A Transylvania University official prevented a Herald-Leader reporter from attending a student-organized meeting Tuesday that was promoted on Facebook as a "public and open discussion" of race relations on campus.
The meeting was spurred by a BuzzFeed article last week by Transy alumnus Tracy Clayton, who detailed the racial hostility she felt there as a student in the early 2000s.
The meeting was promoted on Facebook by sophomore Theodora Salazar as a place "where all citizens of the Transylvania community can be free to discuss their feelings and questions towards our community's internal respect or lack thereof, as well as a space to facilitate discussion through the feelings and thoughts of our peers."
At the meeting, which was scheduled to be held outside but was moved to the Mitchell Fine Arts Building because of poor weather, Assistant Director of Communications and Marketing Julie Martinez told a reporter that media were not allowed to interview students on the campus of the private school without prior permission.
The Herald-Leader was not aware of such a policy and did not notify administrators that a reporter would be attending the student-organized and student-led meeting.
Martinez said reporters were welcome to talk to students off campus.
Reached later, President Seamus Carey said the incident was caused by a lack of communication from the Herald-Leader. If the reporter had called ahead, administrators would have asked the students if reporters were welcome to attend, he said.
"We welcome open dialogue at every turn at this university — my philosophy of education is that the best thing students can do for their education is to find their own voice," Carey said. "We want open and public dialogue. We're also sensitive to the ability of students to express their feelings and thoughts in a safe environment."
Salazar said later that she would have welcomed media coverage of the meeting because it showed how determined and passionate students are about these issues.
"It showed that students are taking initiative," she said. "Part of the reason we wanted to do this was because talking on screens is not enough."
Salazar said students are determined to hold regular meetings about campus issues and create better communication with administrators.
Carey wrote a column Monday promising that Transy would continue its progress on racial matters, including minority enrollment, which has increased from 3 percent to 18 percent since Clayton attended. Carey said he's traveling to New York on Wednesday, and is having lunch with Clayton, who lives there.
He said there was an incorrect perception that Transy was trying to control the story and prevent students from speaking about the issues raised by Clayton.
Shortly after the BuzzFeed story appeared Thursday, a student life official wrote an email to students asking them not to comment on it. Carey said Tuesday that he did not see the email before it was delivered.
Clayton's essay dealt with her feelings as a black student who arrived at Transy in 2000 and immediately saw Confederate flags hanging in the window of the Kappa Alpha fraternity in one of Transy's dorms.
Clayton also wrote about going to a KA party where a fraternity brother wore a Confederate flag wrapped around him, and about KA's traditional Old South Week, where fraternity members wore Confederate uniforms.
A statement from the national KA office in Lexington, Va., said the fraternity had since banned all Confederate flags and costumes because "gentlemanly conduct and respect for all are the core values of Kappa Alpha Order."