Second community conversation focuses on action

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Samuel Northrup, Editor-in-Chief

Close to 50 students, faculty and staff came together for the second community conversation on campus diversity of the semester in the Library Concourse on Monday.

Participants sat in groups across five tables to discuss applying principles of diversity and inclusion that were discussed at the first conversation and how they could be applied to aspects of the Utica College campus. These included training and developing current and future faculty to discuss diversity in classrooms to better engage students and how elements of diversity can be implemented in all facets of the curriculum.

Before discussions began, those in attendance were welcomed by Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs John Johnsen and Dean for Diversity and Student Development Alaine Varga.

In his opening remarks, Johnsen said campus administrators are looking to devote resources to things that are “healthy” for the community.

“The conversations I heard were really good ones,” said Johnsen in an interview following the conversation. “A lot of people were struggling with the issues but also talking about their solutions or ideas.”

Varga, chairperson of the diversity committee which planned the event, was pleased with the outcome.

“I thought it was constructive,” she said. “It was a positive step forward, and I thought that we did some good work in continuing the momentum in terms of putting together some more in-depth responses.”

The event was structured and intended to be a follow-up from September’s conversation, when the focus included the abstract idea of diversity and what it means for UC’s community.

“The way we wanted to use these initial community conversations was to set the groundwork so that we were starting from the same place on the same page and then begin to both address concerns that have been raised and that we knew needed to be paid attention to,” Varga explained. “But also to identify places where we were doing well, where we needed to sure up resources, where we needed to expand and continue to grow and be able to use that moving forward.”

Students that were in attendance were pleased with the overall experience and message of the event.

Sophomore Eufranny Castillo described her experience as “eye-opening” because of the opportunities students, faculty and staff had to discuss ideas and perspectives together.

“I feel like the institution as a whole is very small,” she said. “So I feel like even these community conversations, they bring the school together, and I feel like there is definitely no unification in the institution [between students, faculty and staff], so this is a step towards bringing it together.”

On the planning side, Varga said that was the intention in bringing in the three main groups that comprise the UC community.

“We need to have everybody involved in that conversation,” Varga said. “The voices we have at the table strengthen the outcome of the conversation we have, and that’s one of the things we need to make sure we’re paying attention to if we’re talking about inclusion. More than diversity, we’re talking about inclusion, we’re talking about action. We need to be able to do that in a way that brings everybody into the conversation.”

Freshman Peter Gaughan, who was an active participant in both community conversations, feels it is important to have administrators, faculty and staff involved in addition to students in the discussion process because of the power structure on college campuses, which he describes as a “top-down system.”

“You see changes up top, and that will come down to how students will feel those changes, and we can feel like it is a more diverse community if our staff and our faculty and our administrators are working towards a more diverse community,” Gaughan explained. “It definitely has to be a two-pronged approach. Students can be as pro-diversity as possible, but if you don’t have the support up top to make it so that we genuinely feel that and we see that, then it doesn’t really matter what the students want.”

Jordan Allen, a sophomore, enjoyed being able to speak to faculty and staff but is getting frustrated waiting to see dialogue translate into action. For Allen, seeing the academic catalog change to include more general core offerings focused on diversity is the most important next step.

“I thought it (the community conversation) was helpful, but I feel like everything is repetitive,” she said. “We’ve spoken about this before, so I feel like now is just action. That’s what’s important right now. Like lets see it happen.”

According to Varga, getting information and strategies discussed at the semester’s two conversations out to the general community at UC is the next step before long term action can take place. While an estimated 150 students, faculty and staff attended the community conversations, only a fraction of the over 5,100 member student body attended events.

In the meantime, Johnsen, who has been a proponent for more conversation on inclusiveness and diversity initiatives taking place on campus, revealed to the Tangerine in an interview on Tuesday that he hopes to officially announce a new group called the “diversity, inclusion and strategic planning committee” within the next week to the Student Senate.

Johnsen wants this new group to work “in parallel with the diversity committee” and focus planning resources and long term goals for UC based on information gathered from community conversations.

One of the main resources that can be provided for in the future is training for faculty in discussing and handling diversity-based discussions in class, something Johnsen says was a concern brought up by faculty members following September’s community conversation.

“There are some disciplines like my own, anthropology, where you’re kind of used to dealing with issues of diversity and issues of social conflict,” Johnsen said. “So talking about them in class, I mean we do them all the time, so leading a class conversation about that comes pretty easily. But, if that’s not your field, if you’re field is accounting or chemistry, you may feel passionately about those issues but there’s a difference between feeling passionately about them and being able to lead a difficult conversation about them.”

As for some students that have participated in both community conversations this semester, UC’s next step is highly anticipated.

“I hope to see some of the things we talked about in this room actually get implemented,” Gaughan said. “That will be what we’re looking for next, so we’ll all keep an eye on that, but I have full faith that everyone here is supporting that goal, so I bet it will happen soon.”


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