Community discusses diversity report in open session
Published: Friday, October 11, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 11, 2013 08:10
University President Anthony Monaco and Chair of the Undergraduate Student Experience on the Council on Diversity Adriana Zavala led an open discussion session on the Report of the Council on Diversity yesterday in the Interfaith Center.
The report represents a year and half’s worth of research and discussion from a council of students, faculty, staff and alumni. Members of the Tufts community were invited to provide feedback on the report before the Council releases a final report later in the semester.
To begin the conversation, Monaco said that, though many minority students reflect positively on their time at Tufts, they have often felt pressured to explain issues of diversity to their peers.
“What I heard in those discussions [with students] is that the burden is too much for students to be constantly, on an every day basis, to be dealing with what we call ‘micro-aggressions,’” Monaco said. “It was that motivation that really got me to think about creating a diversity council.”
Erica Satin-Hernanadez (LA ’13) said she was glad that the university did not see the fulfillment of one class as sufficient education on diversity but instead took the approach of an ongoing process, incorporating these issues into the curricula for all classes.
“The move toward social justice underlying all things on the campus especially in course work as a requirement for all students [is extremely important],” she said.
On the other hand, junior John Kelly voiced concern about the way that diversity learning is integrated into course work. Often times, he said, classes only address how people of color or of diverse sexual orientations are relevant in the class topic for about a week and then move on without mentioning these groups again.
“I don’t see anything in this report that’s going to change that and that worries me because I don’t think that’s an effective way to teach things like social justice,” Kelly said.
Zavala replied that these questions are to be examined in the university’s next step — determining how to best implement the new policies. She added that faculty members are the ones with the most control over their course curriculums.
“We understand that students are eager to see this plan on the ground,” Zavala said. “What we’re saying is that this has to be multidisciplinary, multi-prong and you have to get the faculty on board with that.”
Senior Grainne Griffiths spoke next about engaging not only underrepresented groups but also students in the majority about changing campus atmosphere. Griffiths explained that it was important to get these students to recognize their own identities and privileges.
“There’s lots of talk about engaging historically marginalized students and underrepresented students but there’s very little about engaging the students in the majority, and I think that’s critical,” she said.
Kelly said that he felt that the faculty members reviewing the report had not addressed many of the issues that he and other students had outlined during last semester’s meeting, such as its broad definition of “diversity.”
“It’s time-consuming, it’s frustrating, it’s traumatizing and nothing seems to be getting done,” he said.
Zavala said she stood by the report’s definition, which needed to be broad enough to include all facets of the student experience. She also assured Kelly that she had reviewed all the notes from previous meetings and had made all the changes she thought were necessary.
“We are listening,” she said. “I will ultimately say that I stand by the report. It’s not a roadmap that tells you exactly when to turn right or left, but it’s a way of looking towards accountability and campus climate.”
Regarding the report’s goal to extend awareness of diversity into all classes, Professor in the Department of Computer Science Lenore Cowen said there was not a real peace and justice component to mathematics.
As a female graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she said she was often aware of being the only enrolled woman in certain classes. However, she didn’t want the professor to treat her any differently because of her gender.
“Every now and then, people just want you to be gender-blind, color-blind, [blind to sexual orientation],” Cowen said. “Just treat them as people and understand that their experience is different.”
Zavala argued that there were areas of math that should be examined with a gender context.
“I recognize that there are certain departments that will find it challenging to engage with how to be true to the values of Tufts,” she said. “What I guess I want to say is nobody gets a pass.”
In response to specific concerns like the falling retention rate of students of color at the university, Monaco said that part of the reason for his recent trips around the country was to generate the funds to fix these problems. Just this past week, after discussing this issue with alumni, an alumnus pledged $100,000 toward increasing financial aid, he said.
“I’m not out there telling them only that Tufts is wonderful,” he said. “I’m out there telling them what the challenges are and how, as alumni, they can help us.”
Several students, including Rae Axner, expressed concern about the role that students will play in the next steps of finalizing and implementing the report.