I am rattled this morning. Last night, I witnessed interim East Carolina University Chancellor Dan Gerlach defend Donald Trump’s visit to Greenville to a room full of ECU students, faculty and staff.
Several courageous students spoke about their safety concerns on campus and in the larger Greenville community. Some of them shared stories of how they have been chased or intimidated by people emboldened by the recent visit. Filled with stories from my patients and my queer community, I echoed these safety concerns for ECU’s health science campus and eastern North Carolina.
I asked why faculty, students and staff were not given more warning about this visit that created such fear and anxiety and national media coverage. Friends of mine decided to leave work and Greenville that day due to safety concerns. Others were not given that opportunity by their employer.
Faculty at last night’s meeting shared that students asked them where they would be safe on campus or in Greenville, and others were so distracted and distressed by the events that they could not focus on their coursework. Students I spoke to after the meeting said their family members had asked them about transferring schools after the recent events, mostly due to safety concerns.
One of these student leaders said something incredibly powerful that stays with me.
The one thing that Chancellor Gerlach or other ECU leaders could have said was simply, “I’m sorry.” What follows that apology includes many options. I’m sorry that our campus no longer feels safe for some of our students, faculty and staff. I’m sorry that we as ECU leaders did not prepare our students, faculty and staff or adequately respond to the impact and trauma that this visit created. I’m sorry that we are going to lose diverse and talented students, faculty and staff who do not see Greenville or ECU as a desirable place to pursue their education or careers. Any apology would have been appropriate and would have created steps towards healing. None was offered.
Chancellor Gerlach responded defensively to my safety concerns, asking with exasperation what I meant, asking me to justify my fear. As I tried to explain, I reflected on the injustice of asking someone traumatized to explain why they are afraid to a room full of people.
Never once have I asked a patient who presents to me after a trauma to justify their fear. I have never asked a victim of intimate partner violence to justify her fear of her abuser. I have never asked a queer person if “they are sure” they felt unsafe when neighbors yelled homophobic and transphobic slurs at them. Asking someone to do this is not only unethical; it re-traumatizes the person asking someone for help.
After the meeting, I asked Chancellor Gerlach two questions:
1) How much did the Trump administration pay for the use of Minges Coliseum?
2) Where is the money now?
The answers were even more disheartening.
2) ECU Athletics
So this is what our safety is worth to the administration. This is the monetary exchange that compromised our reputation as a place committed to diversity, inclusion student safety and success.
I asked how these decisions were made, and it was behind closed doors, a small meeting of ECU administrators, without opportunity for the rest of campus or the community to participate in this decision. I will let you decide what this group looked like in terms of ethnicity, income, and social status.
As rattled as I am by all of this, I remain committed to my patients, my students, my colleagues, and my community. I was born and raised in Greenville, and I want to stay here as long as possible. The best part of last night’s meeting was connecting with ECU student leaders who are in the process of changing our world for the better. I believe in them, and I want to make this campus and community a place where they want to stay and thrive.
Kelley E. Haven, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor
East Carolina University