COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Fallout from a controversial statement was on full display Saturday at the annual membership meeting closing the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s 2016 national conference.
The organization’s outgoing and incoming presidents both made a point of saying that black lives matter, a move coming two days after the outgoing president, Phillip Trout, drew criticism for saying “all lives matter” during the conference’s opening general session. Several commenters shared their feelings on the events. Some debated the way the comments were discussed critically on social media.
Trout, a college counselor at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota, handed over the presidency Saturday to Nancy Beane, a college counselor at the Westminster Schools in Georgia. First, he presided over the membership meeting, opening with his second public apology in two days.
“At Thursday’s opening general session, I wanted to acknowledge all the violence occurring in our communities along with a statement of sympathy and solidarity for all those affected that should have used the words ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ” Trout said. “I regret that my insensitive statement caused hurt and offense and that the impact of my message of inclusion and respect actually had the opposite effect. I am sorry to have hurt the feelings of so many people, and I offer you my sincerest apology.
“Let me restate,” Trout said. “Black lives matter.”
Trout had issued an apology in a statement Friday that did not include the words “black lives matter.” His remarks Saturday were delivered to a large meeting hall filled with hundreds of people.
The Thursday comments generated negative responses on social media, although much was said to be posted privately on Facebook. Supporters of Black Lives Matter say that they value the lives of others as well, but the phrase "all lives matter" has become widely associated with those seeking to minimize the issue of police killings of black men and women.
When NACAC CEO Joyce Smith took the podium Saturday, she addressed the social media climate. She mentioned difficult and uncomfortable situations. Then she said several words drive her in her work -- integrity, transparency, accountability and trust.
Smith went on to talk about respect, adding that she hoped the ideas she outlined resonated with attendees.
“I hope that all of us do think about our use of social media and the immediacy of the message, whether it’s in organizing something important or communicating with large groups outside of the conference,” she said. “Your words have power. But also know that we’re listening, and we will acknowledge when and how we can to make sure that you have an answer.”
Some in attendance did not fully agree with that message. Brandi Smith, a NACAC director and the assistant dean of admissions at Emory University, spoke during an open forum. She explained that she was speaking for herself, not in an official capacity.
“Earlier today, some comments were made about how we need to be transparent about what we are doing as an organization, and we should be careful about what we say on social media,” Brandi Smith said. “While I agree with that to an extent, I think it’s important to note that even as leaders, we must adjust to the times that we live in, and people will oftentimes find places like social media as an opportunity to have a voice.”
It is difficult to stand and speak in a large room filled with people like the one on Saturday, Brandi Smith said. Doing so can put a target on the speaker’s back.
“For some people, the comments that were made on Thursday were incredibly hurtful,” Brandi Smith said. “We can’t dismiss the feelings that people have. Their feelings are valid. The emotion is valid.”
The idea that speaking up is unacceptable is akin to victim blaming, Brandi Smith said.
"We are hurting, and many of us are trying our best to be positive,” Brandi Smith said. “But we are not necessarily living in a world or profession that always makes that very easy for us to do, and I think that is worth saying.”
Smith went on to call for cultural competency training and other work to move forward.
Objections to the phrase “all lives matter” often center on the idea that it minimizes the Black Lives Matter movement. Rakin Hall, an associate director of multicultural recruitment at the University of Southern California, stood Saturday to talk about the phrases.
"All life is precious," Hall said. "Regardless of your political affiliation, regardless of your religious stance, your gender identity, all life is precious."
But it’s important to note why the rallying cry is “black lives matter,” Hall said. He listed the names of several black Americans killed recently.
“We’re crying out because blood is in the streets,” he said. “Men are laying died, women are laying dead, unaccounted for. We are better than this, and as leaders of our institutions within this academe, please, keep fighting the good fight.”
Hall noted that NACAC’s members can have a major influence over students who will become leaders in the future.
When Beane officially took over the presidency and gave remarks, she also addressed the issue.
“It’s important this afternoon to say black lives matter, because they do,” she said. “Racism has been so deeply embedded within the fabric of this country from its early days, and it is a cancer which we have not yet seemed to eradicate.”
She went on to call for a way forward.
“We have to listen,” Beane said. “We have to forgive one another. WE have to keep working. I feel strongly that this is a crucial time in our country, as many of you this afternoon have referenced. While we can’t control or fix everything in the world, imagine what we can do."