President Bense holds campus conversation after summer tragedies

By Emily Doyle

Staff Writer

On Wednesday, Aug. 24, University of West Florida President Judith Bense held a Campus Conversation event in the Commons Auditorium.

The panel from the Camus Conversation, listed right to left, SGA President Jacob Herbert, UWF President Judith Bense, Vice President of Student Affairs Kevin Bailey, President for the Division of Academic Affairs Martha Saunders, and UWF police Chief John Warren.

The panel from the Camus Conversation, listed right to left, SGA President Jacob Herbert, UWF President Judith Bense, Vice President of Student Affairs Kevin Bailey, President for the Division of Academic Affairs Martha Saunders, and UWF police Chief John Warren.

The event was the start of a community conversation about diversity, tolerance and safety. Bense hosted the event in the form of a panel, where people from the UWF community could ask questions of the people in a position to make a difference.

Our nation was damaged this summer by tragic events such as the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the police shootings in Dallas, and flooding in Louisiana. With UWF’s student population over 13,000, and 32 percent of those students being non-white, organizers felt a conversation about race, sexuality and diversity was imperative.

Bense said in her opening remarks, “One of the best human strengths is dialogue. It’s natural human culture to discriminate, and we have to work very hard to counteract that.”

“One thing we do differently here that many places haven’t is we deal with it head on, as opposed to sweeping the issues under the rug. We are not running from something that happened over the summer. We are at peace in Pensacola.”

But Student Government President Jacob Herbert disagreed. “President Bense said our community is at peace, maybe that rings true for some,” he said, “but not all. Coming together and working as a community to solve problems isn’t always a peaceful conversation. The events haven’t happened here yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start a conversation.”

A panel consisting of Vice President for Student Affairs Kevin Bailey, Vice President for Academic Affairs Martha Saunders, and UWF police Chief John Warren addressed the issue of staff diversity and having students feel comfortable knowing they aren’t being discriminated against by the people who are guiding them through their educational careers.

Bense said, “Staff diversity is a big challenge, not just here, but lots of places, and we are handling the situation as a top priority.”

UWF representatives gave lists of places students can go to seek help, such as the Health Center, where help is free for students if they are feeling troubled by something.

This event was an important start to open a dialogue in the UWF community to help put everyone on the same page. “It’s hard to find out what our students think it’s most important for us to be activists in, which is why it’s important this active conversation is happening,” Herbert said. “What do our students truly care about?”

Currently there is no future date set up for the next campus event, though Bense said, “This is just one conversation of many that need to be held on these issues.”