Students had the chance to bend UCF President John C. Hitt's ear Monday about issues close to their own hearts. Many of them called for social change — which one panelist called a societal issue that falls outside the university.
During the open forum, students were encouraged to voice their ideas, concerns and experiences. Hitt gave succinct instructions to start off the event.
"Those of you who may be new to the open forum, the rules are simple: We're here to hear your questions or comments," he said. "We ask that you be as brief as you can be in stating them."
Along with Hitt, who led the panel, Provost Dale Whittaker, Vice Presidents Dan Holsenbeck and William Merck, Senior Associate Vice President Anthony Jenkins and about 75 students and faculty members — with a heavy emphasis on faculty — were in attendance.
The first person to approach the mic was a woman in a Shock Top T-shirt and Doc Martins, who introduced herself as Julalie, a senior at UCF.
"I saw a quote today from President Hitt. It said that, "UCF has a strong commitment by all partners not to be in downtown, but to be of the downtown community" and I was wondering how does UCF plan to be of the downtown community? How does UCF plan to prevent gentrification of the Parramore community?" she asked.
Hitt fielded the question and said he certainly hopes UCF will find employees among the residents of Parramore, a generally low-income area of Central Florida.
"We're now working with Orange County schools. They're going to have a really outstanding K-8 school right close by and we know that Mr. Harris Rosen is going to provide a scholarship for people who graduate from that school," Hitt said. "In seeking the advice and input from residents of Parramore about how we are relating to them, I don't think anyone would say that what we have in Parramore right now is ideal. The question is how can we help the residents maintain their current residence, if they choose to, and improve their lot in life through education or other efforts."
There was a minute-long lull before a girl in a baby blue beanie stepped forward. She brought up issues of race, jumping around from Ferguson to the prison system.
"My question to you, as the provost of UCF, is how do you plan to revamp the education program to bring awareness to the unaware, but also to impact lives with the proper education to start finding long-lasting solutions to today's problems where black lives are still being treated as this contoured shadow?" she asked.
Whittaker conceded by saying that she had asked a big question. He hopes that by creating a diverse faculty in the 100 new hires, the professors can better reflect diversity on campus.
The girl was not satisfied and asked how UCF plans to change education programs to incorporate social issues, to which the provost said the problem goes way beyond UCF and is a societal problem.
A man with a wooly beard and pink Polo shirt brought up that The Vanguard Group, the company that manages student tuition dollars, is one of the top institutional holders in the nation's two largest private prisons.
Whittaker said UCF invests its money in order to yield a higher return, which is then used to subsidize costs at the university.
"So you're saying lives are worth less than money?" a man with shaggy gray hair and a shirt that read, "I Am Trayvon Martin" shouted from his seat.
"Our mission is teaching, research and public service and you pay us the money to provide those things to you. You didn't give us the money for your tuition to go to try to affect social change," Whittaker said.
Students continued questions for the next hour that ranged from transgender rights to more efficient light bulbs on campus to a personal gripe about service feeds to a question as to where one can play a piano on campus.
Alex Wexelman is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.