Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, September 22, 2018

SG Releases report on Diversity and Inclusion at AU

The report makes three recommendations to guide the University’s long-term plan for improving race relations on campus

Student Government President Sasha Gilthorpe submitted a report to President Neil Kerwin on Wednesday regarding the current state of diversity and inclusion on campus, in which she said that students of color on campus have been “sold short” of the University’s mission.

The report presents three recommendations to President Kerwin before he releases his own long-term campus plan for diversity and inclusion by the end of the month. They include the creation of a working group on diversity and inclusion, improved training for Resident Assistants and Program Assistants and the enhancement of a grievance policy for students to report discrimination by professors.

The committee began working on the report at the beginning of the school year according to Faith Rokowski, Gilthorpe’s Chief of Staff. All three of the recommendations focus on preventative action as opposed to reactive action, meaning that the committee is looking to put a stop to racial tension on campus before large scale offenses occur. Previous instances of problems on campus include the racially charged Yik Yak posts published during the fall semester as well as the appearance of Islamaphobic posters on campus.

“AU prides itself on being a diverse institution that is welcoming and has safe spaces,” Aaliyah Lambert, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Student Government and chair for the Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion,which authored the report, said. “I think these are three things, especially the [working group on race and inclusion] that will help implement different policies and programs to get the university on the right path.”

The working group, named the “Equity Board” in the report, would be modeled after the university’s Sexual Assault Working Group and chaired by the Chief Equity Officer, a staff position that the University would need to fill. This is the only the recommendation in the report that creates a new policy as opposed to improving upon policy that already exists at the University.

The group, comprised of students and faculty, would serve as a permanent body to constantly revisit diversity and inclusion issues as they arise. It would also be able to readjust policy as needed to make the campus more inclusive. Additionally, the Equity Board would release a semester-by-semester report card that evaluates the University’s current status on diversity and inclusion.

“You always need make sure you’re being inclusive, you also have to make sure that it’s equitable, you always need to make sure it’s diverse in perspective, so I would hope that they would invest their resources and do so,” Lambert said.

Lambert worked with Lisa Freeman, director of Residence Life, to formulate the committee’s proposal to increase racial sensitivity training of RAs and PAs. If approved, RAs and PAs would be required to host a mandatory floor-specific program on diversity and inclusion once per semester to educate students living in the residence halls on inclusive practices.

Additionally, the improved grievance policy would make it easier for students to “submit complaints regarding residence hall regulations, hazing, harassment, and other forms of prohibited conduct.” Professors or other university employees reported for discriminatory action would be pulled aside for education to keep a small transgression from escalating to a serious offense. The report does not specify what that education would include.

Gilthorpe and Lambert discussed all three recommendations to Gail Hanson, vice president of Campus Life, and Fanta Aw, assistant vice president of Campus Life, prior to the release of the report. They now await President Kerwin’s own plan for diversity and inclusion, which may include the committee's recommendations. He will release his plan later this month, according to Hanson.

“The good thing is that there is emerging a pretty clear alignment of what needs to be done,” Hanson said. “I think the report that we’re receiving from the SG is very nicely aligned with what we all think matters. We may not at the end of the day do exactly what [the committee] suggest[s], but I think the point that is ultimately chosen as strategy will be very closely aligned with a lot of different quarters.”

Hanson said she hopes that Kerwin’s plan will meet the needs of students groups on campus and create a more inclusive environment.


crozen@theeagleonline.com


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