East Carolina University officials, faculty and students discussed the outcomes of President Donald Trump’s visit to ECU and the future of political visits to campus this upcoming year in the semester’s first Cupola Conversation.
The event was held Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Main Campus Student Center (MCSC), room 249.The Cupola Conversation titled “Preparing for 2020: Political Visits to Greenville,” is the first of the Spring semester and featured a panel of ECU representatives.
The panelists included ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Virginia Hardy, Dean of the College of Health and Human Performance Anisa Zvonkovic and Student Government Association (SGA) President Colin Johnson.
Chris Stansbury, associate vice chancellor of student affairs and moderator of the conversation, began the event by asking the panelists how ECU will be involved in political visits over the next 15 months, before the next major election.
Hardy said she believes ECU will be a highly trafficked area for political campaigns over the coming months and the visits may be controversial, but it is beneficial for ECU to be civically engaged.
Stansbury then opened the room to questions from the audience for the panelists. Multiple students and members in the crowd raised concerns to panelists about minorities, specifically people of color and members of the LGBTQ community about potentially not feeling safe in the university community.
Ashley Cleland, associate director of the women and gender office, said she believes it is important for the university to figure out a safe community for ECU after students have come to her expressing concern.
“It’s really easy for the university to figure out physical safety around these things, but emotional safety, community safety, those are the things we’re going to need to really, at ECU, dive deep in the next 15 months,” Cleland said.
A few more students then asked the panel why Trump chose ECU, what plans are in place to counteract some of the negative associations which came with Trump’s visit and how the university plans to clarify Trump’s statements were not a reflection of the university.
Stansbury asked the panelists first how a political figure can come to ECU and how Trump was able to hold his rally at ECU. Gerlach answered and said he came as a candidate for a campaign and ECU is required to allow access if they have the space to rent out, according to public access rules.
“If we had said no then the Trump campaign would have had a lawsuit filed against us,” Gerlach said. “I’m not going to say no to the President of the United States.”
Gerlach addressed the safety issues brought up in the discussion and said ECU could not have denied the president’s visit due to safety issues unless there is “imminent physical danger.” Gerlach said he commends the ECU Police Department for keeping the event safe and protesters were able to express their opinions.
Stansbury asked the panel how ECU detaches the university from statements made by politicians while on campus. Hardy said ECU simply rents venues to speakers, their words are not reflections of the university’s views and it is commonly misconceived ECU sanctions what speakers say, but this is not necessarily true.
“We would not put anybody, not students, faculty, staff or visitors lives at risk at any point,” Hardy said. “We take huge precautions as we plan out any visit that comes to campus.”
Next, in the panelists' discussion, the representatives addressed the cultural issues brought up. Some students said they were scared in their own university community and recommended ways for students to seek help and come together.
Johnson said he wants students to realize the amount of resources students have at the university. He said SGA is launching a wellness platform called “U.ecu.edu” which will personalize the ECU resources specifically available to a particular student if they need help.
Hardy said she hopes students will branch out of their comfort zones and attend events they normally would not go to or disagree with on campus. She said this will lead to engagement across social spectrums and produce authentic conversations across the university.