Annie Deitz, Campus Carrier managing editor
Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief
This Sunday, several pictures were uploaded to the Instagram story of Matt Mixer, Residence Life area coordinator. The series of 15 posts consisted of short statements regarding viewpoints on the Black Lives Matter organization, systemic racism and nationalism.
That same night, a MoveOn.org petition was created by senior Sarah Baker, calling for Mixer’s removal. As of Wednesday night, the petition has received nearly 700 signatures.
On Monday afternoon, the President’s Office emailed members of the Berry community explaining that a Residence Life staff member is currently being investigated by the Berry human resources department, and in the meantime that staff member will remain on administrative leave.
According to Wayne Phipps, director of human resources, investigations regarding matters related to personnel concerns go through a standard process. Once a misconduct case has been referred to the human resources department, they begin a fact-finding mission. This includes reaching out to relevant individuals, determining whether there is a pattern of behavior and other related background research. For staff members specifically, after the investigation, the Human Resources Department makes a recommendation to the administration.
“For situations that occur through an investigation for staff, once the investigation is done, an appeal can be made to the Vice President of Finance or to the President after that,” Phipps said.
While the Human Resources Department cannot release much information regarding the current investigation into the Residence Life staff member, Phipps explains that all investigative occurrences are aimed at ensuring fairness for all parties. Due to this, however, the amount of time any given investigation may take is unknown.
“Our process is fair, you know, we want it to be fair for the employees, fair for the individual who has raised concerns and so we try to keep the process moving as quickly as we can,” Phipps said. “Our due diligence is to make sure we don’t miss anything. Sometimes, you know, that means an investigation could take longer.”
As Dean of Students Lindsey Taylor explained, Berry does not have a policy for anyone, whether they be faculty, staff or student, related to restrictions on social media usage.
“We don’t have for faculty, just like with students, clear delineation of how social media can and cannot be used in terms of personal what’s allowed and what’s not allowed,” Taylor said.
Taylor further explained that she will be working alongside Phipps and the Human Resources Department throughout the investigation. According to Taylor, the process will involve continued dialogue between departments, as well as intensive information gathering.
“I will be working with Wayne Phipps, the director of human resources, to map out two things. One, timeline and then the process itself in terms of what considerations need to be taken into account, who else needs to be, whether it be interviewed, spoken with, and then also working directly with Matt Mixer,” Taylor said. “We need to listen to Matt and we need to listen to other constituents. We need to do a lot of question asking, listening, gathering of information.”
Mixer has not responded to requests from the Carrier for comment
According to President Steve Briggs, as the investigation is a personnel matter, many of the decisions made about any future action, disciplinary or otherwise, involving the staff member may not be made public to the Berry community.
“We cannot always communicate the resolution, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one,” Briggs said. “It would be the same as if a student were getting in trouble on campus. It would be expected that some privacy would be appreciated.”
Further, Briggs explains that the investigation and determination of a course of action will be made in a non-biased way, with little interference from outer opinions. While students, alumni and other Berry community members have been reaching out to administrators to voice their concerns over email, social media and the aforementioned petition, the matter will be addressed without any outside consideration.
“There’s a distinction when we have something like a personnel matter,” Briggs said. “On things more policy oriented, like this, we can’t and don’t really have that outside influence on our decisions. Remember the logo issue? There was a really long petition, a similar situation with students and alumni, but we still have to make decisions in a non-biased manner. It’s similar here.”
Regardless, Briggs explained that he is reading and considering all communication he receives on the topic.
“I’m currently just wading in emails,” Briggs said. “I am trying to respond to as many of them as I can, even if that’s to say I cannot fully respond right now. But I have read them, and I am aware of what they say.”
As a result, the Berry administration is trying to listen to students through other modes of communication. On Monday afternoon, Rebekah Rowe, president of the Black Student Association (BSA), and other representatives from student and administrative diversity affairs met with several Berry faculty and staff members.
“The Provost [Mary Boyd] reached out to me and I to her about what exactly are we gonna do about this, and she said she feels like we need to meet, and then we can settle this and figure out what’s going on,” Rowe said.
According to Rowe, the meeting included herself and Boyd, alongside other representatives including Director of Student Diversity Initiatives Chon’tel Washington, Taylor, one student from the Berry College Forensics Union, a faculty member from the education department and Solidarity Week chairpersons Julia Churchill and Macilah Taylor.
Boyd also explained that faculty and staff members at Berry have been working to generally get more involved in social justice matters, including racial inequality. They have hosted book reading and discussion groups, participated in formal training and attended student-run programs. However, administrators also want to give students the power to run important conversations on their own.
“Faculty and staff are involved in these things, like so many Berry employees went to those Solidarity Week Chapel vigils over the summer,” Boyd said. “But we really like to create spaces where students can lead on these issues and give them the recognition and opportunity to step up for that leadership. It’s like KCAB, student-led things can help that development. It’s not from a lack of interest on our part, more of an opportunity for students.”
According to Briggs, creating a space for diverse viewpoints is an important aspect of maintaining positive intellectual growth.
“We value and we invite different political viewpoints on this campus,” Briggs said. “We want to have a diversity of viewpoints. Because of this, we’re not going to have any litmus test or anything. We don’t want to make any rules about what viewpoints are acceptable and which ones aren’t. We obviously have expectations for behavior, and we want all people to act respectfully and professionally, but we need to value that diversity too.”
Boyd also explained that students can reach out to various faculty and staff members with concerns about this issue.
“I am always open to hearing from students, anyone is always welcome to reach out to me,” Boyd said. “There are those other resources too, like the Counseling Center, Dean Taylor, your RA’s, professors, or really anyone else that a student feels comfortable talking to. That’s part of their jobs, and it’s important to everyone.”
Associate Dean of Students Lindsay Norman declined a request from the Carrier for comment.