Recommending further action for diversity, inclusion

 

Anita DeWitt ‘17 spoke as part of a demonstration last Thursday, Nov. 19, in the JRC. Photo by John Brady

Anita DeWitt ‘17 spoke as part of a demonstration last Thursday, Nov. 19, in the JRC. Photo by John Brady

 

Kelly Pyzik, Editor-in-Chief

pyzikkel@grinnell.edu

A demonstration for racial equality took place in the lobby of the JRC Thursday, Nov. 19. Students, faculty and staff all met Wednesday night, Nov. 18, to discuss diversity and inclusion on campus and compose an action list for the administration with recommendations to improve the campus climate and institutional support systems for students of color. This list was then presented to President Raynard Kington at the demonstration.

“I think it is the highest form of love for the institution when you say, ‘I’m going to be critical and I’m going to constructively engage,’” Kington said in his speech at the demonstration.

The planning meeting and demonstration were in part a reaction to the violent threats toward Black students reported at University of Missouri last week. At the meeting, many different student groups, departments of staff and faculties were all represented. They shared their experiences and concerns and then worked together to create specific actionable requests with specified persons or groups who are responsible for working to make the recommendation a reality. The list included educating campus on the bias-motivated incident protocols, “fall and spring semester diversity and inclusion training for student leaders and student groups that includes how to have hard conversations, implicit bias, microaggressions, privilege and power,” increasing recruitment and retention efforts for students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds and reviewing the “cultural appropriation in menu nomenclature and theme nights in the Dining Hall.”

This demonstration and recommendation list was one moment in the fight to improve the campus climate with regard to racial equality. The hateful posts that targeted Black students on the now-banned app Yik Yak last semester are an instance of bias-motivated harassment in recent history that still weighs heavily on the minds of many students of color at Grinnell, and the crisis at Mizzou reminded many students of these past events.

When the Yik Yak scandal was written about in the Feb. 27, 2015, issue of The S&B, Concerned Black Students (CBS) had brought an action list to the College administration expressing the responses they felt were appropriate to take in reaction to the incident, but they were not confident that administration would follow through. Students still share this sentiment.

“I feel like a lot of things that happen at Grinnell [are] all about talking and having conversations and not about implementation,” said Ariel Nelson ’17, a member of CBS and the African/Caribbean Student Union.

Since last spring, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has been restructured. Professor Lakesia Johnson, English, took on the position of Chief Diversity Officer at the beginning of July 2015, and her office is located in Nollen House, along with the other deans. Leslie Turner ’07 was also hired in August as the Director of Intercultural Affairs. Johnson works on the curricular side of diversity and inclusion issues, and Turner on the co-curricular side, but much of their work overlaps and the two cooperate often.

For students in positions with the Student Government Association (SGA) or the Multicultural Leadership Council cabinet, their more direct interactions with administration allow them to be aware of what is going on.

“I think Leslie Turner and Lakesia Johnson really are doing a lot,” said SGA Diversity and Outreach Coordinator Anita DeWitt ’17. “They’re focusing a lot on making sure there’s institutional structure so that we’re only going forward and I think that’s super, super important.”

SGA Vice President for Student Affairs Dixon Romeo ’16 feels that the office restructuring has put a good foot forward for the semester and that Turner has been good with communication and reaching out to students in leadership positions.

“I think the start is strong because I think Leslie has come in knowing that we’ve tried different diversity initiatives in the past and they’ve been not so successful,” Romeo said.

Since her hire, Turner’s office has created and gotten to work on a long list of diversity priorities for the 2015-16 academic year. Among these priority actions, the Diversity Council, a board of students, faculty and staff chaired by Johnson and others, is in the process of reviewing all the documentation of recommendations the council has created and often begun putting work into, which have been tabled or forgotten due to all the restructuring and changes in staff in the past ten years or more.

In the spring, the Office of Intercultural Affairs will be creating a comprehensive diversity plan by “really looking at campus from top to bottom—from administrators to staff to faculty to students through our human resources processes, just all of it, doing a deep dive and seeing what areas we need to improve and creating a plan to improve those things,” Turner said.

A protocol for reporting and responding to bias-motivated incidents was also established recently in direct response to the action list from CBS last spring. The next step is to communicate with campus that this protocol exists and ensure that students understand how to employ it.

A large difficulty in general seems to be that the administration does not successfully communicate to the general student population what actions have been taken and the progress or process currently underway.

“I don’t really know much about what admin’s been doing recently,” Nelson said. “I think [the Yik Yak incident] was a thing that happened and everyone was really heated about it in that one moment, but then like everything else that happens at Grinnell, we move on and then it’s something that happened in the past that’s talked about once in awhile.”

Despite the plans for change which have been set in place by the administration, some students say that they still don’t feel secure.

“I don’t think I feel as safe relative to everyone else,” Romeo said.