Oxford community members speak out

By Kelsey Kimbler - For The Register-Herald

OXFORD — Following the election earlier this month, Oxford citizens have made their political opinions clear. While polling showed Butler County supported a Donald Trump presidency, Oxford supported Hillary Clinton, as was expected for the college town.

According to unofficial results, voters in Oxford’s 13 precincts favored Clinton over Trump, 67 percent to 33 percent.

With this obvious bias in the city, dissatisfied election responses from its citizens were to be expected, and some were aired during Oxford’s Tuesday, Nov. 15, city council meeting.

During the public comments section of the meeting, the floor is always open for unplanned discussion. Community members and organization representatives alike spoke to the subject of the election during this meeting.

A community member who was born in Japan, but has spent her life in the United States (with the use of a “Green Card”) spoke against her lack of right to vote. She shared, she feels threatened and is scared for her children. Children have been getting teased and bullied and she is afraid for her child at night and walking to the bus stop in “the pitch dark,” as she is “half-Asian.”

She explained, “Living in Oxford is like living in a big bubble,” but she expressed worries that this “bubble” is becoming affected by post-election bullying and is no longer a safe space.

She made a call to the community to “treat each other like you would like to be treated.” To “treat others like human beings.”

Linda Boardman with Oxford area PFLAG (families and allies of the LGBT community) also came to the podium to speak. She noted, PFLAG is willing to collaborate with anyone, in order to reaffirm Oxford’s values of inclusion.

PFLAG constructed an official statement following “the incidents of hate and harassment that have accompanied and followed the election.” It reads:

“The Oxford Area PFLAG is passionately committed to combatting harassment, bullying, and hate directed toward all vulnerable groups in society. We are resolved to advance equality and the dignity of all people by taking meaningful actions to support individuals and groups at risk. Oxford PFLAG looks forward to working collaboratively with other community organizations, the Talawanda School District, local leaders, and Miami University to promote education and awareness of current issues across age levels, to advocate for our under-served, and to support our families and community members.”

Boardman herself has thoughts about how to come together in this time of harassment and bullying.

She calls for a use of social media to “encourage everyone to be vigilant and supportive.” She hopes people will “promote accepting attitudes where they begin – the children.” She wants to “work with the Talawanda School District on possible programs or visibility of inclusion promotion,” to “create safe zones all over the city, provide safe zone training for teachers and others,” and “work with the faith groups on programming.”

In fact, there was a community-brainstorming meeting on Sunday, Nov. 20, to discuss what “could and should” be done to promote an inclusive and safe community. Boardman said of the meeting, “An hour wasn’t long enough to make many decisions, but we are energized and will have another meeting soon, opening it up to many more interested people.”

Holli Morrish works as the Communication Liaison with Talawanda School District. She decided to attend the meeting for two reasons: she came to represent a member of staff who was feeling unsafe following the election, and she came to share a letter Superintendent Kelly Spivey wrote.

The letter sets boundaries for students and faculty alike. Spivey wrote, “I’ve learned from families that some students are feeling anxious since the Presidential election. I’ve also heard of some inappropriate behavior involving intimidation and bickering regarding differing perspectives and values among our students. Please know that intimidation and cruelty is unacceptable behavior and will not be tolerated in Talawanda Schools.

“Regardless of one’s political views, it is important to show respect for one another. I believe it is necessary to focus and be grateful for the ‘good’ in all people. At the center of the school district’s core belief system is that ‘Talawanda learners will create supportive, respectful environments that value relationships and respect diverse individual needs.’

“Please put any personal differences aside and remember how lucky we are to live in a country, state, and school district that allows for opposing beliefs, while still respecting and celebrating individual differences.”

Morrish spoke on the acts of harassment many had been referring to. She disclosed, “A few members of the Talawanda Leadership Team heard rumors and also received a few parent calls to report some hate speech (both just prior to election day and just after) among students. The comments that a few students shared with their parents dealt with comments regarding race, sexuality, and gender, but also debates and harsh words among students regarding the individual candidates for President.”

Resident Fran Jackson spoke regarding her “concern with the climate of Oxford.” She expressed worries the city no longer feels inclusive to all and she ended her speech with the NAACP Pledge, calling for an inclusive community.

Many other community members spoke expressing their worries for Oxford following the election.

City officials have responded to these worries.

Directly following the election, University President Gregory Crawford issued a letter to students and faculty.

He began the letter with, “A long and intense election season concluded last night with Donald Trump winning the presidential election. This campaign was one of the most fervent in our history, and although at times it has been difficult, I am proud of the way our community chose to actively and respectfully engage throughout the process. Exercising the right to vote is central to our democracy. The United States governmental system is quite special, and as Secretary Clinton said today, ‘Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it.’”

He urged the community to “move past division for the good of us all,” but he allowed, “Our country will be working through the divisions and discord of this campaign for some time to come. Here at Miami, it is important that we reaffirm our commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence, and to our shared values that are grounded in qualities of character, intellect, and service.”

He finished his letter by telling the community, “Please remind yourselves, as Renate and I do every day, how fortunate we are to be part of this extraordinary community. Reach out and connect with your fellow students, our faculty and our staff, and join us in being especially grateful for the life we lead in this remarkable place in this historic time.”

While his response came before the council meeting, Mayor Kate Rousmaniere spoke during the meeting. She read the Council’s Civil Rights Ordinance, telling the community that the city “prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The code’s definition of discriminate and discrimination include segregate or separate and any difference in treatment based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, disability, age, pregnancy, height, weight, or veteran status. Therefore, a person, company, or other organization may not discriminate in Oxford with regards to employment, housing, and public accommodation.”

She added to her comments following the meeting. She applauded how many people attended the meeting. Usually there are 2-3 people in audience, but at this meeting, there was an estimate of 50 attendees.

She added, “What was unusual about this event, in my mind, was that people were speaking about values and civil rights — and not speaking specifically about a specific issue, or plan. No one, that I can remember, specifically said, do this specific plan of action now. It was more about reminding us all to be assertive at this time about protecting civil rights, opposing bullying and offensive behavior, and supporting marginalized people in our community.

“Personally, I liked that. Community members expressed their concerns, showed their support and their willingness to work together to protect and further our community, and they used an established local government process to do so. That’s what democracy looks like!”

Because of the Civil Rights Code, if anyone experiences any threat to their employment, housing, or public accommodation, there is a “vehicle” for complaints. On the city’s website, there is a link to the Community Relations Commission and there is a form to issue complaints in regards to harassment and discrimination. Council urged community members to take advantage of this resource.

By Kelsey Kimbler

For The Register-Herald