Engh discloses much anticipated document at Unity 4 quarterly forum
The Santa Clara
March 2, 2017
During the quarterly Unity 4 forum held last week, President Michael Engh, S.J. released the 37 points of the Blue Commission Report.
The proposals included enhancing diversity in the curriculum, becoming a need-blind institution, revisiting the relationship between the university and Greek organizations and expanding training opportunities on culturally-inclusive teaching.
Approximately 70 members of the campus community gathered in the Locatelli Student Activity Center on the evening of Feb. 22 to speak with Engh and other upper-level administrators. Eager to learn about administrative efforts towards inclusion, attendees intently listened to administrators’ presentations. Some scribbled notes and others snapped pictures of the powerpoint slides with their phones.
“(Unity 4 facilitates) a series of dialogues of students with administrators in effort to move forward with efforts of diversity and inclusion … mainly focusing on transparency, orientation and recruitment, academics and student life,” said Unity 4 leader Zipporah Ridley.
Unity 4 is a student activist group pushing for systemic changes in representation and integration of marginalized groups at Santa Clara. It is the fourth iteration of the Multicultural Center’s historic unity movements. It formed in May 2015 after racist hate speech directed at the members of the black student union, SCU Igwebuike, surfaced on the anonymous social media app Yik Yak.
Ridley said that the purpose of the forum was for administrators to update community members on efforts towards inclusion and diversity and facilitate dialogue amongst administrators and students.
As a result of Unity 4’s efforts, Engh created the Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. It includes alumni and campus representatives and convened in spring 2016 to create recommendations for increased inclusivity and diversity at Santa Clara. Their 101-page report was completed in December 2016.
“There needs to be a comprehensive overview of where we are at Santa Clara and what we need to be doing to changing the culture,” Engh said. “Cultures take years to build up and they take time to change.”
The report outlines improvements that can be made over the next 20 years. Its primary topics include leadership, strategic planning and restructuring, student recruitment and admissions, campus support and learning opportunities.
Engh said at the forum that university governance committees will now determine which recommendations are feasible and which should be prioritized. Such proposals will then be developed into a comprehensive implementation plan.
“We have some urgent, existing needs that I’m a bit concerned will not get met with the focus on the long road to implementing recommendations … there is no shortage of reason to be concerned about the changing state of immigration,” Sampaio said. “I’m worried about attending to the needs for students, particularly students who have issues about immigration … is there room for that in the Commission?”
Acknowledging of the ever-changing nature of immigration policies, Engh admitted that the administration does not yet have concrete plans to address such issues.
“Every university president is in the same boat. We’re all scrambling to figure out how to respond to a presidential administration … (which has) the least amount of concern for immigrants and refugees,” Engh said. “Let me just be very frank … we’ve never had this type of fast moving activities … I don’t have an answer entirely yet but I am very aware and I have been talking to other presidents … It is a concern of mine and the administration has to work on this.”
One student, who came out publicly as undocumented in a November campus-wide walkout supporting undocumented students, said the university must respond quickly and prioritize the needs of undocumented students due to the urgency of the situation.
“As we’re adapting, student lives are being threatened every day. I know it’s hard for us to ask administration to act a little faster … but undocumented students can be taken off this campus at any given time,” she said. “It’s better to be prepared than sorry.”
Ray Plaza, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, assured her and the others in attendance that the immediate well-being of students is still prioritized even as administrators address the Blue Ribbon proposals.
“The group up here is committed to taking care of our students today. We know that the last few weeks have been terrifying for some members of our community in terms of safety, well-being, mental health, et cetera,” Plaza said. “While we have Blue Ribbon, it doesn’t mean our efforts are going to be deterred from supporting you … our doors always remain open. We’re here to offer support regardless of what’s happening outside.”
Engh compared the immediate need to protect undocumented students to Santa Clara’s urgent response to last year’s meningitis outbreak. He implied that both crises require prompt action by the university.
One student asked if there are training opportunities for current faculty to address classroom instances, such as microaggressions, and the alienation of marginalized students from class discussions.
Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Brett Solomon said that workshops and programs focused on inclusive classroom atmospheres, known as VITAL, do exist but are not mandatory. Upon request, members of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion can meet with faculty who are struggling to address such issues.
Director of Religious Diversity Rev. Laura Brekke said that a diverse campus also encompasses religious diversity.
To accommodate for people of various religious backgrounds, Brekke noted the need for infrastructure, including dining hall options and opportunities for worship. She questioned how such needs would be considered during the budgeting process.
Lester Deanes, assistant dean for Student Life, said that the Office of Multicultural Learning is currently discussing how to address the needs of Muslim and Native American students with their limited funding. If need be, he said they may need to seek outside funding.
Sampaio questioned the selection process for the individuals who serve on university governance committees that will develop a strategic plan based on the Commission’s recommendations.
“To see the principles is wonderful but as you know the devil’s in the details. When it’s going into implementation that’s when things can go awry,” Sampaio said. “I want to make sure that we have the right people who’ve been part of this sustained conversation, who already have a good deal of working knowledge.”
Engh said that the concern about staffing the committees will be taken into consideration.
Isaac Nieblas, director of the Multicultural Center, asked when and if the Commission’s report would be released. According to Engh, technical difficulties prevented an earlier release of the document, and the first 25 pages of the report will be made public as soon as possible.
The other pages will not be released in order to keep the identities of individuals who participated in small group discussions confidential.
Unity 4 has maintained an ongoing effort regarding their initial requests from the administration. These include increased measures to diversify faculty, especially in the Leavey School of Business and across STEM disciplines.
Solomon said that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has facilitated the tenure and track faculty search process, which includes recruitment plans, job advertisements and inclusive search training that addresses implicit bias.
“If (faculty) search in the same pond, they get the same finish,” Solomon said. “We hope (faculty) search many ponds.” Provost Dennis Jacobs recognized the importance of the faculty search process, but also noted that a diverse faculty depends on the pool of candidates.
Unity 4 recommendations also led to a revised orientation program for incoming students. Activities focused on “power, proximity and contact with the other” helped facilitate difficult discussions about privilege, oppression and microaggressions. For this year’s incoming class of first-year students, there was also a mandatory online program focused on diversity and inclusion.
Deanes said the activities are a strong foundation for addressing difficult issues, but recognized that there is room for improvement as well.
“There’s no way this three part series, which lasted about four and a half hours total of activities, changes people’s lives,” Deanes said. “What we tried to do with the students was start a conversation (that could) be the foundation of something more. There’s so much we learned from it. There’s so much we would do differently the next time.”
One of Unity 4’s successes so far includes the development of both women and gender studies and ethnic studies into standalone majors.
According to Ridley and Jasmyne Gaston, another Unity 4 member, some of their current goals include increasing faculty of color, reevaluating the diversity and pathway requirements, growing the black student population on campus and increasing access to support for mental health services for students of color.
The next Unity 4 forum with administration will be held on May 9.
Contact Bella Rios at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.