By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Not In Our Town was born in Bowling Green nearly five years ago in response to a racial hatred crisis. A series of racist tweets were posted by white students, spurring students and community members to demand changes and official responses to the discrimination.
A series of public meetings were held, many of them standing room only. Large banners were filled with signatures of people taking a stand against hate speech and actions in Bowling Green. Students and city residents were inspired to strike down discrimination.
Not In Our Town was the group uniting students and city folks in their righteous anger toward hatred.
That was then.
Now when Not In Our Town meetings are held, the seats are filled with the same community members and university staff still committed to the cause.
But there are no students. Meeting times and locations have been tweaked in order to meet student schedules. If students do attend, it is fleeting, with few making repeated appearances.
The leadership of Not In Our Town knows there is still support among students. When a march was held last fall from downtown to campus, the walkers numbered in the hundreds and stretched for blocks. But the organization is struggling to understand the lack of student participation – since it’s not that discrimination no longer exists.
So recently, a NIOT outreach group met to discuss solutions.
It’s not that BGSU students no longer believe in the mission of Not In Our Town, said Holly Cipriani, an academic adviser at the university. “A lot of them are a big fan of the Not In Our Town movement, but it’s very abstract,” she said.
The students who helped start NIOT in the wake of the tweet crisis have moved on. And it’s difficult to reach other students, who are juggling a lot of academic, social and work issues.
Not In Our Town organizers will probably have a table again at this year’s Campus Fest, which introduces students to every organization on campus and in the community. But Rev. Gary Saunders noted that Campus Fest is a day of “wonderful chaos” and having a meaningful conversation with students can be difficult.
Initially, students from organizations representing black, Latino and LGBTQ populations on campus flocked to NIOT. But those leaders have also moved on.
“Engaging those organizations, it’s indisputable, hasn’t been effective,” Saunders said.
“That’s always a part of the conversation. How do you keep the engagement,” said Vicky Kulicke, a NIOT member. Kulicke also pointed out that it’s more than just the minority groups who need to be involved. “Some of the conversations we need to have are with the white students.”
The outreach group talked about ways to make NIOT known to incoming freshmen.
“We’ve wanted to connect with new students,” Saunders said. “We can engage new students in their best selves by connecting them into the NIOT vision and network in concrete ways.”
Retired BGSU faculty Tom Klein and Donald Scherer offered suggestions on where NIOT can make those connections.
The next Not In Our Town meeting, open to anyone, will be Aug. 10, at 3 p.m., in the Wood County District Public Library. The next meeting of the outreach group will be Aug. 30, at 5:30 p.m., in the glassed in room at Grounds for Thought.