Lawrence moves forward with inclusivity initiatives

Lawrence University recently established initiatives concerning inclusivity in response to the list of demands presented to the administration by a group of students of color last term. The general consensus among students, staff and faculty involved in this process is that these changes will take time.

Associate Professor of English and Diversity Enhancement Faculty Director Karen Hoffman, who also serves as Chair of the President’s Committee on Diversity Affairs (PCDA) and is a faculty member on the ethnic studies steering board, said “One of the big challenges that the administration and whole university face is that many of these changes take time to come to full fruition.”

These changes include offering cultural sensitivity training for faculty and staff, the decision to hire a new associate dean of the faculty and vice president for diversity and inclusion, working toward bias incident reporting capability, planning for workshops on cultural competence, and the endorsement of a new tenure-track line in ethnic studies.

“The PCDA agrees very much with the need to diversify the faculty and staff. We have been working over the past two academic years on implementing new hiring processes that address diversity at each step of a search, including engaging in active recruiting to diversify our applicant pools. The new hiring processes include inviting all faculty candidates to address ways that they would support a diverse student body and contribute to diversity efforts at Lawrence,” continued Hoffman.

A large number of these changes are focused on the classroom experience.

“Initiatives are broken down into various components. There’s one that’s focused on curriculum—what we are learning in the classroom, how we are learning, how we are respecting diverse experiences and opinions,” began Associate Dean of Students for Campus Programs Paris Wicker ‘08.

“I should say that a lot of these initiatives will take time. Change—it takes a while. It is going to take, in some ways, several generations of Lawrentians, and that’s hard to see—especially for our seniors who have been working so hard—that really a lot of fruits of their labor won’t be seen by them, but instead by the class of 2020, 2024, 2030. Really, the goal is to make life-long change and it’s hard to see what that’s going to look like right now,” said Wicker.

Senior and Lawrence University Community Council Committee on Diversity Affairs (CODA) Chair Jaime Gonzalez reminds students that these initiatives “centralize the need for diversity, making it a legitimate thing on campus and something serious everyone should be working toward.”

Consequently, a big concern for those steering this movement is campus involvement.

“[It is important to] educate yourself. In CODA, we need to keep reading, we need to keep being informed about what is going on, because you never know everything,” continued Gonzalez.

In the same vein, Wicker believes that this responsibility of education falls on all of us.

“For anyone—faculty, student, staff—there is some individual personal work that everyone has to do and part of that is personal investment in education,” said Wicker. “There are some people who, because of their life experiences, don’t have any idea of what it means to be oppressed or marginalized, and that’s not necessarily their fault. But what they can do is research. Google is your friend!”

Besides education, participation is vital to being an active member in the community.

“It takes time and patient people and compassionate people and people willing to say something. I do think the administration is working really hard to figure out the right things to do. This is a national trend, Lawrence is not the only school going through this,” said Wicker. She continued, “In other places, people are calling people out, they are pushing to get people resigned, it is about pushing people out. And at Lawrence, we are not doing that—we are calling people into the conversation. We are all a part of this. We are all a part of the problem and we can all be part of the solution.”

“In terms of promoting inclusivity, just attending different events put on by different student groups on campus is important,” added Gonzalez. “A lot of times there are these questions like ‘Why is this an issue? What is the purpose of x-y-z?’”

“It takes a personal investment first, for each one of us, to know in what ways are we privileged, in what ways do we contribute to the problem and in what ways are we oppressed and marginalized, because we all have privilege and we all have oppression,” concluded Wicker.

Despite these efforts, many pointed out the need for present changes on campus.

“As the list of demands from the group of students of color conveyed, there is need for change now so that underrepresented groups feel safe and fully included in Appleton and in the Lawrence community. We still have a lot of work to do, but I’m hopeful that we can work with mutual respect in a collaborative and inclusive way to keep moving forward,” said Hoffman.

As a result, all students should feel as though they can voice their concerns.

“It is important to know who to talk to. Finding that key person you can trust—[whether] that is CODA or [University President] Mark Burstein—just letting us know what we can do is a great first step,” concluded Gonzalez.