College continues to address issues of cultural competency

by Laura King / Beacon Staff • January 21, 2016

President M. Lee Pelton sent an email to the Emerson community on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day outlining the college’s goals to continue diversity efforts.

Pelton also welcomed students to look at the “Summary Report of Initiatives to Increase Cultural Competency among Faculty and Students,” a document created by the Faculty Assembly’s ad hoc Cultural Competency Task Force. It outlines the committee’s progress so far, and how each department will be addressing inclusivity issues on their own.

The Academic Cabinet participated in two six-hour training sessions—in October and in January—hosted by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The cabinet is made up of members of Academic Affairs, all academic deans, department chairs, Faculty Assembly Chair Robert Colby, and Assistant Vice President and Creative Director of ArtsEmerson Polly Carl.

Michaele Whelan, vice president for academic affairs, said that these training sessions were just an introductory session for the Cabinet.

“We want to lead by example,” Whelan said.

Sylvia Spears, vice president for diversity and inclusion, led the session. She said the work done by the Cabinet impressed her. They talked about how to support faculty in facilitating conversations about complicated issues. This includes when the discussions are a planned part of syllabi, and when they are brought up spontaneously by students in class.

Spears said that broad, interdepartmental training is important for a foundation, but the academic departmental focuses will allow faculty to attach tangible meaning to what is discussed during these sessions.

“If you see diversity training as a distant study, you walk away saying, ‘That was interesting,’” Spears said. “But if you do it, and it has an immediate influence on how you teach—how you craft your syllabus, how you think about your curriculum, or the way you support students—then the next day, it’s going into class with you.”

According to the report, many departments have already begun to integrate inclusivity. Performing arts started conversations with Emerson Stage to revise their casting policies to improve diversity. Communication studies is launching a program called “Comm Studies Cooks,” where an individual in the department will prepare a meal from their culture each month. Writing, literature, and publishing is working with the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies to develop the African/Africana studies minor.

Whelan said that she sees students here at the school who want to see changes now, and she said she understands that. But while they are slowly making changes, she said, altering how Emerson views diversity on an institutional level takes time.

“It’s not about giving people a checklist,” Whelan said. “It’s about developing a pedagogie.”