December 1, 2015
By Cory Lesniak
President Donna Carroll is entering her 22nd year leading Dominican University. While Carroll was appointed in 1994 at the age of 39, many things have changed for the campus since such as the name change Rosary to Dominican, Priory was built, and most of all enrollment has increased significantly.
With an increase in enrollment at Dominican comes the increase of a large widespread number of diverse students on campus. With Dominican being blocks away from Chicago residency and just a few minutes from downtown, the feeling of racial inequality from the city certainly hits home for President Carroll. While away from campus on Nov. 12, many African-American students gathered in front of her office in the Lewis lobby and protested against racial inequality, being black on Dominican’s campus, and standing in solidarity with Mizzou. At the time Mizzou was having school wide protests about race it ignited a countrywide discussion on diversity.
“Diversity is a mix of difference in view points and perspectives and backgrounds and zip codes,” Chief Diversity Officer Sheila Radford-Hill said.
President Carroll later watched a 20-minitue YouTube video of the protest held on campus not once but twice to ensure she captured the message being relayed to her by the students who protested.
“I wont say it wasn’t painful for me to hear some of the individual students experiences. It really was… One of the things about a small institution is that they are not strangers, they are individual students that I say ‘hi’ to in the hallways everyday. To recognize that something so painful was happening to the student makes me wince. But I truly appreciate the courage and determination they demonstrated and we will use it as a launching pad for some of the work were doing,” Carroll said.
During the protest, a student was alleging a university professor of racially insulting comments by referring to a discussion between the African-American student and professor during class. The professor used the term “drug dealer” to the student who was on his or her phone.
“When an accusation or an allegation emerges and we receive a report, it is very important to investigate the report. I think in terms of what to do about it, you start with the complainant and you talk to the complainant about what the options are in this case. The particular complainants options were discussed and the process is moving with the complainants wishes,” Radford-Hill said.
These allegations are being investigated and President Carroll does not condone the behavior by her staff.
“There are certain thresholds where you also say certain behaviors are absolutely inappropriate. And the university has to take that stand and make a statement,” Carroll said.
Many faculty and staff took to their own personal social media accounts and stood with the students who protested on campus. Those same professors and staff wore a “Complicit No More” pin to show their support the days following. African-American students voiced their opinions during the protest and poster signings in the Social Hall on Nov. 18 and demanded that all faculty and staff on campus be trained in intercultural competence.
“We can all benefit from the type of intercultural competence training within professional development that the students talked about. Intercultural competence is a developmental process so its not like I give you one training session…we all have to make the commitment,” Radford-Hill said.
Still other student communities have voiced out privately in conversations with President Carroll and have expressed their concerns about the movement on campus.
“I have received that feedback. Students, faculty and staff at Dominican hopefully are creating some shared values as a community but because one student or set of students has certain experiences and another doesn’t, don’t negate the reality of the experience for those students. So I say that I respect your point of view and appreciate you sharing it and I respect the point of view of these students and I am listening to both and reconcile that difference in a campus community. Faculty and staff have expressed that too,” President Carroll said.
While the university tries to get a grip on the situation, Radford-Hill expresses that diversity is not a “zero to sum game.”
“It’s not a situation where if I give something to you I am taking something from another group. If we do this right and learn to live with each other inclusively and put these plans in place it will benefit not only our African American students but also all students,” Radford-Hill said.
President Carroll encourages all staff and student organizations to take time and discuss not only the protest but also the larger issues in a diverse community and how individuals feel. Dominican is placed in a suburban environment with many residents on all sides of campus. President Carroll and Chief Diversity Officer Radford-Hill both are in agreement that things need to remain under control.
“They (protesters) did that by being very Dominican about how they protested. By anchoring their concerns in the mission of the institution, by framing it as truth seeking. It was more of a “teach-in” than a protest and was constructive from the beginning. When I met with the students, they weren’t angry they were thoughtful and hopeful and as a President that hope is a much bigger burden than anger,” President Carroll said.
Radford-Hill continued saying,” I think it is very important that the administration hasn’t been tone deaf on the issue unlike some other campuses may have been. We are going to listen, we are going to talk about it and we are going to think about it. I think that is the most important way to keep the situation under control because people are talking to you because they want to be heard and that kind of respect is one of the most important things that should occur.”
Since the protest, President Carroll created a Diversity Council that she will chair. While the appointing doesn’t begin until early next semester, the plans of the council are already being made.
“The first primary focus is two-way communication because it was clear to me in that moment that I needed to be more present and listen more to diverse voices. This will open communication it will raise student leadership up around the issue of diversity. It will broaden the conversation beyond simply the experience of African American students but to all as many diverse voices as we can identify. It will bring in our most powerful and underutilized resource is the experience and voice of our alumni,” Carroll said.