Race and Action plan announced

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Race and Action plan announced

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Black Student Union president Mario Morrow is encouraged, but still skeptical. In January, the BSU met with DePaul president Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., and discussed concerns and changes needed for students of color on campus.

“Success will look like real change,” he said. “The Black Student Union proposed to have a Black Resource Center on campus and no further updates have been provided on the matter. Rewording a few sentences in the student handbook will not get the job done.”

Members of the President’s Diversity Council (PDC) have updated and begun to implement the DePaul Speech and Race Action plan, a multi-faceted draft outlining steps the university will do to address student, faculty and staff concerns over issues of race and discrimination.

The plan is split into six categories including: Policy and Process, Education and Awareness Training, Student Services, Student Feedback and Involvement in Partnership with Student Affairs, African American Student Resource Center Models, Faculty and Staff Diversity and Data and Collection.

Vice president of the office of institutional diversity and equity Elizabeth Ortiz said that the plan began to materialize last Winter after receiving student input on what must be done.

“Last year the Black Student Union was meeting with Father Holtschneider regarding black student concerns and out of their meetings and out of some of what they thought needed to happen we created an action plan for the President’s Diversity Council,” Ortiz said.

The diversity council, which falls under the office of institutional diversity and equity, is composed of over 30 council members, including 10 diversity advocates that are representatives from each of DePaul’s 10 colleges, and seven members from employee resource groups. Other members of the council come from different offices across the university including student leaders.

Morrow said the plan needed an update due to continuous incidents that happen on DePaul’s campus everyday. One of the issues the BSU suggested was the idea of a black student resource center.

Ortiz said that the office is committed to look into what a Black student resource center would mean on DePaul’s campus. According to the plan, the university will explore the feasibility of the plan by visiting African American student centers across that nation and host “talk-backs” with students to receive input and feedback. As far as what the model at DePaul will look like, the center and deadline is uncertain.

“I think what the students want is someone who would be their advocate, someone who would point them to resources, that’s the sense that I’m getting from students,” Ortiz said.

“The commitment is to explore it, to see what it would mean to DePaul and then it would be up to the president and his cabinet to make that decision.”

The resource center is to be determined and could potentially grow into an office within the university in addition to a group of services.

“You need funds to create something like that, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen,” Ortiz said. “It just means it might take us a while to get those figures together, to figure out what it is going to mean for us.”

Ortiz said that this could also mark the beginning for DePaul to open other resource centers for all students of color.

Though Ortiz said all of the facets of the race and action plan are current priorities, she added some goals can be completed faster than others. She said the hope is to complete most of the objectives within the school year.

For example, Ortiz said the PDC is working to centralize the discrimination complaint process to fall within the jurisdiction of the office of institutional diversity and equity. Currently, some complaints of discrimination are handled within the dean of students office, depending on the types of complaints.

Though the judicial process will remain the same, Ortiz said that shifting the discrimination complaint process to OSI will create a system for complaints to be addressed more efficiently. She foresees the shift happening by October.

Another aspect of the plan is to also hire a counselor within the university counseling center that specializes in issues of race and discrimination and/or is a person of color by the end of the academic year.

“We are going to give an update monthly to faculty council, staff council and the Student Government Association (SGA) on what’s been completed or where we are,” Ortiz said. “We are going to update this every two to three weeks to inform the campus community the best we can.”

But SGA senator for Intercultural Awareness Michael Lynch said that in spite of student input being solicited, DePaul’s administration should not treat the plan as damage control or a marketing campaign.

“Organizations are inspired to foster a community for their members to thrive but they are overwhelmed and underfunded,” Lynch said. “Minority and marginalized student leaders are expected to be activist, crisis managers, mentors, therapists, all while being a student. It is entirely too much.”

Ortiz said the office is open to hearing all input to lessen the burden on students and understands where it has faulted in the past.

“I think the issue was that maybe we weren’t doing as good of a job at communicating (our plans) or maybe because it wasn’t a hot topic,” Ortiz said. “I think what happened is that now it is in the forefront of our consciousness and because of the political landscape people are thinking about this more and more. We’ve always had plans like this.”

Students agreed that though the Milo Yiannopoulos event, which saw protests erupt for allowing the conservative provocateur on campus, sparked controversy around campus last Spring Quarter, greater sense of student and community has emerged.

“Negatively, students were filled with emotion when the series of events first took place, but now that we are back in school and the Black community at DePaul is doing its best to ensure the Milo incident is being portrayed correctly and from our viewpoint, students are getting the real story,” Morrow said. “Positively, students are now coming together and leaning on each other more than ever across student organizations.

“This is not only a positive for students that were affected by last spring’s event, but for first year students and transfers that are looking for a home and community at DePaul.”

Ortiz agreed that students are stepping up. While she said two student members have always served on the PDC, they are now collaborating with SGA to ask what other student voices need to be included.

“I think one of the things that is a good thing that has involved and changed is because of what happened, there’s a lot more student input,” Ortiz said. “Now there is a formal structure through the president’s diversity council for voices to be heard.”