A select group of student leaders met with University President Morton Schapiro and other administrators Saturday to discuss specific steps the administration has planned to address diversity issues on campus.
The meeting, hosted by Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin, Provost Dan Linzer, President Schapiro and Dona Cordero, the new assistant provost for diversity and inclusion, was a “follow-up session to the Winter Diversity Forum,” according to an email sent from Schapiro to several student group leaders on campus.
During the administrators’ presentation, Telles-Irvin announced that when she turns in her goals to the president with specific steps that will be taken to strengthen diversity at Northwestern, she would be “comfortable” making the information public.
In the question and answer portion of the meeting, Communication junior Jazzy Johnson, a leader of NU4DiversityNow, asked the administrators to publicly commit to release specific, attainable plans by the end of the school year.
“The university has always had grand ideas, but we don’t know if they’ll actually be followed through on,” Johnson said.
Telles-Irvin confirmed that a public record would be available by the end of June.
NU4DiversityNow feels it has received a verbal assurance to the future release of a written commitment to action, said Weinberg sophomore Benjy Leibowitz, another leader of the diversity movement.
Telles-Irvin detailed some of the specific programs she has considered or worked on. Ideas for incoming freshmen include a cultural competency workshop and a letter to all incoming students about campus diversity standards. As for completed projects, students can now report incidents of bias, hate, discrimination or harassment at Respect NU, according to the website’s description.
The University Diversity Council, a restructured version of the previous Faculty Diversity Committee, will play a key role in advancing future diversity initiatives. The council has created five working groups, comprised of faculty, staff, students and alumni, to act as its arms, Cordero said. Before implementation, each group will present their ideas to the council to get approval.
Cordero recalled the past with a slideshow about Northwestern diversity initiatives from 2002 to 2012, including the creation of a Global Health Studies minor, a Center for Black Performing Arts and a newly launched Bias Incident Response Website. Cordero said she now has to sift through the initiatives on record and find out which are still active and whether they need to be updated.
The five working groups will look at the active initiatives fitting their descriptions: academics and education, faculty recruitment and retention, pipeline (or middle school and high school students), campus life and lifetime connections (or engaging alumni).
"Are these initiatives that are in place meeting the [current] needs?” Cordero said. "If they aren’t, then we might need to start thinking about what’s going to fill those gaps.”
Cordero also said the council will hear recommendations from the Diversity and Inclusion White Paper and, after approval, create time tables for their completion.
Some faculty members have challenged diversity representatives by disapproving of suggested curriculum requirements. While changes to course requirements rest in the hands of the faculty, not the administration, Johnson expressed concerns about leaving the responsibility in their hands.
“I’m not optimistic that I can wave a magic wand … and make things happen,” Linzer said. “We have to rely on the energy of the faculty."
Instead of trying to mandate specific requirements, which “wouldn’t get anything done,” Linzer stressed the importance of working with the faculty.
“I have more confidence in the faculty than you do, I think,” Schapiro said to Johnson, agreeing with Linzer. “But sometimes putting pressure on the administration is really good. It keeps us on our toes.”