Spring semester sparks change on campus

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • March 24, 2016

At issue: Diversity programs and community collaborations begin to grow.

Our take: It's a sign of promise and administration should take note.

Along with ushering in a new season, the Emerson community is also ushering in a lot of positive change. We’re imperfect, we know that, and it’s implicit enough that we needn’t go further into listing those flaws—save it for another editorial. Right now we have programs aimed at increasing conversations about diversity and implementing policy that will actually help provide opportunity to underserved students. We have an organization partnering with teenagers who live in at-risk communities—students who are not only impacting others’ lives but having their own lives conversely enriched. These are encouraging milestones, and their arrival means that even though some areas of progress remain stagnated (such is the case with expansion of Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services staff) there is hope.

In one area we’ve begun to see buds of change. Oftentimes conversations about Emerson’s diversity and inclusion begin and end with shallow conceptions of identity and culture. Professors and department heads speak broadly about including more artists of color in curriculums or vaguely encouraging students to “think about privilege.” But a new effort from Robert Amelio, director of diversity education and human relations, and Chris Daly, director of retention and student success, surmounts this trend.

Amelio and Daly are opening the door to a heightened, more complex conversation that goes beyond the what’s-being-taught or how. Instead, they’re looking at access at this college — that is, how success is achieved and what the perception of achievement is at this college. This isn’t an easy problem to quantify, nor will it have simple solutions. Racism and prejudice are systematic, making definitions of success and how it is reached inherently biased. Now the ball is in our court to respond to whatever emails or flyers might see in our inboxes or on our floors’ bulletin boards. We should be eager to help them further this research.

In the communications studies department, the idea of civic engagement the college frequently touts as a pillar of its academic theory moved from the pages of textbooks into reality. Over the past three years, a group of students and faculty created a meaningful and sustainable relationship with Bird Street Community Center of Dorchester through the Emerson/Bird Street Civic Engagement Project. Gregory Payne started the partnership with the nonprofit youth center to connect Emerson students with at-risk children and young adults, who are primarily students of color, to engage in dialogue about violence in communities. Together, the group produced poetry and public service announcements about power and peer pressure, hosted essay contests prompted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream Speech, and, most recently, performed a talent show for Bird Street students to share their rap, written word, dance, and music. The project is about combatting violence through communication, and after just three years, its success is tangible and powerful for everyone involved.  

If Emerson is putting this much effort into providing their students with these unique opportunities, we should be able to put equal effort toward making sure our students are healthy. The administration recently denied a request for more staff funds for ECAPS, our school’s chronically understaffed psychological health center. Despite the 34 percent increase in demand that ECAPS experienced this year, the school decided not to provide the funds to hire more staff. ECAPS is oftentimes the only mental health care students can access, so it can’t remain the “good starting point” that it’s become. A school that has such an obvious need for mental health services has an obligation to provide them, and there simply isn’t enough staff to see every student. 

In this time of change and advancement in areas of progress once ignored, it’s a prime moment for Emerson to implement that liberal thought in all policies and organizations up for review.