The University has set official plans in motion to address the first of three Equity Task Force recommendations: constructing a resource center devoted to increasing equity and inclusion. The proposal for the Center was submitted in early March, and University President Michael Roth ’78 has authorized a search for a director for the Center.
The proposal for the Center grows out of the #IsThisWhy campaign and the subsequent Task Force recommendations, which suggested first that the administration “develop a Center with an intellectually grounded mission in social justice and a focus on intercultural development and literacy.” (The other two recommendations are to address discrimination and marginalization in the faculty, staff, and curricula, as well as to implement a committee to “coordinate, communicate and support change in these areas.”)
Designed by the Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee (EISC), the proposal for the Center includes specific plans for supporting students in four broad categories: students of color, those who are queer and transgender, those who are low income and/or first generation, and those who are female-identifying.
“Although Wesleyan has made significant progress towards ameliorating marginalization, racism, queerphobia, transphobia, and xenophobia, more remains to be done,” reads the proposal’s introduction. “The Center is aligned with the mission of Wesleyan University, the Board of Trustees Statement on Equity and Inclusion, and the Office for Equity and Inclusion. Together, we assert a commitment to creating and sustaining a culture of diversity, egalitarianism, and altruism in all aspects of campus life.”
The EISC, which was assembled in the fall of 2016, consists of President of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Rebecca Hutman ’17; Evelysse Vargas ’17; Ainsley Eakins ’18; Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Title IX Officer Antonio Farias; Irma González, Chair of the Campus Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees; and Janice Naegele, Professor of Biology and Vice Chair of the Faculty. Its work was also supported by Mike Whaley, Vice President for Student Affairs, as well as a Student Advisory Board that included Caroline Liu ’18, Justina Yam ’19, Justin Ratkovic ’20, Hanh Pham ’19, and Keishan Christophe ’19.
Vargas noted that the four overarching groups that the Center aims to support come from pre-existing categories and structures devoted to advocating for those identity groups, but that the groups are not all-encompassing—and nor, she believes, should they be.
“It isn’t exhaustive,” she said. “We might be talking about gender differently in ten years, sexuality, race. We don’t really know where this is going to go. We have ideas, but it’s important to keep a kind of openness for different groups to say, ‘Hey, can this be our resource center too?’”
Hutman spoke to the importance of including a wide range of student voices in the proposal-writing process.
“There was an interest in having student input because a lot of people recognized that this center grew out of student demands and student protests, and we wanted the spirit of those movements to help shape the process itself,” she said.
Whaley explained the choice to tackle the Center before the other two Task Force recommendations.
“I know one of the other recommendations was a critique of the training that happens on an ongoing basis for different segments of our community, including faculty and staff,” he said. “And I think that what you see in the proposal is the idea that the Center would serve as not really a hub for all of that, because there are different avenues and mechanisms for the training to happen, but in some ways that there’s coordination and the center serves as a catalyst for that happening.”
The proposal for the Center includes a detailed explanation of the programming that will occur there, including convening workshops for students, faculty, and staff to discuss social phenomena and themes such as transphobia and microaggressions at Wesleyan; bringing speakers to campus; and brainstorming ways in which student groups can “translate their lived experiences into innovative and impactful work and action.”
The Center will occupy the building at 167 High Street, currently the Shapiro Creative Writing Center, which will relocate. Whaley explained why he believes that central location to be an effective choice.
“Having it on the periphery seems antithetical, to me, to what it’s supposed to be about,” he said. “And so when I heard that the Shapiro Creative Writing Center would be moving, I was thinking, ‘Wow, that could be a really interesting space.’”
Eakins, who was an integral member of 2015’s #IsThisWhy? movement, reflected that writing the proposal for a Center achievable in the short term required compromise.
“I had a lot of dreams for it,” she said. “And just in the process of us outlining the bronze, silver, gold models, I wanted the gold, and I thought the gold should have already been there fifteen years ago. So I guess I thought it would be a huge space, and it would automatically become somewhere low-income students could go to get the groceries that they need, or get grants for the things that they aren’t able to get, or that students of color can make a complaint against some racist practice, and it would be dealt with. I thought it would be implemented so easily, and I was very naïve in thinking that way.”
Even so, Eakins believes that the proposal will yield a Center poised to thrive. She pointed to one particular possibility: the easy and immediate availability of resources such as explanatory pamphlets and zines.
“There are so many student groups that make zines that talk about these issues and explain them so well, but you have to go to a specific person and go try to get it, make copies, or you have to go to an event,” Eakins said. “When I imagine the Center, I imagine there being pamphlets all around that everyone would have access to. If you have questions, you don’t even have to Google it—you can just go in and ask some of the interns that will be housed there. That’s essential in the long run: not just providing resources to the most marginalized, but making sure the privileged can do that too.”
Hutman explained that another key component of the Center’s work will be its communication with academic departments.
“We’ll have a faculty fellow in the center who will work with different academic departments to infuse conversations about issues of social injustice and marginalization into the classrooms for professors and students who might not feel comfortable having those conversations in other cases,” she said.
Farias noted what he sees as an important challenge for the realization of the Center.
“Sustaining the initial energy around the Center and expecting that there will be missteps and less than optimal events or engagements as a normal part of launching a new entity on campus will be the biggest challenge,” he said. “I have the highest regard for the intellect, passion, and emotional core of the students, staff, and faculty that will serve and be served by this Center, and expect we’ll find creative solutions to complex and messy problems—which in the end is the highest value diversity brings to us—the ability to bring difference into a room without homogenizing it and solving complex problems that make us more inclusive in a world that is more equitable than how we found it.”
González stressed that the proposal, while a useful blueprint, is far from a fully realized vision for the Center.
“We assume the center will grow and evolve and be responsive to what students, faculty, and staff need on campus,” she said. “We’ve got something on the table, and it’s moving forward at an even faster pace than the Equity Taskforce hoped it would. It’s only going to be as good as we continue to make it be.”
“[Vargas] and I are graduating,” she said. “[Eakins] is going to be here for one more year. It’s really important that the concept of the center is internalized by the people who will really be here to see it through, and the specific programs that come from them.”