From the Daily: Don't give up

Thursday, September 29, 2016 - 7:25pm

In fall 2015, University President Mark Schlissel introduced plans to create a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan for campus. This initiative specifies that by Oct. 6, the University will release a campus-wide plan, composed of plans from each unit within the University, on localized strategies for improvement in diversity, equity and inclusion. Over the past two weeks, the College of LSA hosted four forums, one of which was advertised as being focused on undergraduates, to release its part of the plan. All of the forums, including the one focused on undergraduates, had very low attendance rates. Conversely, this week, more than 300 students spoke out against racist posters that were posted in Angell and Mason Halls. At these protests, students voiced concerns that the DEI initiatives weren’t doing enough to help students now.

While the University — in the most tangible way it has in years — attempts to answer students’ calls for greater diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, students are still left unsatisfied. For the most part, undergraduates aren’t attending University-sponsored forums, and though they may acknowledge the changes the University has initiated, they are disappointed with any change to campus climate. Though the DEI plan urges colleges to implement strategies to produce both tangible initiatives and more abstract future plans, most changes will not make a major impact right now on campus.

Some examples of potential changes can be seen in the LSA DEI draft, which students can review online. The draft outlines plans to expand the laptop loan program, improve the Race and Ethnicity requirement within the LSA curriculum and allocate funding for learning communities specifically dedicated to creating a mixture of diverse cultures. While some of these programs will likely, in a small way, help to make students in marginalized groups feel more included now — namely the laptop loan program — most are geared toward change that will only become noticeable over time. Students want change now, not in 2025.

We acknowledge the difference between acting directly in response to actions like the posting of this week’s posters, which threaten student safety on campus, and advocating for a general change in campus climate. We acknowledge students do not feel safe or comfortable even speaking up at opportunties like the LSA forums because of the hostile environment on our campus. We acknowledge that this is problematic and urge adminstrators to act immediately to attempt relieve students of this pain. 

But we also acknowledge that change is a two-way street. Students should not let the University’s past inaction surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion stop them from persevering — continuing to voice their concerns now and into the future. The onus must be on both students and University administrators and faculty. If we are going to see a cultural shift at the University, students need to take advantage of opportunities the University is providing, and the University needs to listen when students speak up, and then continue implementing progressive policies and programs. While the LSA plan states that students should not be expected to solve campus climate problems, it also emphasizes the importance of student involvement in the process. Not only does the University need to listen to the student voice, but students must also make an effort to attend events, like the LSA forums. Students are tired of feeling like they are not heard, but staying silent is not an option. 

It is worth recognizing that much of the work to be done will be selfless work. Campus climate shifts aren’t going to happen overnight, and much of the work that we, as students and administrators and faculty, need to put in now may not be directly beneficial to us, but will hopefully benefit a freshman walking onto campus in five or 10 years.

The University needs to recognize the efforts students are taking to both protect themselves and their peers today, as well as alter campus climate for the future. Faculty and administrators need to listen to what students say when they speak out and then cultivate this kind of energy in University-sponsored events. Forums geared toward more specific issues would help accomplish this: Instead of focusing on diversity very broadly, the University could host forums about Islamophobia, prejudice against Latino students or specific events on campus, like the recent community gathering hosted by LSA in response to the recently posted racist flyers.

Tangible changes that affect our community both now and years down the line start with students bringing the same energy they are bringing to protests and student-organized gatherings to the events that administrators are creating. Only through continuous and sustained collaborating with — not against — the administration can we change our campus, both now and in the years into the future.