Students hope Burwell’s diversity and inclusion plan will deliver on promises

“Voices of students of color are being heard”

Students hope Burwell’s diversity and inclusion plan will deliver on promises

University President Sylvia Burwell discusses her diversity and inclusion strategy during an interview in January 2018. 

University President Sylvia Burwell’s launch of her administration’s “plan for inclusive excellence,” a comprehensive two-year plan for diversity and inclusion, has provoked mixed, though mostly positive, reactions from students.

Sophomore Jaha Knight, who protested the University’s response to a racist incident involving bananas hung on campus in May 2017, said she is very happy with how the plan turned out. Knight said the Burwell administration delivered on its promise to provide an “effective action plan” that was demanded by students at town halls in the past year.

“I think the inclusive excellence plan is absolutely 100 percent amazing,” Knight said. “For the first time on this campus, I feel as though the voices of people of color are being heard.”

The plan includes five central goals regarding training, campus climate, policies, faculty diversity and curriculum. All focus on creating a more inclusive campus.

Students of color expressed concerns about campus safety following two hate incidents: Confederate flag fliers posted in September and anti-immigration posters hung in January. In recent months, Public Safety has increased its presence on campus and locked the doors between midnight and 6 a.m. to the central building for student life, the Mary Graydon Center.

Knight said the plan will make students of color feel safer on campus.

“I think this will make more students, especially POC [people of color] students a lot more comfortable on campus knowing that there is an active plan for inclusion, and it will make more people want to work with administrators and present new ideas,” Knight said.

Momo Napoleon, president of the LGBTQ organization AU PRIDE, said the plan is a good step forward. However, they would have liked to see more steps toward inclusion of LGBTQ+ students. The plan did not mention LGBTQ students specifically, instead referring to the University’s commitment to supporting “affinity-based” groups on campus.

“I feel that the inclusive excellence plan is a step in the right direction, but there is still much that AU needs to do in order to become a more inclusive campus,” Napoleon said.

Napoleon said they are not sure how the new plan will impact the University, stating the it could either hinder or help the current campus climate. Specifically, Napoleon wanted to see measures in Burwell’s strategy addressing inclusion for transgender students.

“I feel like the administration could have included things concerning trans students, as this has been something that has been fought for and brought up each year since I've been here,” Napoleon said. “There are still so many problems, especially concerning housing and the use of pronouns that make daily life harder for trans students.”

Yamillet Payano, who served as an undergraduate representative on the President’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI), believes the plan is a step in the right direction. Payano also serves as the director for diversity and inclusion on the student government president’s executive board. 

“I think President Burwell is going to do a lot of change to the school,” Payano said. “In order for you to be excellent, you need to be inclusive, and I think that’s the best way to describe the plan.”

In her role as a representative on PCDI, Payano provided feedback on the plan alongside Makeba Clay, an outside consultant hired by the University. Burwell and the "university leadership team" crafted the plan with guidance from Clay and PCDI, said Camille Lepre, AU's assistant vice president of communications, in a Feb. 8 email. 

For Payano, the plan has great potential but needs to have a lot of individuals working to achieve the University’s goals. While the plan won’t make the campus perfect, she said, it will have a great chance of changing the mentality for students.

“I do think that we shouldn’t expect to cure everything, but I think we do need to reduce the tension on this campus and I think this plan is doing just that,” Payano said. “This produces hope.”

This story has been updated to clarify that Burwell and the university leadership team wrote the plan with guidance from Makeba Clay and the PCDI. and

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