GVSU Campus

GVSU President Philomena V. Mantella hopes to “create a healthier campus climate” by expanding curriculum.

Featured photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Gpwitteveen

Grand Valley State University says it will increase its curriculum around the Holocaust and Native American history after one of its football coaches referenced Hitler as “a great leader” and said he would like to have dinner with Christopher Columbus.

University President Philomena V. Mantella announced the new efforts following the Jan. 23 comments by former offensive coordinator Morris Berger to the student newspaper, the Grand Valley Lanthorn. Berger, who had been hired by the school Jan. 20, resigned from his position ten days later.

“We will use this moment to work diligently toward institutional systemic change that creates a healthier campus climate for all,” Mantella said during the university’s Feb. 7 Board of Trustees meeting.

After Berger’s comments surfaced, GVSU and the coach reached a mutual agreement to part ways. He received a payout of $90,000, which amounts to $80,000 for a one-year salary and $10,000 in lost benefits.

A “personal review” of Tim Nott, associate director of Athletic Communications at GVSU, was also put in place after he called the Lanthorn’s sports editor, Kellen Voss, five times after the article was published to request the removal of Berger’s comments. According to Mary Eilleen Lyon, associate vice president of University Communications, the review has since ended and has been dealt with internally by Nott’s supervisor.

Marlene Kowalski-Braun, associate vice president for Inclusion & Student Support at GVSU, says GVSU has always held an intersectional lens and hopes that this committee can further educate students and faculty.

“We’re planning on doing short-term programs to address the immediate issues elevated in the comments,” Kowalski-Braun said in an interview with the Jewish News. “But we also have a long-term view of where we hope to be as a campus community in a couple years. We want to continue to deeply educate our faculty and students who are a part of campus and make a more inclusive environment.”

GVSU has five social justice centers, in addition to social justice classes, Kowalski-Braun said. The school also has a community service learning center that hosts Democracy 101 discussions and lectures. A recent panel focused on the colonization of the U.S. and its impact on the Native American community. Anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim issues have also been topics of discussion.

The curriculum expansion plans involve a temporary committee created by Mantella and including GVSU student leaders and faculty members. The university will also be working alongside its Hillel and GVSU’s Native American Advisory Council.

GVSU’s Hillel chapter had spoken out strongly against Berger after his comments were made public. “It is unfortunate to see a member of our Grand Valley community glorify the Holocaust, a period that brought such destruction and travesty to the world,” the group posted to its Facebook page Jan. 29. “We appreciate the university’s swift response and we will continue to partner with them to educate our campus community and provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students.”

“Hillel is a very active and fabulous organization on our campus,” Kowalski-Braun said. “They have a seat on this committee and have had constant communication with Kevin McIntosh, our coordinator for Campus Interfaith Resources. Their input has been valued and has already begun to shape the discussion of our future plans.”

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