Diversity on Campus: A Work in Progress

December 1, 2015

By Melissa Rohman, Jocelyn Cano and Amanda Ybarra

The Nov. 12 “Silence No More” protest led by Dominican’s African-American students has sparked immediate conversation and a call to action on campus. Four days after the protest, President Donna Carroll sent a letter to all Dominican students, faculty, and staff. “They protested in the spirit of mission and told us that the university is not living up to its values and promise. Specifically, they do not feel at home at Dominican, and we are not truthful enough to admit that we are failing them,” said Carroll in her letter.

“Specifically, we will address issues of access and retention so that our African American student population will continue to grow. We will find ways to accelerate faculty diversity through policy and partnerships. We will enhance the cultural competencies of faculty, staff and students, so that we are better equipped to live and work together inclusively. And, we will continue to build the infrastructure to sustain an inclusive campus. Such a transformative agenda requires heightened communication and accountability,” said Carroll.

The letter is an important first step to elevate and accelerate diversity planning that is already ongoing‎ on campus in addition to identifying new initiatives, but nonetheless it is one of many steps that need to be taken.

“Increasing cultural competency across campus and, thus‎, decreasing the likelihood of incidents of micro aggression is a complex effort, so I do not want to pretend that Dominican can address this overnight,” said Carroll. “Since the protest, almost every department and school has been discussing strategies. The ‘Complicit No More’ campaign was one attempt for faculty and staff to tell the campus that they heard students’ call to action and are committed to responding.”

An immediate response to the “Silence No More” protest on Nov. 12 was the release of the “Complicit No More” campaign, organized by Dominican’s faculty, staff, and administration.

“This response is really just to say we hear you. This doesn’t immediately fix it, but we want students to know we hear you, and we don’t want to be complicit in the problem. We want to take responsibility because it’s our problem to fix,” said assistant professor of psychology Tina Taylor Ritzler.

In addition, President Donna Carroll met with the members of the “Silence No More” protest to have an honest conversation about the students’ concerns. “The students were hopeful, not angry, and as I said to my colleagues on the President’s Cabinet, that hope ‎is an even greater responsibility, which we need to address with care,” said Carroll.

However, it has been made clear that although a few steps have been taken, many more need to be taken in the future, including further discussion, progress, and eventual change concerning racial equality on campus.

“The “Complicit No More” campaign is not enough, but the reason we are doing it is to show solidarity, to show that we value our African-American students, that we appreciate them, we hear them, we see them, and want for them to know that we want them here and we can do better,” said Ritzler.

“But it’s not the first step,” says Sociology and Criminology department chair Janice Monti in regards to the Complicit No More Campaign. “Many of us have been having this discussion for quite a long time, and while I certainly feel a genuine importance to stand with our students in solidarity, I think that we are long past the time to address in concrete ways what we can do to make our climate, curriculum, and our faculty and staff better at what we need to do. I’d like to see the faculty use the role that we have in governance to finally effect meaningful change in line with the student recommendations,” said Monti. One key curricular change in this regard may be coming soon.

On Nov. 16, faculty at an Undergraduate Academic Council meeting successfully voted yes in regards to changing the multicultural requirement (MC) set in place for undergraduate core curriculum (a discussion that has been going on since 2014). The new MC requirement (when implemented likely in the 2017-2018 academic year) will have a social justice emphasis, asking students who take MC courses to investigate multiculturalism broadly, yet politically, with specific emphases on injustice, bias, equity, and cultural expressions, particularly through an investigation of non-dominant groups of people in the U.S. or a global context.

Many steps have already been taken and more are in the works. Amongst those is the appointment and chairing of a President’s Student and Alumnae/i Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with the Vice President for Mission and Ministry. She has also asked the university diversity committees to ensure quality conversation and progressive change.

“It’s not the finish but it’s a start,” said Chief Diversity Officer Sheila-Radford Hill in regards to the diversity committees. “In issues like this, you need to start somewhere. The advisory council will work if we work it–if we actually use it to make the changes that are important to do in a diversity plan.”

Since she began her tenure at Dominican this July, Radford-Hill has been working with students, faculty, and staff making and implementing change initiatives and strategies in order to ensure that Dominican is a place of diversity, equity, and inclusion and is a safe and welcoming campus for everyone.

“There is a willing mission driven DU community interested in making changes so that all students succeed. What we have now is leadership and focus. These assets can be deployed to remove institutional barriers to equity-mindedness. This term, embraced by the Center for Urban Education and the American Association of Colleges and University, means paying attention to student outcomes and noticing gaps between groups of students. Now with leadership at all levels and focus across operational and academic units, we can examine equity gaps, launch interventions, measure their impact and institutionalize the projects that make the biggest impact on gaps in student outcomes,” said Radford-Hill.

Five students organized an open forum to explain the reasons for the protest, the impact of issues discussed earlier and opportunities for students to participate in strengthening Dominican’s commitment to an inclusive campus.

Students are also invited to attend an on-campus diversity discussion group. The discussion group was launched in response to the I’m not a Racist diversity series event at Dominican.

Senior Justin Wheeler, who is a campus Diversity Advocate, attended the discussion group and described what the group means to him.

“I think it is important for us to have these follow up conversations and continue to have these conversations because that’s the only way people are going to learn and get something positive out of it.”

The next Dominican Diversity Dialogue will be on Dec. 1, at 7 p.m. in the Lewis Lounge. The students will determine the topic of conversation and the format will be simple – an open dialogue where students can ask questions, learn, challenge, and engage in conversation regarding diversity.

Junior Ahriel Fuller encourages student to come join the discussion with an open mind and respect. “I think it offers students a change to present their opinion and learn. Don’t be afraid.”

“There needs to be a level of respect in the discussion of race and black culture. People think that we can’t talk about black culture because but we can we just want to take out the prejudice/ negativity. There is a level of respect that needs to stay in place for instance the vandalism of boards for how we feel and asking for support have been vandalized – one says get a job and go to school. There is no respect in that kind of interaction. People have to be educated and be uncomfortable; it’s very important to step outside your comfort zone in order to make progress,” said Fuller.  

(Contribution reporting by Eric Smith and Gabriella Fusco)