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Letter to the Editor – Joseph Shepard

March 20, 2017

I am scared for Vice President of Student Affairs Teri Hall. Part of me feels she is the change we need, the other part of me feels she will be used by some to do their dirty work.” This is what I shared with many of my friends privately after I heard you would be named the Vice President of Student Affairs. I recall speaking with members of the association with great joy about this selection. I was confident you would be the change this university and the Division of Student of Affairs desperately needed after a rough two and a half years. We engaged over social media and spent many days speaking about the countless projects our Student Government Association was currently focusing on. You watched every “Ask Live” session and you commented on just about every SGA post. You told me how impressed you were with the work we were doing and how we challenged the current system in which our administration has operated on for the past five years. As I sit and reflect on the current state of our university and the relationship you and I now have, I can’t help but ask, “What happened?” What happened to your support? When did it change? What did I do? How did we go from you being impressed with all the work we were doing, to you questioning, via The Sunflower, what else we’ve been focusing on besides the Interfaith Prayer Space?  It seems as though something changed from the time you were in Maryland to the moment you arrived on campus. Slowly, but surely, there were things you did and said that did not make sense to me. I found myself questioning if some of these things were even true because it did not seem as though it aligned with how you originally presented yourself.

I will never forget the one time I opened up to you. As hard as it is for me to be vulnerable with those I do not know, I was. In January, we talked about the treatment I’ve witnessed Christine experience. I expressed great concern for her. You acknowledged that treatment and even said you didn’t know where it stemmed from. Nevertheless, you assured me that you would work to get her off the “hot seat.” So when I heard that Christine “resigned,” I just couldn’t believe that it was by choice. Sure, she very well might have made the decision to leave, but the bigger question is “Why?” For three years, the Division of Student Affairs has witnessed the inhumane treatment of a leader who has devoted years of service to this university. Yet she persisted, and I believe she persisted because her love and affinity for WSU and the students mattered more than any amount of stress she would have to endure. I don’t blame you for Christine’s resignation; I don’t believe anyone can. However, it is up to you to share the narrative correctly. You and I both know what led her to resign. We had a conversation about it months ago. I sat before you begging you for answers as to why they treated Christine so poorly. You responded by saying, “I can’t make them be any different than who they are.” I believe you, and I am coming to realize that no one can make them be different than who they are; they are comfortable in the way they operate, even if it makes faculty, staff, and some students uncomfortable. Many people on this campus are merely trying to survive at this point, and that’s disheartening. While you can’t change who they are, you can be the voice of reason. You can help them understand that their way of doing business is not working. On March 17th, you were quoted in The Sunflower saying, “Chances are that the direction it’s going in [is] not going to change. What we’re doing as an institution is in line with our strategic plan and our mission vision and goals. And if people don’t like those … you have to make a decision as a person — do I want to be there?” If the strategic goals of the university are stellar, why is it that we are still failing some of our students after five years? Furthermore, this statement is completely incongruent with what you stated to the SGA cabinet on Friday about Christine’s resignation. You insinuated that it wasn’t necessarily that she was unhappy with the direction of the university, but rather it was her mother’s health. Some even say that you’ve told them that it was Christine’s health. It hurts me to hear these lies. If nothing else, just say its personnel related. But to make people believe something that is not true is not acceptable.

You and Christine could have been Shaq and Kobe, Venus and Serena, Kareem Abdul Jabar and Magic Johnson. Together, the both of you could have addressed issues that hinder our institution from moving forward in a positive direction. The university had a team player in Christine – one who genuinely loved the students. I am hurting for you, Teri, because I know you have been placed in a difficult position. You don’t have to tell me because I know, just as Christine did not have to tell me anything, because I witnessed what was happening for myself. I knew Christine would never address the treatment she was experiencing, because she wanted all students to believe and see the best in the institution. Dr. Hall, I pray for your strength almost every day. Despite what I’ve seen from you thus far, I know the woman I met during interviews for the VPSA position. I know these comments about using a janitor’s closet and buckets for Muslim students to perform ablution is not something you really believe in. I know it’s a challenge navigating this position when you work at the pleasure of the University President. And I know you want to keep your job, but Dr. Hall, what about the students? Are you willingly sacrificing your integrity and morals to please the President? Christine Schneikart-Luebbe, Eric Maki, Wade Robinson, Steve Larson, Ravi Pendse, and many more were not willing to compromise their integrity. While they are no longer with our institution, I can assure you they left with dignity! Please consider this a public plea from me. You might brush it off, but I hope you will receive it and take something from it. Christine was my champion; she was OUR champion. In her absence, I’m going to work over-time to be the champion that many students on campus desperately need. I am going to put forth my very best effort, like Christine would ask me to, and I am going to hold administrators accountable. While Christine’s resignation has hurt me, it has not broken me. The best way to support her is to ensure her legacy does not die. I hope you will work with me to keep her legacy alive, and that legacy includes keeping the students first.

 

With Sincerity,

Joseph W. Shepard

Student Body President, Wichita State University

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