Plan for a more diverse Emerson

by Beacon Staff • April 22, 2009

ssue:/b Helping Emerson become a more diverse institution.

bOur view:/b Emerson must go beyond lip service and take these specific steps.

There are three specific steps Emerson must take to become a racially and socioeconomically diverse campus. There's a laundry list of actions that will have to be taken, but these are the prerequisites to real change: More financial aid for all students; a focused effort to hire well-qualified tenure-track minority professors; and vigilance among students and student organizations, including The Beacon, to ensure follow-through from the administration on promoting diversity.

This needn't be a thought experiment. It could be a blueprint for a more diverse Emerson College. We have argued for each of these steps at different times this year, but to have any lasting impact, they must be taken, and seen, together. Crucially, they are more specific and farther reaching than anything we've seen in the college's new strategy to improve diversity.

First, aid. No amount of focused recruiting or image rehabilitation could help enroll more students from low-income families than could a long-term effort to improve financial aid. In America, those less well-to-do students tend to come from multicultural homes. This page has consistently called for increasing need-based aid, even if it means hiking tuition. Tuition increases should help fund assistance, just as tax increases fund social services. The families of well-off students would pay more, allowing students who otherwise couldn't have afforded an Emerson education a chance to attend.

This would not just be a boon for poorer students; the whole college is enriched when it attracts best students possible, regardless of their family's wealth. We were pleased to see the Board of Trustees grow the financial aid pool by 12.4 percent this year in the face of a recession that is squeezing many students' families. At the same time, poverty will not be eliminated when the recession ends, and smart kids in poor communities will still miss out on Emerson if the college loses its commitment to providing financial aid.

Second, hiring. This year, as reported by iBeacon/i staffer Gabrielle Dunn on page one of this issue, at least a quarter of all full-time black professors are leaving the college before the fall semester. Emerson must respond by hiring a bumper crop of tenure-track minority candidates, the kind of professors whose qualification for tenure is unimpeachable. Because its finances are in better shape than bigger colleges whose finances rely on endowment investments, Emerson is now in a plum position to pick and choose professorial candidates. In fact, the recession may provide a golden opportunity to attract unemployed academics who may not have chosen Emerson, given its history of exploiting minority professors, under better economic circumstances.

Finally, student voice. We strongly support Emerson Peace and Social Justice's efforts to petition the administration for reinstatement of Professors Roger House (their faculty advisor) and Pierre Desir, who we believe were unfairly denied the promotion last year. In the long term, however, theirs is but a welcome first step toward more robust student involvement in campus issues, from race to financial aid.

Our generation has been described and derided as "authority-loving" and averse to protest, but sit-ins are not required to force the administration to make a change. Student Government Association President Scott Fisher has proved as much through his use of polling and Facebook to galvanize students behind issues like tuition affordability and gender-neutral housing. We again urge SGA to pass a resolution calling for the tenure of House and Desir. Going forward, SGA, iThe Beacon/i and other student groups with a vested interest in fostering a diverse campus, including EBONI, Speak Up and EPSJ, will need to be more vocally critical of Emerson's ongoing lack of diversity.

Emerson doesn't have to be a white-bread institution, but we get the college we fight for. By increasing aid, hiring strong minority faculty and fostering a more outspoken student culture, we can create change that's more than merely skin deep.,iBeacon/i Editorial Board