President’s diversity council adds student advisory board this fall

Fifteen students will provide council with “pulse of the community”

President’s diversity council adds student advisory board this fall

Since 2016, the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI) has served to promote diversity and inclusion throughout campus by holding training sessions and meeting with students, faculty and staff members. Though the council has always included students, this year they have a bigger role: serving as representatives on the newly created Student Advisory Council.

Created by the University’s previous president, Neil Kerwin, PCDI is charged with overseeing and reporting on the progress on various elements of AU’s diversity strategy known as the Inclusive Excellence Plan. The plan includes the implementation of the AUx curriculum, improving policies regarding discrimination and developing new diversity programs.

“This plan will only be successful if all of us are invested in the plan and if all of us do our part,” AU’s vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence, Dr. Fanta Aw, said.

Most students on campus are “doing their part,” Aw said, which is why the council found adding a Student Advisory Council to be necessary.

“The change now from last year is that we are really trying to amplify the students’ voices and the students’ roles within the council,” Aw said.

The addition of a student advisory group was popular among students, staff and faculty, Amanda Taylor, assistant vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, said, earning almost 200 applications for 15 student positions.

“We were just overwhelmed at the passion of the students who applied and the multiplicities of perspectives they brought with them to the application,” Taylor said. “If we could have had 75 students on the council, it would have been easy.”

The role of the Student Advisory Council will be similar to the role of the previous three student members in PCDI, which is to continue to advise faculty and staff members as they continue to move forward with the plan.

“The students will really carry on multiple roles throughout the council,” Aw said. “One is to continue to get the pulse of the community and the issues and how we can problem solve that. In that process, they will also be able to be a sounding board to us as we advance the work of the plan so there’s lots of different ways that they will be engaged.”

Though the student council is selective and not all students can be formally involved, Aw said there are many ways they can be involved informally. 

“Every single person has an opportunity to get engaged with this plan,” Aw said. “Some is in the formal structure, but other [opportunities are] to get engaged by literally identifying an organization or club on campus that is doing interesting and important work.”

Rafael Cestero, Student Government’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, is a new member of the Student Advisory Council.

“I’m really hoping that this council will first of all be a space where people can express themselves openly about the issues that we face on this campus,” Cestero said.

One of PCDI’s successes last year was the scheduling of listening sessions with students in residence halls and other spaces on campus, Cestero added.

“In general, what PCDI did last year that was really good was making the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion a main focus around the University,” Cestero said.

Taylor and Aw said that PCDI will continue to focus on training, learning and development this year.

“When it comes to diversity and inclusion, we never fully arrive,” Aw said. “There is a learning that goes on, and I think we are looking for people to learn in the process.”

This article originally appeared in The Eagle's October 2018 fall print edition.

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