Founded in response to the demands put forth by the Is This Why movement, the Equity Task Force’s mission involves the establishment of a multicultural resource center, which aims to foster greater equity and inclusion in the Wesleyan community. On Tuesday, March 1, the task force held a student forum to solicit student feedback about the findings and recommendations put forth in its interim report.
The Equity Task Force is chaired by Professor of Anthropology and of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Gina Ulysse, Shardonay Pagett ’18, and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Antonio Farias. Board members also include Patricelli Center Director Makaela Kingsley ’98; Professor of History, East Asian Studies, Science in Society, and Environmental Studies William Johnston; Associate Professor of English and American Studies Matthew Garrett; and students Henry Martellier ’19 and Caroline Liu ’18.
Hailey Broughton-Jones ’18 began the discussion, emphasizing the necessity of acquiring faculty involvement and making the Center a place of tangible meaning rather than just an empty space.
Ulysse added on to Broughton-Jones’ points. Referencing her own research on Women’s Studies Centers, Ulysse stressed the importance of providing the future Multicultural Center with an intellectual basis and ties to academic departments.
“Centers that had an activist end that were not tied to departments or didn’t have an integral intellectual component became these marginal spaces, became transient,” Ulysse said, citing her own research.
Staff and faculty involvement, Ulysse said, would help counteract the fleeting nature of a student body with a consistently rapid turnover.
As the discussion turned toward faculty involvement, Director of Student Activities and Leadership Development Elisa Cardona brought up faculty concerns about the invisible labor that activism and engagement requires of faculty with already heavy workloads.
“There’s this notion of labor, and what is valued labor, and who gets to determine what’s labor versus service,” she said. “What do we see as components of this work?”
Cardona went on to stress the importance of the center as a place where students can be their whole selves, tying together the intellectual, activist, and personal aspects of their lives.
Following the event, there was a student forum to garner feedback. Pagett began the meeting with an announcement.
“This is for you guys to voice your concerns, your thoughts, your opinions on the interim report that we put up,” Pagett said. “We want to hear from you guys and see what you really think.”
Ulysse returned to this theme later in the forum, expressing her frustration with student engagement.
“I’m a little disappointed in students in part for this,” Ulysse said. “You made demands, we did a report, we didn’t even hear back from you. You ask us to do something, we’re starting to deliver, but you’re not having a conversation, even to say this is not good enough. No response is not the way to begin a conversation.”
However, Victoria King ’18 offered a response.
“I think there are a lot of student activists who feel like there’s no reason to invest in this university at this point, or they’re tired of being invested in things and not seeing a return,” she said. “I don’t think everyone knows the people on the task force or trusts everyone on [it].”
The discussion then turned toward the nature of the Center’s mission.
“I really strongly feel like it should be a space where everyone is supposed to be, not just all the oppressed groups,” said Taylor McClain ’17. “I think a lot of problems [exist] because people can’t expose themselves to one another, or don’t understand each other’s experience. I feel like there’s not a space on campus where everyone…[can] have our experiences shared on equal footing.”
Pagett concurred, adding that the Center won’t work if the rest of the campus isn’t working on itself to be a part of this Center.
“I see the Multicultural Center as a space that allows all of us…to be fully present with our entire community…[and] it empowers you in a different way to be able to have a space that you can call your own, [where] you know you can be in community with people who look like you,” King said. “I still think that it’s our right to have a space that people can have their own claim to…I think that white students have that, this whole campus is theirs.”
Ulysse and Cardona both stressed the ways that they had been personally impacted by multicultural centers in the past, but also cautioned against letting go of other spaces.
“I couldn’t have survived my undergrad education without my multicultural center,” Ulysse said. “But I didn’t cede those [other] spaces. Because when we recede from certain spaces, we don’t get a retraction, we don’t get to own them later on. So I think it’s very important to make a very clear distinction between what we need to keep us going, and also how we keep engaging in the fight with our presence.”
Suggested ideas for equity initiatives included holding social justice and activist workshops in the Center for students, faculty, and staff, as well as extending efforts to hire more diverse professors familiar with social justice. The forum concluded with a collective desire for more student input and a plan for another, better-attended meeting.
“I believe in that center more than anybody else,” Ulysse said. “That center’s going to exist if I can do anything about it.”
The Equity Task Force welcomes student input, and more information can be found at equity.wesleyan.edu.