Dean of Students Richard Gatteau addressing a question during the Diversity Town Hall on Wednesday, April 25. EMMA HARRIS/THE STATESMAN

At Wednesday’s Diversity Plan town hall, a panel of Stony Brook administrators and student representatives were asked to clarify the Athletic Department’s policies for investigating allegations of abuse.

“Does Stony Brook Athletics have a plan for how to better listen to and respond to student complaints and how to avoid a similar situation in the future?” Vice President of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and junior applied mathematics and statistics major, David Clark, asked.

His question referenced the firing of former Women’s Swimming and Diving Head Coach Janelle Atkinson amid charges that she had mentally and verbally abused her swimmers.

The five administrators at the front of the room remained silent, instead, looking to defensive back for the Stony Brook football team, Elijah Duff, to answer Clark’s question.

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Duff’s initial response, a hesitant “umm yeah,” elicited a burst of awkward laughter from the crowd. He went on to describe changes that were made on the football team in response to previous issues with a coach.

“I know with the football team, right, we have like a leadership team that meets with the coach. I want to say it’s nine people on it right now that meets the coach. Like I said we kind of had a similar thing, I wouldn’t really call it abuse but definitely a lot of disagreements with how the coach would speak with us and how things were ran,” he said, adding, “There’s other methods of teaching, you know what I mean? It shouldn’t always have to be your stereotypical player coach relationship with the coach yelling at you.”

FMLA criticized the panel’s response via Facebook and Twitter.

“It was disappointing that every member of the Stony Brook administration on the panel, including the representative for the Office of the President, Judy Greiman, declined to address the question,” Clark said via Facebook Messenger. “In this MeToo Era, the quiet letting go of abusive coaches and responding to student concerns about their wellbeing with a shrug and decline to comment is a [sic.] wholly unacceptable. The Women’s Diving and Swim team was harmed by Stony Brook’s negligence and brushing off of complaints about a famous, powerful swim coach. Stony Brook University owes it to the team, and to the entire student body to articulate how the Stony Brook Athletics department will better screen new employees once the hiring freeze is raised, better respond to student complaints made internally, and make sure students know what resources they have for reporting abuse externally.

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Neither Stony Brook Athletics nor Stony Brook University Media Relations responded to requests for comment in time for publication.

Although Clark was dissatisfied with the answer he received, other audience members, like freshman political science major Evelyn Lopez Rodriguez, said they felt like their concerns were heard.

Lopez Rodriguez, who is the secretary for Long Island Immigrant Student Advocates at Stony Brook, pointed out the lack of bilingual admissions officers and tour guides at the university.

“It’s kind of upsetting when parents can’t be involved with their students’ education because of that language barrier so what can we do about that and recruiting people that speak maybe more than two languages to help these parents and the students to understand Stony Brook and know that they’re welcome here?” she asked.

“I think we have to be more mindful not just of students and the parents and maybe their inability, not being able to speak the language,” Associate Provost of Enrollment and Retention Management, Rodney Morrison, responded. “That’s something we talk about a lot, how can we connect with students and families,” he said, adding that he was willing to meet with Lopez Rodriguez afterward to have a broader conversation about potential solutions.

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“I feel that my question was briefly answered due to lack of time, but I did get in touch with people who were able to direct me in finding a solution to my problem,” Lopez Rodriguez wrote via email. “Since it has only been a day since the town hall meeting, I am still waiting on responses from administrators but I think they will take my concerns in consideration, considering that a lot of people are becoming aware of the issue of bilingual recruitment and translation accessibility on campus.” 

Aside from taking audience questions, Chief Diversity Officer Lee Bitsóí also unveiled a new training day for faculty that will take place on Oct. 9. In addition to incorporating elements of the Responding to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, or REDI project, faculty will be trained in how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Our students have guided us in the development of these programs that will serve to strengthen our community,” Bitsói said.

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