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Town hall meeting to address sexual harassment

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A town hall meeting to discuss sexual harassment will be held today at 3:30 p.m. in the Preston Family Room, planned by Kansas Leadership Center Faculty-in-Residence Gary Wyatt, associate provost and dean of the Honors College and Amy Sage Webb, professor of English, modern language and journalism.

The town hall was prompted by The Bulletin’s previous stories about “Jane,” the student who reported a professor for sexual misconduct, and the #metoo movement, according to Wyatt. 

“Given all of the things that have been happening in our society, the #metoo movement...as well as events on campus, we thought it would be a really good idea to get people together and begin the conversation of what sorts of things we can do to make our campus the kind of place we want it to be,” Wyatt said.

Although Webb and Wyatt both spoke to David Cordle, provost, about the event, they planned on holding it regardless of administration response and are not partnering with administration on it. 

“Administrators were neither expressly invited nor expressly disinvited,” Webb said.

The town hall is to help share the student perspective, Webb said.

The intent of the town hall is to help determine what changes need to be made and who can make that change, using the adaptive leadership model, according to Webb and Wyatt. 

Megan Reynolds, ASG president and junior sociology major, sent an email in support of the meeting and encouraged students to wear black. 

“The Student Body Vice President, Jacob Miller, and I are working to find adaptive solutions while brainstorming ways to improve our policies and procedures so all students feel safe here at ESU,” McReynolds wrote. “To stand in solidarity with the ‘Time’s Up’ movement and to rally for the town hall meeting, we encourage all Emporia State University students to wear black tomorrow...to come together as a community to put an end to sexual harassment on ESU’s campus and beyond.”

The purpose of adaptive solutions is to make longer lasting social and cultural change, according to Webb.

“I think when you’re looking at something like this, the idea that administration might be the experts and they can come in and just fix it, is probably a rash oversimplification,” Webb said.

They are committed to the fact that people cannot rely on authority to save them, Wyatt said.

“Authority does have an important role in this and other issues, but our conviction is that the change that we want to see happen, happens...when everybody comes together and we talk about things that we can all do...to make our campus better and safer and welcoming to everybody,” Wyatt said.

According to Wyatt, there is a tendency for those in our culture, beyond that of the university, determine who is in charge and place the duty of fixing issues on them. Everyone plays a role in making social change, Wyatt said.

“You can’t really change a culture from the top down, just by saying ‘tomorrow, we will have no discrimination,’ they (authority) already do that,” said Wyatt. “It’s in their policies, but clearly these sorts of things happen still.”

The Town Hall will look beyond procedures such as termination and discipline, which are questions that Wyatt said should be handled by authority. 

“Consider for example, the women’s movement or the Civil Rights movement,” Wyatt said. “That extraordinary change happened when just regular people said ‘the ways we have been conducting ourselves, the things we’ve accepted are just no longer acceptable.” 

The conversation at the Town Hall is intended as a catalyst for social change, meaningful discussion and to help launch broader conversation, said Webb.

“We’re hopeful that we can create some kind of framing, using leadership principles, to help us have a productive discussion,” Webb said. 

If campus is closed due to weather, they plan to reschedule the meeting for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27 in the Preston Family room.

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