Students gathered in Exley 150 for the second Diversity University forum, “In the Classroom and Beyond,” on Wednesday, April 24. A group of 10 panelists, including three administrators, three professors, three students, and President Michael Roth, led the forum.
Roth described the goal of the forum as a continued discussion on racial, social, and gender tensions in the University’s academic setting.
“Initially, my goal was to talk mostly about the curriculum and faculty in regard to diversity, some of the opportunities and challenges in hiring more faculty from underrepresented groups, and some of the challenges in making a curriculum that’s more inclusive, and some of the opportunities as well,” Roth said.
The panel was organized by a small group of students on a planning committee. The committee consisted of Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Committee for Inclusion and Diversity (CID) Chair Christian Hosam ’15, CID member Jalen Alexander ’14, CID member Kelsey Henry ’15, and WSA President Zachary Malter ’13.
Henry expressed her desire for a follow-up to the dialogue that occurred at the first Diversity University forum last fall.
“I was tremendously impacted by Diversity University in the fall semester, and I think that so many other people on this campus were as well, and it reached a level of resonance that is still reverberating,” Henry said. “It was important to me to really make sure we provided a follow-up event that allowed students to feel like, as a campus, we are committed to community dialogue and continuing [this] dialogue in a very holistic, generative way.”
The committee chose panelists based on their roles in the campus community and on the members of the community that they would represent. Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley, Counseling and Psychological Services Therapist and Sexual Assault Resource Coordinator Alysha Warren, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Antonio Gonzalez, Professor of Classical Studies Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, Chair of the English Department and Director of the Center for Faculty Career Development Sean McCann, Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Ishita Mukerji, Cherkira Lashley ’15, member of Wesleyan Diversity Education Facilitation Program (WesDEF) Andrew Martin ’15, Malter, and Roth all served as panelists.
“We sort of brainstormed different ideas and different people from different departments; we wanted people from different divisions, and we wanted President Roth on the panel,” Alexander said. “That was a decision I helped make. We wanted people who could not only talk about policy because we wanted to stick to the form of the first forum, [which was] theory and practice.”
Some of the recommendations discussed in the forum included making it easier for students of disabilities to work with ResLife staff, establishing smaller introductory courses to better encourage diversity of opinion, making diversity and inclusion issues a mandatory part of orientation and a recurring discussion for all four years, and hiring more female faculty in the Computer Science Department.
Last semester’s forum, “Diversity University: In Theory and In Practice,” elicited passionate responses from attendees, according to Henry.
“One of the things that I noticed at the first Diversity University forum was that there was this frenzied energy, this kind of fear underlying so much of the bravery that it took for so many people to get up and speak,” Henry said. “And just the sheer number of voices made me feel like a lot of people felt like they weren’t going to get another opportunity to say anything about the way that they’ve dealt with discrimination and racism on our campus.”
Other attendees expressed similar reactions to the first event and described it as feedback from a rise in campus tensions over diversity-related issues.
“[The first forum] was a culmination of events,” said Martin. “It was a lot of things that students felt were getting swept under the rug, not acknowledged. I know the ACB was a big component of the last one, but it was also a lot of minor incidents that really hadn’t been addressed, so people needed a forum to [raise] awareness of the issues.”
For this semester’s forum, committee members wanted the dialogue to be more structured. For this reason, they instituted diversity in the classroom as the theme of discussion.
During the April 24 discussion, after hearing students’ accounts of oppression on campus, Roth expressed his desire for a community that is more inclusive and fosters dialogue on these topics.
“I do think that this campus needs to have extensive and structured conversations about violence against women and how that violence—and sexual assault, in particular—affects the educational project of the entire University,” Roth said. “That may sound like just talk, but the reason I put the word ‘structured’ in there is I would like to hear recommendations made by groups of students about what we can try to change about the culture we have here.”
With regard to diversity in the faculty and in the curriculum, Roth corroborated students’ wishes for increased range and volume of diverse faculty members, especially an increased number of women in the sciences and classes covering a wider range of cultures.
“I do think it’s a really important point that the University should broaden its reach in the curriculum, and the tension is that there will be people in each department saying, ‘Well, we can’t broaden [the curriculum] because we don’t have enough people in the areas they are committed to,’” Roth said. “That’s an ongoing conversation, and I know that over the next few years we have Academic Affairs and people in place who will be very interested in internationalizing the curriculum.”
After the forum, panel moderator and Professor of Psychology Lisa Dierker expressed her satisfaction with the conversation.
“I think the discussion and the work since the fall suggests there are far more concrete things on the table than there maybe [were] in November, which I think is a really good sign,” Dierker said. “I also think that the students have been great about keeping this on the radar screen, organizing it, keeping the dialogue going, keeping the questions in the forefront.”
President Roth concluded the forum by expressing his hope for a change in campus culture.
“And people will say to you, ‘Well it’s not much different than other places,’ and that’s not really the point, right?” Roth said. “The point is, we take responsibility for the culture we have here. And it’s not going to be simple, obviously.”