University moves forward towards diversity

Victoria BresnahanNews Editor, and Tamonda GriffithsNews Writer

On Valentine’s Day last year, students, faculty, staff and administration rallied for racial solidarity and equality following incidents of two professors saying the n-word during class.

According to Diane Mazza, chief human resources officer, one of the professors, Eric Triffin— who said the n-word while singing a song in class—is no longer employed by the university.

Immediately following the incidents, President Joe Bertolino and faculty senate hosted a forum in which students were given the opportunity to voice their experiences, concerns, and outrage.

During the forum, members of the Black Student Union and others came up with a list of suggestions moving forward.

“While last semester’s experience was difficult,” said Bertolino, at his town hall meeting last week. “I’m really proud of how our community has come together on these issues.”

So far, Bertolino said there has been training of faculty and staff on diversity. Efforts to recruit more diverse faculty and staff have been made as well.

The Minority Recruitment and Retention Committee has been working to form a multicultural leadership group said Megane Watkins chairperson of the Minority Recruitment and Mentoring for non-teaching faculty. Through this, students can now sign up and be a part of recruitment process for minority hires.

Paula Rice, Title IX coordinator and member of the MRRC, said this initiative was recently created due to some of the concerns students had. Rice said it is important to have students be a part of the campus interviews. Students have a voice, she said, and evaluations of someone being considered for hire is usually a deciding factor.

“A lot of time with campus interviews, any student can be a part of that,” she said. “Anytime they make these major announcements of individuals coming on-campus students are encouraged to come.”

Gladys Labas, chair of the faculty MRRC, said her committee is invited by different schools to be a part of their recruitment process.

“Also, retention is our biggest focus,” said Labas. She said she wants the faculty mentoring program to be more tailored to minority faculty, than ‘one size for all.’

According to the SCSU Factbook, as of fall 2016, 19.6 percent of full-time faculty were a minority.

In total, 335 members were white, 29 were black, 14 were Hispanic, 32 were Asian and four were Indian/Alaskan Native.

Rice said she reviews all the applicants and has seen an increase in minority interest. From 2018 to now, 36 non-teaching faculty were hired, and 10 were people of color.

“You want people to get interested and excited about Southern,” she said, “and then you have to make Southern something exciting for people.”

President of BSU Kendall Manderville said outreach has come from administration in the form of conversations. While this has been beneficial, he said, “now that it’s been a year, we need to be having more than just conversation.”

“Unless we keep contacting [Bertolino] there’s not much outreach to us about what’s been going on,” said Katia Bagwell, former vice president of BSU. “We feel the responsibility to keep them on track of like what we want as like a student body, like especially with the diversity and the minority students on campus.”

Bagwell said BSU should continue to push the faculty senate and Bertolino to stay on top of their suggestions. She said it seems conversations on inclusive language between professors and students only occurs after an incident.

“Mostly all the content that’s being put out to like, you know stuff like that has been coming from the Multicultural Center or it’s been coming from us as the multicultural orgs,” said Manderville.

While the Multicultural Center has hosted numerous events regarding diversity, he said these programs and policies should be coming from the top down.

Last year’s Social Justice month, Manderville said it had a lot of great events taking place, especially from organizations that usually do not participate in the programming. However, he said the programs would be more effective if students – not just the members of those organizations – attended as well.

Last year, students also called for a more diverse Student Government Association body. During the organization’s previous election cycle, Alexis Zhitomi, president of SGA, said they reached out to numerous clubs and organizations.

“We talked a lot with the people from the Multicultural Center to kind of promote the election and encourage students to run for it,” she said.

At one point this academic year, Zhitomi said the SGA body was 50 percent people of color, and 50 percent were white.

In an effort to promote a more inclusive curriculum, philosophy professor David Pettigrew teamed with the faculty senate to create the Curricular Task Force on Social Justice and Human Diversity.

“We’re thinking about proposing that faculty would designate their courses,” said Pettigrew, “or there’d be process by which courses would be designated.”

Pettigrew said the designation would help students know which courses were adhering to the university’s pledge to be a more social justice university.

There is still discussion about what constitutes as a social justice course and the potential learning outcomes the courses would seek to achieve.

According to Pettigrew, six students are currently involved with the task force and one of their suggestions is the inclusion of social justice in the first-year experience.

Much of the research supporting the idea of social justice courses, Pettigrew said came from Butler University, in Indiana, and Fairfield University, both of which, he said, have social justice type courses.

English professor Meredith N. Sinclair said earlier in the semester during a faculty forum there were discussions of what it means to teach social justice courses, across various subjects.

According to Sinclair, when students have “teachers who look like them” they are more likely to do better in school and stay in school.

“If we wanna say were a social justice institution,” said Sinclair, “that we are living up to that also by who’s on our faculty.”

Some faculty, Pettigrew said have “self-identified” themselves as having courses that could be all ready be deemed as social justice courses.

Photo Credit: August Pelliccio

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