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DePaul needs to break from the status quo on diversity

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African American students at predominantly white colleges and universities (PWCUs) have begun to replicate the tactics and demands of the African American student-led protests of the 1960s.  African American students at DePaul University have been no exception, as they have made demands that call on administrators to change institutional practices.  Among these demands are second generation diversity concerns, i.e., development of an African American student center, an end to micro-aggressions in the classroom and racial profiling on campus, the creation of mechanisms that assist economically challenged students to secure classes in a timely manner, and real power sharing. 

African American student demands were echoed by African American faculty and staff representatives of the DePaul University Black Leadership Coalition (DPUBLC) in a statement to the university last year, after the raucous fallout from the Milo Yiannopoulos event and protest.  After the event, campus life was particularly bleak for several African American faculty, staff, and students who were directly targeted by threatening and racist email, phone calls, and articles in the alt right publication, “Breitbart.”

DPUBLC recommendations included:

The creation of a structure that allowed credible representative voices to act as a conduit between the community of African descent and the President’s office.

The creation of a V.P. for Academic Diversity and Inclusion, whose primary, rather than secondary, duties would include:

Working with senior officers and deans to formulate strategic plans to ensure prominent emphasis of and follow-through on institutional diversity goals and objectives;

Coordinating the work of college level diversity advocates (see below);

Monitoring and obtaining information on how various committees, offices, and officers of the university are meeting diversity goals; and

Issuing regular reports on the status of shared governance of women, faculty of color, and other traditionally underrepresented constituencies.

Diversity advocates staffed by tenured faculty members, in each college whose primary, rather than secondary, responsibility is to further diversity efforts at the college level;

Modification of enrollment management strategies and college specific criteria and practices, in order to increase the number of African American undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and

The creation of an African American student center.

The statement concluded by asking that the university be mindful that policies and practices are only as useful and effective as the will, courage, and commitment that accompanies them, and that new mechanisms be created that more effectively resolve longstanding dissatisfaction with campus racial climate and address the needs of African American students, faculty and staff.

These recommendations have been largely ignored.  Over the summer, administrators created the Race and Speech Action Plan (RSAP).  The plan included an array of activities and events that were limited in their ability to impact day to day practices, yet, it illuminated some consistent and troubling institutional practices:

a failure to include divergent voices in the planning;

a tendency to address diversity needs by tacking responsibilities onto the duties of administrators whose academic and professional training have not prepared them for the proficiencies required for this role;

a tendency to create and promote activities and events that lack measurable goals and outcomes;

an inordinate commitment of time and study before making final decisions;

a tendency to lead from behind by relying on voluntary participation; and

a failure to emphatically demonstrate through word and deed, intolerance for racism and discrimination, and a commitment to a campus environment that meets the needs of all groups.

The administration’s response has been disappointing and has caused us to question the university’s commitment to the needs and interests of African American students, staff, and faculty.  Recent meetings with chief administrators have only exacerbated our feelings of frustration.

We are pleased however, that after much persistence, Father Holtschneider has approved student centers for African American, Latinx, and LGBTQ students.  The form that the African American student center will take, has not yet been determined, but it’s a start.  We are hoping that African American students, faculty and staff will be consulted in the final planning, and that the administration will not apply a one size fit all model by lumping together all groups, without recognizing their unique experiences and concerns.

We the undersigned officers of the DPUBLC, call on all faculty, staff, and students of conscious—of every race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, ability, and religion– to stand in solidarity with us and demand that DePaul administrators end the nearly yearlong delay in addressing our concerns.  We have had our fill of task forces and committees, and respectfully ask that action be taken to resolve the issues that have been raised.

We are at a critical juncture.  One need only examine the results of the Diverse Learning Environment Survey (DLES) or the enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of African American students to recognize that we have a problem at DePaul.  As noted in the DLES, African American students are more likely than other groups to feel that there is a lot of racial tension on campus and experience negative interactions with others of a different race/ethnic group.  They are also less likely than other racial and ethnic groups to be satisfied with the racial and ethnic diversity of the student body, faculty and staff.  Add to that, the threat felt by faculty and staff of color who feel targeted and at risk of losing their jobs.  Two chilling examples include the unconventional investigation currently taking place in the law school, that has bypassed internal channels and practices, and the termination of critical African American term faculty in the School for New Learning (SNL).

“Diversity” is an amorphous and vague term that is rarely fully understood by all stakeholders at PWCUs.  Typical initiatives do little to affect institutional practices, and are not allocated resources and attention commensurate to valued goals and objectives, i.e., the new building going up to house the music school or the new stadium.  Every PWCU in the United States has a diversity goal in its strategic plan.  The question however, is whether there is a true commitment behind stated goals.

For the undersigned, “diversity” means first generation concern for critical mass and group representation and second generation concerns, i.e., ensuring that members of marginalized groups have the tools and resources to thrive, infusing relevant cultural content into the curriculum, and real power-sharing.  A commitment to diversity as we define it, eschews perpetual excuses and feel good activities and events as a stand-in for substantive measures that promote fundamental change.  It’s about monitoring and altering practices that taint the campus climate, and emphatically and unequivocally demonstrating a commitment to all groups equally.  A focus on first generation diversity concerns without adequate attention to second generation diversity concerns is wholly inadequate.

Further, a diversity initiative that doesn’t turn a mirror on itself, by reflecting on institutional practices, will not likely address the concerns of marginalized groups.  Effective diversity initiatives at their core must break from a status quo that reinforces marginalization and inequities.  Our Vincentian values should command nothing less.

Altering the campus climate for underrepresented groups, requires an extraordinary commitment and a willingness to take risks. We desire a better DePaul, and call on our new President, Dr. A. Gabriel Esteban, Provost Marten denBoer, and the Board of Trustees to walk the talk on diversity.  Please join us.

Valerie C. Johnson, Faculty Co-chair, DPUBLC

Pastor Keith Baltimore, Staff Co-chair, DPUBLC

Ocelia “Faye” Harris, Communication Coordinator, DPUBLC

Carol Goodman-Jackson, Budget Coordinator, DPUBLC

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DePaul needs to break from the status quo on diversity