Professors open office hours as "safe spaces"

Initiative aims to help students deal with bias-motivated incidents, presidential election

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Some professors have agreed to open their office hours as a safe space for students to express their feelings and receive support.

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

More than 170 professors, deans and provosts have opened their offices as “safe spaces” to students in the midst of much anxiety on Grounds in recent weeks, some of which is related to a series of bias-motivated incidents and the results of the presidential election.

Beginning Nov. 14, a list of professors who are “standing in solidarity” with students started to appear on social media. These professors have agreed to open their office hours for students to express their feelings and receive support.

This list was created and distributed by second-year College student Francesca Callicotte, who told The Cavalier Daily she felt students needed another outlet to deal with their grief over recent events.

Students formed the Eliminate The Hate campaign in response to incidents such anti-Semitic graffiti at GrandMarc, racial slurs appearing in Kent and Dabney dorms and anti-Muslim vandalism in Brown College.

Many students have also expressed anxiety and fear over Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. An incident involving University Police — in which an officer allegedly shouted Trump’s campaign slogan,“Make America Great Again,” at students on election night — has led to student protesters calling for the officers’ removal.

“It’s easy for students to only look to their friends for support,” Callicotte said, “but I think it’s also really important for them to know that there are teachers in their classrooms who are constantly rooting for them.”

Callicotte said she wanted students to experience a wider community than just their peers.

“It’s not just students supporting each other, it’s professors, instructors and administrators who want to support them as well,” she said.

The list notes that it is intended to make “students feel a bit safer, more supported and unapologetically welcomed on campus.”

Callicotte compiled this list by manually combing through each department’s website from the College, Batten School and Commerce School and emailing the faculty listed. She said she is still looking to add more faculty to the list, which already has more than 170 contacts that includes not only professors but also deans and provosts.

Although professors are already required to hold office hours, some were motivated to advertise theirs as a safe space out of empathy for what students might be experiencing.

“As a female who has done a fair amount of traveling in college, I can understand what it feels like to feel unsafe or in an unsafe situation based on gender,” Chemistry lecturer Lindsay Wheeler said in an email statement. “I wanted to ensure that no student ever feels like they cannot find a safe place on campus and felt compelled to open my doors.”

Additionally, some participating professors felt obligated as educators to open their doors for grieving students.

“My students are really important to me, and I knew that a lot of them were having a hard time with the outcome of the election in part because I was having a hard time with the election,” English lecturer Marvin Campbell said. “Students are young and not fully formed, especially first-years, and might not know how to come to terms with significant events. I think it’s important for them to know that someone is there to hear them and to listen to them.”

This initiative is emerging during the Eliminate the Hate week of events, which are meant to show solidarity with marginalized students.

“I value and appreciate each individual student at the University, and ensuring that all students feel safe in these troubling times will make us stronger as a community, University, nation and world,” Wheeler said.

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