Permanent cultural committee addresses diversity and bias

Members of the Educational Equity and Justice Committee have focused on the bias response program and worked with the Social Justice Center to construct a new staff position since becoming a permanent part of faculty assembly on Jan. 23.

Tim Riley, interim faculty assembly chair, said faculty formed the temporary committee—then titled the Ad Hoc committee on Cultural Competency—in May, 2015 after student protesters demanded diversity training for faculty.

“The faculty wanted to respond with some strong actions and really take a look at student demands and take them seriously,” Riley said in an interview. “This committee was the quickest and most efficient way to make that commitment and devote faculty energy and resources to this.”

Since becoming permanent, Miranda Banks, co-chair of the EEJC, said the committee put together the framework for a new associate director for faculty development and diversity. The position opened March 14, and the college is accepting applications.

This staff member will work with both the SJC and Academic Affairs to design diversity workshops and support individual faculty members in need of additional training.

The EEJC also reviews the effectiveness and potential impact of the bias response program. The SJC designed the program to provide support for students affected by bias-related incidents.

Julio Villegas, press correspondent for Protesting Oppression With Educational Reform, said the organization would like to see the school put more emphasis on bias reports.

“We would love to see an increase in the prevalence of the bias report system,” he said. “It’s so important because it’s part of our push for transparency and accountability. If someone wants a promotion or tenure, [the bias report] should show up and not as a little side note.”

Students can submit an anonymous report online or contact the SJC to report incidents of bias. According to Emerson’s webpage, it does not serve as a disciplinary process but can refer students to deans or department heads if they believe a disciplinary action should be implemented. Banks did not comment on specific changes for the program.

Villegas said members of POWER work with the new committee to give student input. He said having a long-standing committee versus a temporary group gives the cultural organization more freedom.

“With a long-standing committee, we don’t necessarily have to immediately worry about sacrificing some issues for others,” he said. “It is significant and it is important because this can lay the groundwork for both short-term and long-term objectives and goals.”

Banks said a permanent committee is necessary because of the changing nature of diversity and inclusivity.

“This isn’t a problem that’s easily solved. Year by year, the issues of inclusivity and the question of how to make transformative change is going to shift given the state of things in our departments, on our campus, in the country and around the globe,” Banks said, “We need to keep looking at new problems as they emerge, and how we as a campus respond.”

Former Faculty Assembly Chair Robert Colby said the EEJC worked to diversify the curriculum over the past two years. They did this by calling for an audit of every course and ensuring each syllabus contains materials that represents a variety of perspectives and backgrounds.

By making the committee permanent, Colby said the college made a commitment to continue this work and look at diversity in other areas of the school.

“I don’t pretend that we’ll have the perfect solution but on issues like this, you have to be committed to staying in the dialogue and taking active steps,” he said. “I’m a believer in talk but sometimes it has to be talk and doing. This is the doing step that a lot of students weren’t certain was happening.”

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