By: Alyson Peabody, Editor-in-Chief
Lillian Lema, Staff Writer
At an Oct 8 public forum sponsored by the Anti-Racist Action Network, members of the USM community came together to discuss how the University of Everyone could improve for students of color. The Anti-Racist Action Network made up of undergrads, grads and Ph.D candidates in various programs met in Luther Bonney on the Portland Campus.
Twelve USM students attended, sharing their thoughts on how to make students of color feel more welcome on campus. All students in attendance and who are quoted have chosen to remain anonymous due to personal safety reasons.
During the meeting, they listed thirteen areas for improvement:
- After the flooding in Woodbury, the multicultural center was not prioritized or re-organized. This was the only safe space for students of color to congregate.
- There is a lack of staffing in the multicultural center.
- The wall that used to separate the multicultural center from the room next to it was torn down and never replaced.
- The university has failed to create a safe place for people of color.
- Students of color have given up leadership roles due to how marginalized and oppressed they feel at USM.
- The course curriculum has a consistent colonial theme throughout USM disciplines.
- There is a failure to make space for Native American students and to meet their needs.
- Departments are failing their students by not teaching racial issues.
- There is no evidence of repercussions for racial statements in the classroom or microaggression.
- There is a lack of cultural sensitivity for incoming students in their required courses.
- Students of color shouldn’t have to advocate for themselves or educate white people on racial matters.
- Students do not feel support when reporting incidents to faculty and staff on racial matters
- Students fear academic retaliation. If they stand up to a professor, they fear that they might jeopardize their grades.
A student at the meeting said they feel a lack of support at the University. They said many students of color “have given up with leadership positions… they’ve given up and just go to school and do their school work.”
At this meeting, a social work student said that her senior classmates didn’t know what gentrification meant. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, gentrification is the process of repairing and rebuilding homes/businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) following an influx of middle-class or affluent people. This influx and transition often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents. A student of color in her class said, “no offense to those who don’t know what gentrifications mean, but we are seniors in social work. How do we not know what gentrification is?”
The social work student said her department has failed her and her fellow classmates.
Another student at the meeting told the group that when she was taking a music course, the professor discussed the rap group N.W.A. The teacher felt the need to say the N word, which left the student in complete shock and discomfort. The student claims that “nothing was done” on the matter.
Another thing that was brought up in the meeting was that there is no system of accountability. Students felt that there is no place to report incidents that is clear and known.
Students can file bias reports through the Student Diversity Center online.
In President Cumming’s Monday Missive released Tuesday Oct 15, he said that the tenth goal regarding diversity is about “creating a more just, equitable and anti-racist society.” He went on to write that anonymous faxes and emails were received last week by faculty and staff with the repeated statement “It’s OK to be White.”
“I realize some may feel threatened by this goal, misconstruing it as an attack on white people,” Cummings wrote. “I sincerely hope that over the course of your time here, as we engage together in our common read and discuss these issues openly and honestly, you will all see our work to become anti-racist as not an attack at all. It is not about casting blame; it is about growing as individuals and manifesting it into action.”
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi is USM’s common read available in the campus libraries. Kendi wrote, “This book is ultimately about the basic struggle we’re in, the struggle to be fully human, and to see that others are fully human.”
President Cummings wrote in the Sept. 30 Monday Missive, “My sincere thanks to those of you who responded to my communication last week outlining our initial five university commitments with respect to our new goal 10 on Equity, Inclusion and Justice… IDAC particularly will play a key role in its development. Already a subcommittee of IDAC is preparing a draft of Commitment 2 (curriculum review) for discussion at our next meeting.”
President Cummings sent an email to the USM community on September 27 outlining the commitments to the university’s tenth goal on equity and justice. His outline is as follows:
Commitment One: We will undertake a university-wide Climate Survey.
- After working with the Intercultural and Diversity Advisory Council (IDAC) to determine the scope of this work, we plan to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) by the end of October to select an organization to conduct the Climate Survey. The survey will be conducted this academic year.
Commitment Two: We will undertake a full curriculum review.
- To understand if and how issues of equity and inclusion are integrated in each academic program, the Provost will be working in partnership with faculty to support curriculum reviews of every program. I expect that programs like Social Work and our Masters in Policy, Planning and Management can serve as models for other programs.
Commitment Three: We will invest in positions that focus on issues of equity and inclusion.
- We are in the final stages of the search process for a Director of Intercultural Student Engagement, with the three finalists making campus visits this week.
- Based on a recommendation that came out of an IDAC retreat, we are also in the process of creating a leadership position focused on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. The position profile is now being built in collaboration with IDAC and community stakeholders, and we anticipate launching a search for this position in January.
Commitment Four: We will increase investment in learning, training and development.
- A number of initiatives are currently underway, including continued grants for attendance at the Racial Equity Institute; an expansion of the Academic Chair Development series; Breaking Barriers: Equity & Inclusivity in Advising Practices for our Academic Advisors; and for our search committees Strategizing the Search/Safeguarding against Bias training.
Commitment Five: We will engage in a university-wide Common Read that focuses on issues of equity and justice.
- For the first time in our history, USM will engage our community of faculty, staff and students in a Common Read, How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi
President Cummings concluded the commitment points by thanking IDAC co-chair Samantha Frisk, interim Co-chair Provost Uzzi, members of IDAC and Reza Jalali, USM’s Special Advisor on Equity and Inclusion for their help. He thanked concerned community members for their input, as well.