Plan of action proposed to improve campus race relations

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Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M. attends an on-campus vigil last May for Rekia Boyd, an African-American woman killed by an off-duty police officer. (Josh Leff / The DePaulia)

Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M. attends an on-campus vigil last May for Rekia Boyd, an African-American woman killed by an off-duty police officer. (Josh Leff / The DePaulia)

DePaul junior Mario Morrow looked at the list of recommended changes from the President’s Diversity Council and then back at the list of proposed items the Black Student Union (BSU) discussed with DePaul Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., from their meeting in January.

“There’s point-by-point different ways to combat the issues we addressed,” Morrow, the president of BSU, said. “So that was great.”

Immediate and a longer-term plan of action were put into place to improve the culture on campus for students of color, the university announced Wednesday.

The changes stemmed from earlier discussions on race at DePaul with a meeting between the BSU and Holtschneider being a key component. In that meeting, Morrow and other members of BSU brought up ways to handle issues such as micro-aggressions in the classroom, additional financial aid for students and racial profiling among Public Safety.

“And yet we know DePaul’s noble ideals require humans to bring them to life, and we humans are not always noble or even acutely aware,” Holtschneider said in an email to the student body. “Our motives are mixed; our courage fails; our vision can be myopic. And so, we must constantly encourage one another along the way.

“We’ll need open hearts to listen to the members of our university community, listening attentively rather than defensively to what they are telling us and then thinking together about how we might serve them even better than we did yesterday,” he added later.

As for immediate steps, Public Safety will receive updated cultural competency training on July 14 and 21. Over the course of the next month, financial aid related measures will also be emphasized, such as posting signs at DePaul Central to inform students to meet with a financial aid advisor in private upon request. Staff from DePaul Central and Financial Aid will participate in BSU focus groups “to discuss how services may be improved to meet the needs of African-American students,” according to the PDC memorandum sent to Holtschneider.

“We’ll need open hearts to listen to the members of our university community, listening attentively rather than defensively to what they are telling us and then thinking together about how we might serve them even better than we did yesterday.” — DePaul President Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M.”

But the plan of action also includes the creation of six task force groups to propose a full multi-year plan in August. That multi-plan will include student input, collected data and strategies for addressing student concerns. University stakeholders will vet the plan as well.

Each working group will examine of the following:  student feedback and involvement, education and awareness training, policy and processes, financial aid and scholarship resources, advising and other supports for African-American and underrepresented students, data collection and campus climate survey results, African-American student resource center models and issues regarding faculty staff and diversity.

Shailja Sharma, a member of the President’s Diversity Council an associate dean in the college of liberal arts and sciences, will work on the policy and procedures task force. She said the task force will meet for the first time on April 8.

“We’re taking our lead from (BSU) and saying, ‘okay these are the issues.’ Let’s try to respond to them,” Sharma said. “But also, let’s hear from a wider student body than the BSU to see if there are additional things we need to be looking at.”

The policy and procedures taskforce will explore a possible similar model to processing and investigating Title IX, a federal law that prohibits gender and sex discrimination, and if it can be applied to DePaul. DePaul has revamped that program as well, hiring an independent Title IX coordinator and a Title IX investigator.

The time frame for most groups is to have their research concluded by August. However, the task force for exploring an African-American student resource center models will have until November. The group is responsible for exploring the feasibility of creating a “black center,” similar to what Northwestern and other universities have.

Morrow said he was surprised to see the idea make the list. In general, Morrow said he and other members of BSU were ecstatic in response to seeing the exact time frames for the plan of action.

“There’s direct action and planning that’s in place,” Morrow said. “We can see a lot of time and consideration has been done … I don’t want to say we couldn’t ask for more — of course we can always ask for more — but with everything that’s happened right now, we’re pleased.”