In the wake of protests and town halls in the last few weeks of spring quarter, student leaders are bringing some of the ideas discussed in meetings with administrators to fruition to ensure all student voices are heard.
Michael Lynch, the senator for intercultural awareness for the Student Government Association (SGA), has proposed an initiative that will establish a diversity and inclusion committee (DIC), which aims to engage the student population and give them a direct route to proposing policy changes and programming for the student body.
Engaging with minority and marginalized communities on DePaul’s campus, and building a bond with them, is another facet of SGA’s job equally as important as the bond between SGA and administration. By focusing on students and student organizations that are often left out of the conversation, all can be served, not just some.
“SGA is afforded the resources to be able to bring this committee, as well as positive solution,s to life,” Lynch said. “It is my hope that they recognize the privilege and power they possess being in these roles. This isn’t a popularity contest or a resume booster. It is work and it is hard but that’s what the job entails. The students have spoken so now it’s time for us to listen and take action.”
The main objectives of the DIC are to advise the senator for inclusion and awareness, Lynch, and the SGA president, Richard Popp, of policies and programs designed to enhance the diversity, inclusion and engagement of all student groups on campus. Open forums for students, as well as serving as a resource to the student body, are also part of the DIC description as it moves through preliminary stages of discussion.
The DIC will also serve as a diversity resource for students and student organizations, and make the president and senator aware of “any student group who is found violating the well being of the minority and marginalized student population and advise the director of student involvement,” the text of the proposal states.
The collection of information on student groups gathered by the DIC will be given to the senator and president in order to keep all parties in the loop and put student safety first.
SGA, Lynch said, has the responsibility to be the voice of the student body. Excuses, including “I didn’t know this was occurring,” or not knowing what’s happening on campus, are “no longer an acceptable response to racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, and ableism incidents on campus.”
“DePaul administration and student organizations need to work together (on) the variety of issues that have plagued this campus,” Lynch said. “These conversations have been occurring over the last several weeks which I am glad to see. This cannot be simply damage control, but instead, an opportunity that allows us to grow from what occurred and create real change within our curriculum, culture, and policy.”
Lynch said that he met with Popp and Megan Scoville, vice president of SGA, earlier in June about the initiative and conversations are still in the early stages. Lynch will propose the initiative to the entire SGA in the fall when all members meet. Popp said that incorporating student voices into the conversation regarding race and free speech is important for the upcoming school year and as the country enters the thicket of a heated presidential election season.
“In order to (incorporate more voices), having an outlet for students to voice their opinions and ideas directly to their representatives in a safe environment is crucial,” Popp said. “While Michael, Megan and myself have sat down and began the conversations surround SGAs specific work on diversity and inclusion and the routes we can take surrounding these issues, having a specific focus in one form or another is undoubtedly a step in the right direction to being that student voice.”
In an interview with the DePaulia, Rev. Dennis Holtschnieder, who announced his resignation June 13, said that addressing issues of free speech and race on campus will be a main focus for this year, and he intends to continue meeting with students and establishing resources, council and outlets for students to voice concerns, as well as to check speakers before they come to DePaul.
Popp said SGA is working on planning a quarterly forum for students to connect with various administrators in order for there to be that direct communication on a regular basis. Popp echoed Lynch’s statement, that SGA should be an outlet for students and added that SGA’s goal is to “to be able to accurately relay those concerns and we see this as a collaborative effort.”
“We look for every and any opportunity to engage with various students and student groups in order to gain new perspectives, opinions, and new ideas that can help bridge the gap that exists on our campus in order to make everyone feel safe and welcomed during their time at DePaul,” Popp said.
For Lynch, and the initiative he’s proposing, creating spaces for marginalized students and connecting them to SGA, is an important part of initiating change.
“This committee will allow students to work together to create the change that is necessary in the wake of the events that occurred this past school year,” Lynch said. “In addition, they will be in contact with SGA members and administration to do more than have a conversation, they will have the opportunity to recommend and vote on policy changes that they wish to see.”