Faculty motion passed for curricula audits

by Katherine Burns / Beacon Staff • March 30, 2016

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About 400 members of the Emerson community attended the Faculty Assembly meeting on Tuesday.
About 400 members of the Emerson community attended the Faculty Assembly meeting on Tuesday.

At Tuesday’s faculty assembly meeting, a new student justice group was invited to discuss their desires for more inclusivity in the academic departments. A motion was passed by faculty that called for mandatory diversity training; an audit of existing program requirements, curriculum, and courses; and an educational response plan for those who were reported multiple times for incidents of bias.

Bob Colby, chair of the faculty assembly and a performing arts professor and graduate program director, invited students of Protesting Oppression With Education Reform (POWER) to present their concerns and goals for the college at the March meeting. The group’s invitation was in response to a student walk-out last April that addressed student concerns and called for cultural competency.

Taylor Jett, a senior visual and media arts major, and Nathaniel Charles, a junior visual and media arts major, helped found POWER this year to work with the ad hoc faculty assembly cultural competency committee to re-evaluate these issues, according to Charles.

“Last year, we weren’t an organized structure,” Charles said in an interview with the Beacon. “We were just people, but we wanted it to be an organized thing.”

Each department has a senator from POWER. These representatives reviewed what the college has done to improve cultural competency in academics, and what still needs to be done.

There were about 400 students, faculty, and staff in attendance, with many standing and spilling out into the hallway.

“There should be no fear in this room,” Charles said at the meeting. “What would it say about faculty if they are afraid of or traumatized by their students coming to them and petitioning for change? Fear is the antithesis of progress.”

Colby said he was glad that Charles addressed the issue of fear.

“I took a deep breath and said, ‘He’s already named the problem,’” Colby said in an interview. “‘Whatever happens today will be what we needed to talk about.’”

As the representative for visual and media arts, Jett recommended introducing diversity trackers—spreadsheets that listed the race, gender, and age of everyone involved on set—to make student producers more aware of who they were hiring.

“I think Emerson could implement this … just to make students take the extra step to recognize who they’re working with,” Jett said at the assembly. “[These spreadsheets could track] if they’re choosing friends who look like them or if they’re actually holding crew calls properly and choosing people that are best suited for the experience.”

Sophomore Lucie Pereira, representative for writing, literature, and publishing, pointed out that the three core literature courses for WLP students are American Literature, British literature, and Literary Foundations .

“All three are Western-focused and white male-dominated,” Pereira said at the event. “The African[/Africana] studies minor, the higher level courses in African American lit and Latin American lit, these are all optional. ”

Pereira said the department should incorporate more cultures into required courses, and talk to students about writing diverse characters and points of view in the classroom.

Next, a three-part motion was presented that called for professional development for all faculty within their academic units and across the college. It reaffirmed their decision from the previous year’s meeting to audit curricular objectives, syllabi, and case studies that will be presented in November. It requested that the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion create a plan for faculty who were identified as being involved in bias issues multiple times—either through the bias incident reporting system, or through course evaluations.

Paul Mihailidis, an associate professor in marketing communications and member of the committee, introduced the motion to the assembly based on the students’ recommendations.

The motion passed 20 minutes after it was presented. Colby said the assembly usually takes more time to deliberate.

“I think it speaks to this recognition that the call to do something important now, and not later,” Colby said.

Michael Brown, an assistant journalism professor, said at the meeting that changes need to be made beyond the reach of the faculty assembly. He called on the Board of Trustees and college administration to evaluate their methods for bias as well.

“If this is the Emerson family, we need everyone at the table,” Brown said.

Jett said POWER has drafted a letter for the Board of Trustees, and called for faculty to sign in support of the letter and to help ensure it reached the board.

Charles said in an interview that POWER succeeded with their goal for the meeting. But he said this is only the beginning of the work that needs to be done on campus.

Next, the group will make more detailed plans to address the issues presented at the assembly. This includes deciding who will run the faculty cultural competency training and how it will be administered. He said the ad-hoc committee needed to establish guidelines for the curriculum and syllabus audits.

“We have a lot of opportunity to knock down walls that were knocked on before, but they didn’t necessarily fall,” Charles said. “This is a fight for our space, and for our bodies, and for our lives in this space. It’s for the space of others who will be coming later, and in the names of those who were here before.”


News Editor Laura King contributed to this report.