UNCA holds community forum in response to Highsmith staff meeting


Celestine J. Epps

Student Casey Campbell reacts to the vice chancellor of student affair’s email on Tuesday’s community conversation.

Celestine J. Epps, [email protected], News Editor

Tuesday night, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Meghan Harte Weyant led a community conversation open to any students who wanted to speak on the events that took place at the Highsmith employee meeting.

In the Blue Ridge Room, Weyant addresses her newness and lack of trust by students on campus due to the high turnover of administrative staff.

“For me, I just want to acknowledge that you all don’t know me, you don’t know if you can trust me, you don’t know if I’m going to follow through and do what I say I’m going to do or what you hope I’m going to do,” Weyant said. “There is that kind of newness to it as well and I hope in time and in moments like this I will be able to demonstrate to you how important your voice is to me and I hope that through my action I will be able to show you that matters.” 

Staff members from Student Affairs and Highsmith union were in attendance, including Chancellor Nancy Cable, Director of Health and Counseling Jay Cutspec and the Director of Emergency Management David Weldon.

There were three listening sessions in the past week where student employees at Highsmith expressed their grievances and distress over the staff meeting which included ALICE training. Weyant shared expectations for Tuesday’s session and listed a timeline to hold her accountable.

“Let me start with my apology,” Weyant said. She apologized for the Highsmith student employee meeting in which student employees, staff and patrons inside the student union were present.

“I’m sorry for that. That was certainly not the intention but it doesn’t change the impact, and the impact is real and caused serious distress and trauma for the students in that space in our community at large and I apologize for that,” Weyant said.

The vice chancellor of student affairs reminded students of the investigatory review in progress and could not confirm any information regarding Weldon’s future as an employee at UNC Asheville and stated personnel decisions would be done in private. 

Students at the forum expressed their frustration with the overall lack of communication from staff such as lack of prior disclosure regarding content of the training, forewarning to Highsmith employees about the location of the meeting and whether the meeting was mandatory or not.

“I hope you believe me that I feel awful,” Silke Crombie, associate director of Highsmith union said. Crombie said she was still processing the events herself and hoped students would accept her apology.

Chancellor Cable offered her apologies as well, stating that she wanted to hear students’ most strident feelings about the situation:

“My goal is to get the findings of the facts understood to know what we will never repeat again so that I can share a promise to you along with others who have spoken, that this will not happen on this campus again in the way that it did for all of you. So by joining apologizes, I want you to know that you’re central to the life and work of this institution. You are the reason we’re here,” Cable said.

One student commented on potential consequences that could’ve taken place if Weldon was a BIPOC staff member or if students had plans of hurting themselves after the incident.

“What if it was an African American that was in David’s shoes? He would’ve been fired, lawsuits- but what are we doing?” they said. “I understand that type of training is good but he could’ve [gone] about it another way.” 

Students discussed gun violence and broader concerns surrounding their safety on campus.

“I think that forethought is really important and also consequences. I think that people don’t trust this institution to share our idea of what security looks like, I don’t know if I should trust you to be honest,” one student said. “This is huge, it’s a fuckup.”

Weyant mentioned the passing out of “Highsmith Hero” t-shirts was not necessarily meant to be conflated with this event but is part of the investigatory review and said from her understanding, the t-shirts were meant to be distributed earlier in the year. Students noted the shirts were “tone deaf” to those who have experienced gun violence firsthand, especially due to the epidemic of school shootings nationally.

“I think one of the things that was really rough for me during the presentation were the continuous mentions of Riley Powell and his death. I think even just the word hero does not belong in an active shooter training because that not what we’re here for,” another student commented.

Students expressed concerns about speaking against the administration and if it would put them at risk of losing their jobs to which the vice chancellor of student affairs reassured employees wouldn’t be fired for doing so.

Few attendees were visibly upset while sharing their thoughts with staff, one student choked on their words while another spoke directly to the director of emergency management demanding an apology.

“So, where’s David’s apology because it seems you’re just apologizing for him and along with that, you don’t have confidence that this internal review is going to bring about anything,” the student said. “It seems like you all are just going to be protecting him and it seems like he shouldn’t have been able to keep his job because he’s pretty bad at it. So, where’s your apology David?”

Weldon was hesitant and only spoke twice during the forum despite previously telling the crowd that it was in his best interests not to.

“Right now due to the issues this event has brought to me personally, I’m not allowed to speak on my behalf. I’m defending myself in front of many different people right now, including many of you and because of that, I have to be very careful in anything I say,” Weldon said.

The director of emergency management told student employees if they spoke to him “one-on-one or as a small group” instead of going to the media, he wouldn’t need to censor himself. 

The community conversation shifted to a broader discussion about campus safety and the administration’s failure to address residents’ needs like broken emergency blue lights and limited campus police escorts.

“I don’t have much confidence because I’ve been in situations before where it easily could’ve been my last night at work. So, there’s a bigger issue with concerns, particularly student workers,” one student said.

Weyant updated students on Sept. 30 reiterating that she would share a briefing of the internal review with students, faculty and staff via email and invite students to participate on a task force to review recommendations to improve campus safety by next Friday.