Seton Hall University Interim President Mary Meehan announced a revised set of responses to the Concerned 44’s demands on Tuesday afternoon after the University’s initial offers were rejected by the activist group over the weekend.
The new response included “a commitment to search for a full-time English faculty member specializing in Latin American, Latino/a literature” as well as a pledge to hire a director for Africana studies, whose responsibilities are to direct and grow the program.
Additionally, the University agreed to conduct a review of the offices of EEO and Title IX compliance and to create a line item in the 2020 Fiscal Year University budget for cultural history months with an additional $20,000 for student-planned activities. They also secured commitments from the deans of all colleges on campus and the Faculty Senate Executive Committee that they will consider student input in full-time faculty searches, effective immediately.
“We are committed to making immediate changes that are aligned with Seton Hall’s mission and dedication to provide a high-quality educational experience for all our students,” Meehan wrote in the University-wide email announcing the response. “Faculty are prepared to make changes in academic programs and departments, recognizing that these changes require additional time for careful analysis and study.”
In addition to the University response on Tuesday, Interim Provost Dr. Karen Boroff sent out an email last Saturday afternoon announcing the immediate termination of the University’s Talent of Inclusion initiative, which was a significant point of contention between the Concerned 44 and University officials.
“The Talent of Inclusion initiative, while its original intent was to recognize acts of kindness by members of our community, has proven to be a source of hurt for others. I sincerely regret this hurt and am sorry,” Boroff wrote.
The announcements come on the heels of an ongoing sit-in at Presidents Hall, which began after the University initially failed to comply with the Concerned 44’s demands last week. The sit-in, which was approved by the University with a set end date on Oct. 26, continued over the weekend and into this week in violation of University Policy, according to Meehan’s email.
Students also participated in a pre-planned march around campus on Monday, which culminated in an altercation between a Seton Hall faculty member and a student in which student witnesses allege faculty member, Dr. Williamjames Hoffer shoved a protestor.
Emani Miles, the student who claims she was “shoved” by the professor contacted The Setonian to offer her side of the story.
“We were making our way into [the University Club],” she said. “As soon as we entered, Professor Hoffer immediately stood up and began to yell. I was holding a sign above my head while the demands were being stated out loud. Within a split second, Professor Hoffer grabbed my arm and pushed me back. The professors around him had to pull him away from the incident and hold him back.”
Miles then went on to describe how she felt in that moment.
“Historically, the bodies of black women have been abused, exploited, mishandled and treated. This is what I felt in that moment. I felt like I was an object.”
In social media footage of the aftermath of the alleged incident, Dr. Hoffer can be seen confronting and arguing with a group of student marchers in the University Club, a lunch space in the University Center restricted to faculty, until other faculty members eventually step in and diffuse the situation. Students can also be heard in the background saying “he laid his hands on *REDACTED*.”
In an interview with The Setonian, Hoffer admits that a verbal altercation occurred, but claimed he never intended to touch any students.
Hoffer said that, upon seeing students enter the University Club and chanting, he walked up toward the entrance and attempted to block them from entering.
“I held out my hand and indicated that they were to leave, and because they were shouting, I raised my voice and told them they are not permitted to be here,” Hoffer said. “When I extended my hand in a ‘stop,’ indicating for them to stop, I, by accident, came into contact with one of the students. Her shoulder to be precise.”
Hoffer noted, though, that he doesn’t believe the students are lying when they claim he shoved a protestor. Instead, they merely recall the incident differently than him.
“It’s important to remember how our views of an incident can differ based on our perspectives, so please understand I am not in anyway of accusing those students of lying. I understand how our perspectives alter our perception of events,” he said.
Hoffer admitted he does have ideological disagreements with the protesters, in any case. Last semester in a Letter to the Editor ran in The Setonian, Hoffer denounced the new Arts and Sciences diversity core requirement, set to be implemented this spring Semester, as an attempt “to indoctrinate [students] with Marxist ideology.”
Public Safety did not respond to The Setonian’s requests for comment regarding the incident.
The events of this week were met with a host of reactions from students around campus.
Zachary Shaw, a junior communications major, expressed his support for The Concerned 44, saying that he doesn’t believe the University has done enough to “rectify the issues put forth by the students,” noting that he was further troubled by the behavior exhibited by Dr. Hoffer. “I will continue to support the movement until the organizers say that they are satisfied with the outcome,” Shaw said in an interview.
Freshman diplomacy major Mackenzie Wetherhill held a different view, and expressed concern with the groups continuing protests, saying that she believes the time has come to end the protests and try again to negotiate with the administration.
“I think the university has demonstrated that they do hear the voices and concerns of the Concerned 44. While they may not be happy with SHU’s most recent response, there needs to be an understanding that not everything can be solved instantaneously,” Wetherhill remarked. “I think that it’s unrealistic to protest until every demand is met to their satisfaction. The University, I think, is trying to work with the students, but there needs to be a compromise between the University and The Concerned 44.”
Wetherhill was not alone in her sentiments. Junior art, design, theatre, and music major Andrew Cates expressed his discontent with the protests, indicating that he doesn’t think the protests have been positive for any of the involved parties.
“I think the demonstrations continuing isn’t great, for anyone involved including the protesters,” he said.
“Based on the demands, the responses seem adequate. Dr. Boroff is willing to work and try and find ways to meet the demands, but demanding that fully funded departments appear overnight seems foolish,” Cates said. “Additionally, the students have now violated the peaceful protest policy, as President Meehan noted in the latest set of responses, so continuing may mean they could face disciplinary action. Not to mention, yelling at professors in the University Club and students studying in the library isn’t ‘peaceful protest.’”
Cates concluded by saying that he feels that continuing to deny the University’s offers doesn’t seem to help the movement. “Refusing the responses while not refining the demands doesn’t seem productive. They have many demands, but there are not many specifics, so I think they should be clearer on what they want to help administration help them,” he said.
Nicholas Kerr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.