Faculty responds to students’ call for cultural competency education

by Laura King / Beacon Staff • May 22, 2015

A motion to create a committee to address concerns about cultural competency at Emerson was unanimously approved at a special Faculty Assembly meeting on May 5, according to a letter to faculty provided to the Beacon by its author Claire Andrade-Watkins, chair of the assembly and an associate professor in the department of visual and media arts.

The May 5 meeting was called to complete unfinished business from the April 28 gathering which was interrupted by the student rally, and to discuss cultural competency issues brought up by the protesters, according to Andrade-Watkins.

Andrade-Watkins wrote in an email statement that the assembly is currently on break, but that the committee will be formed when they resume later this summer. She said that a date has not been set for these discussions.

Sylvia Spears, vice president for diversity and inclusion, said in an interview that the student protest created discomfort among Emerson community members, which served as a catalyst to create change.

She said there have been ongoing conversations within administration since the protest discussing how to successfully incorporate cultural competency within academic departments

“How do you get people in a room when they feel like they are there because they were mandated to be there?” Spears said.

Assistant professor Cara Moyer-Duncan and senior scholar-in-residence Claudia Castañeda, who are both a part of the institute for liberal arts and interdisciplinary studies, also wrote a letter from faculty to Emerson students.

The pair wrote in an email statement to the Beacon that they drafted the letter because they felt that students deserved a response from the college before the semester ended. They wrote that they sent the letter out to faculty, and over 100 of their colleagues responded and signed.

“We were moved and inspired by our students who were courageous enough to confront us with their pain, their frustration, and their anger,” Moyer-Duncan and Castañeda wrote in their statement.

Moyer-Duncan and Castañeda wrote that they understand why cultural competency training is important to students, and that this new committee will give the college the ability to work on inclusivity.

“The effectiveness of this kind of education depends on how it is imagined and enacted,” they wrote.

Spears said she thinks the protesters articulated negative experiences of students of color that have been previously ignored. She said when all these testimonies are given at once, the institution isn’t able to dismiss them as isolated cases.

“I think that Emerson is a place that always values voice,” Spears said. “That’s the core of what we do. I’m actually more concerned when I don’t hear students giving voice to their experience.”