The BGSU chief diversity and belonging officer and the director of multicultural affairs detailed goals for retaining students of color and continuing to create structure in the division of diversity and belonging at a town hall Monday.
Currently Chief Diversity and Belonging Officer Jennifer McCary and her division are working on goals for the current year:
Interviewing candidates for the director of Title IX.
Strategic planning for developing a diversity strategic plan.
Committees for creating a Diversity and Belonging Council.
Director of Multicultural Affairs Ana Brown brought up the issue of student retention at BGSU, most notably regarding students who are the first in their families to attend college, minorities and students of color. By studying retention rates of the most heavily affected students, the Office of Multicultural Affairs will understand where to place most of their efforts in raising the retention rates of these students at BGSU.
To highlight the plight of students of color at BGSU, McCary told a recent report that was brought to her when a BGSU student of color entered a business and asked for directions. An employee, driven by their bias, reported the student for having a weapon. This BGSU student was stopped by police and questioned in front of the public, all for the act of asking a question for directions. While it did not happen on campus grounds, it was important for BGSU to offer that student the support they will need due to this incident.
“Believe me I just gave you an example of what happened in town, but we get some bias reports that happen on campus that will make you scratch your head, so we all have a part to play to do a better job,” she said.
Acceptance by others is not the only issue that some students have to deal with, according to Brown. This sense of belonging also applies to white students on campus.
“There are a lot of white students who are intimidated to walk into a black student union meetings, is this a space where I belong? Is this a space where I am going to be welcomed?” Brown said. This is despite the stated open atmosphere at BGSU, Brown said many students still feel discomfort when going into an environment where they are not the dominant force, an anxiety that needs to be addressed to this segment of the student population.
Acclimation is a preferred word to use over assimilation to Brown, this is because the latter one has to give up some of their core identity to become part of the group.
“By acclimating we are creating a space for people to be their self wholly, I don’t necessarily want to assimilate as it means I will give up part of who I am,” she said.
McCary stressed that the programs need to include not only students but faculty as well, “in order for us to best tackle issues related to diversity and belonging, we need to make sure that faculty and staff have resources as well, so that they have a sense of belonging and know the issues of diversity on college campuses,” McCary said.
She said trigger warnings in course syllabi are important, so people are given a preemptive warning before taking a course or taking part in a presentation that may offend people’s sensibilities.
“Trigger warnings are like nutrition labels; it lets people know what they are getting into,” she said.
McCary also introduced the offices her division helps run:
Center for Violence Prevention and Education
Center for Women and Gender Equity
Office of Multicultural Affairs