unprecedented global crisis," Blackburn said. "Now more than ever, we need strong, collaborative leaders at Appalachian’s helm. The board is certain that Chancellor Sheri Everts and the leadership team she has developed are expertly providing this leadership and will continue to do so."

The meeting was announced on July 1, with a closed session “to prevent the disclosure of privileged or confidential information” and “for the purpose of consulting with the university’s attorney” as the only agenda item listed.

Following a 40-minute closed session, the trustees returned to open session and voted to amend the agenda to consider adoption of the resolution. Trustees Vice Chair Scott Lampe read the resolution aloud, and the trustees then passed the resolution unanimously.

"Like all resolutions, the purpose is to be clear about our opinion and have a public record of such," Blackburn said. "These are incredibly challenging times, and we feel it is important to definitively state our confidence in Chancellor Everts and her leadership team."

The resolution comes as a number of Appalachian State faculty are questioning plans to return to in-person teaching this fall. The university has also been the subject of some criticism during recent online events organized by the group Black in Boone, with one person referring to perceived “structural racism” within the university. Earlier in the day on July 6, a group called Black at App State sent a list of demands to Appalachian administrators.

The full text of the resolution can be read at wataugademocrat.com.


Covid19
App State administrators, faculty weigh difficult decisions for fall

BOONE — As Appalachian State University is nearing six weeks until its scheduled return of students for face-to-face learning, faculty and staff continue to voice concerns about how the fall semester will operate.

Chancellor Sheri Everts and interim Provost Heather Norris released a joint letter on July 2 to address questions and concerns from faculty and staff. The letter states that the responsibility of reopening “the equivalent of a small city” and the impact on the surrounding community weighs heavily on administrators. The letter also stated that that the university understands that it cannot always foresee the consequences of its actions, but that it is working with every available resource to mitigate dangers.

“While health and safety are our top priorities, as the largest employer in the region, we cannot ignore that moving to all online instruction will most certainly have detrimental economic and emotional impacts on the lives of our students, employees and citizens of the town of Boone and the surrounding region,” the letter stated. “Considering these factors does not mean we are prioritizing money over lives — not to consider them would be irresponsible.”

The university’s Faculty Senate hosted a June 6 special meeting attended by more than 300 people. Faculty were able to ask questions related to COVID-19, such as fall 2020 class schedule planning, health concerns and university operations. At the start of the meeting, Chair Michael Behrent stated that the university community has to be realistic about the tradeoff it faces while also recognizing how frustrated faculty have been.

“On the one hand, we are concerned about our health and that of our staff, colleagues and students,” Behrent said. “On the other hand, we do face some serious financial obstacles. In some instances these goals are pitted against one another. We can denounce the situation that created this tradeoff, but it’s impact on us is no less real.”

Andrew Koricich, associate professor of higher education, talked of a similar choice — between a loss of money and a loss of morale. He indicated that moving as many operations online as possible would create a significant financial impact for the university, but that reopening the campus would have permanent and severe impacts on the morale of faculty and staff.

“The only reason the institution flourishes in the face of stagnant appropriations is because the people who work here give their all to make this place great,” Koricich said. “Putting employees and their families at greater risk during this pandemic will quickly erode the morale and goodwill necessary to keep Appalachian on its current trajectory.”

The letter explained that the state of North Carolina is projecting a 10 percent reduction in revenue, and App State is predicting it will experience a $15 million shortfall in state appropriations for the coming fiscal year. Additionally, the university stated that it could see a negative impact on enrollment. For every 1,000 fewer students enrolled at App State, the letter said administrators calculate a corresponding loss of approximately $20 million.

“Let us be clear — human lives mean infinitely more to us than financial solvency, but to not consider our financial position would be grossly negligent,” the letter stated.

Everts and Norris stated in the letter that people commonly ask why the university continues to have athletic programs and construction projects carry on when facing financial difficulties.

The letter states that money that is in trusts for athletics, construction and other uses are legally bound to be used in those ways. Additionally, decisions about sports cuts are based on loss of revenue, not supporting athletics, according to the letter.

“While it is undeniable that Athletics generates revenue for the institution in measurable ways, including paying tuition and fees, Athletics is managing their budget shortfalls with serious measures, including employee furloughs. Every student-athlete scholarship is paid to the university by Athletics through fundraising, and student-athletes who are on partial or no scholarship pay the difference or full tuition.”

Jill Ehnenn, a professor and the assistant chair of the Department of English, asked Norris if the university would go forward with face-to-face instruction if the state continues to be in Phase 2 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan. Norris said that if that were the case, it would be a University of North Carolina system and Cooper decision on how to move forward, but that she couldn’t see how the university could fully reopen at that point.

Renee Gamble, a staff member in the Department of History, raised concerns during the July 6 meeting about what plans may be in place if a reasonable percentage of faculty or office staff on campus contract the virus and aren’t able to be replaced quickly. Gamble was also curious about what she should do if someone enters her office without a mask. Similar concerns of how faculty should enforce the university’s mask policy in classrooms were shared during the June 22 Faculty Senate meeting.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown said that student conduct violations for those who don’t abide by the mask policy can be reported at tinyurl.com/ydgezgyz. A violation could lead to disciplinary sanctions, such as a suspension, depending on the situation, he said.

According to the letter, App State’s Student Affairs office is in the process of creating education and training modules and public health campaigns to reinforce messages of safe behavior when it comes to COVID-19 safety measures. Brown stated during the meeting that the university is also engaging in a survey to gauge student compliance with face coverings and other parameters.

The university also has plans to utilize peer-to-peer opportunities, clubs and service organizations, residence halls education and training to aid in safety education as well.

“We know from the evidence-based sexual assault prevention, drug and alcohol abuse prevention and suicide prevention work we do that these methods are not a guarantee, but we also know they make a difference in student behavior,” the letter states. “Unfortunately, the use of face coverings is becoming politicized, so we must work together to elevate this public health measure as a community expectation, rather than a personal statement.”

The letter explained that deans and department chairs have asked faculty about their teaching preferences for the fall, with revisions in May and June to reflect current preferences. Since that time, administrators have analyzed simulations of what classroom capacities could be like, what space is available on campus for classrooms — including administrative space — and what course delivery options could be available (face-to-face, fully online, hybrid).

“While we worked on this balance, we did not want to have most of our classes online, so we looked at percentages but did not set a firm benchmark, as that would not have been fair or practical,” the letter stated. “As an institution, we excel at face-to-face learning, and it’s ideally what our students and many of our faculty prefer.”

Additionally, the letter explains that some programs present different risk issues and require different strategies for preventing infection, such as singing courses, classes in which students play wind instruments or physical education classes that require direct contact with others. April Flanders, a professor in the Department of Art, said her department has not been given clear instructions on how to clean shared equipment — such as kilns or looms.

The letter stated that Academic Affairs leaders planned to meet on July 2 to discuss the special accommodations process with department chairs. Everts and Norris stated that they recognize there may have to be a shift to online instruction again “at any time” if the state experiences progression of the COVID-19 virus.

The Faculty Senate entered into a closed session for roughly two and a half hours after the open part of the meeting. During the executive session, the group passed a statement asking each faculty senator to poll their departments on the department’s confidence in the administration’s planning for fall 2020. The results of the poll are to be shared at another special meeting on July 20.