New Inclusivity Initiative Engages Faculty

Jacob DeCarli ’22, Managing Editor

Conversations around incidents of biased discrimination and harassment have led to planned trainings to increase faculty awareness of issues. 

The purpose of these trainings is to inform college faculty members on reported incidents of bias before information reaches the student body. Professors and other faculty then have opportunities to engage class discussions of biased incidents and to provide support to students who may struggle with certain incidents. 

Currently, faculty are encouraged to report biased incidents to the Bias Education and Response Team (BERT) and the Title IX Office, however they are informed about incidents through the same all college email that students receive. “There is also discussion in faculty meetings and on some occasions a separate email to faculty,” said Weissman.

Last Spring, incidents of bias were topics of conversation of the student body. In an article published by The Dickinsonian on Feb. 14, 2019 titled Racially-Charged Notes Investigated, a student of color received notes targeted at their Asian identity. This incident was followed by a student town hall, where students expressed their frustrations with the administration and other students on previous biased incidents throughout the 2018-19 school year. A similar response followed an incident in 2017. An article published by The Dickinsonian titled Costume Incites Controversy detailed an incident in which a photograph was distributed showing a student dressed for Halloween as Colin Kaepernick, allegedly in blackface, while another student held a gun. 

There are no reported trends of biased incidents on campus, but the incidents from last year sparked discussion of the administration. According to Provost Neil Weissman, students were concerned that “their faculty seemed not fully informed [on reported biased incidents and not necessarily engaged.” Weissman continued that he feels this is not an “accurate characterization” of faculty, but the college is understanding of students’ concerns and are working towards changes to how faculty are informed about biased incidents. “[I]f there [are] issues that significantly affect discussion and attention on campus,” Weissman said, “the faculty ought to acknowledge that they’re aware of it and concerned.” This process will include an email with enough information for faculty to understand details of certain issue and direction to make their awareness of the issue clear to their students. 

Organization of this new initiative to increase faculty awareness on reported biased incidents will include various groups and offices on campus. Some offices on campus may include the President’s Commission on Inclusivity, Student Life and the Division of Academic Affairs. “[…] From my perspective we need to offer a variety of opportunities for people to work on this,” said Weissman, “including faculty doing their own readings and developments, not just stuff organized by us [the administrative offices].”

Weissman introduced the plan during a faculty meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Faculty then spoke their concerns of previous distribution of information regarding biased incidents from the college in the past. According to Associate Professor of East Asian Studies Alex Bates, he voiced his concern with issues in the past of having no immediate knowledge from the college on reported biased incidents. “I was completely unaware of the racist notes on an Asian-American student’s door until a few days after the incident last spring,” Bates later said and explained he wanted to know about the incident “sooner.” Bates continued that it was strange that students and the administration were made aware of issues right away but that faculty were not fully informed “until the Dickinsonian [came] out.” 

In general, faculty responded to this new initiative positively because “[…] they want to be informed because they are concerned,” said Weissman. Students also shared positive views. According to Rhyan Rigby ’22, it is beneficial for the college to inform faculty about biased incidents because “it is easy for things like that to get swept under the ru[g]? and not be acknowledged.” However, Rigby explained that faculty need to be prepared to have these discussions with their students in class. “[…] clearly some students don’t see the problem with it [a biased incident],” Rigby said, “When faculty who do not know how to facilitate these types of conversations allow anything to be said, especially racist comments, the conversation is actually repressive than progressive.” 

Joey Inscoe ’22 explained that the initiative is a starting point. “It’s important for faculty to be aware of issues of race/discrimination on campus,” Inscoe said, “but to me it feels like the school should be doing more to keep these things from happening.” Kelly Stone ’22 agrees with Inscoe’s point about the initiative as a starting point, but she is cautions of the long-term effects of in class discussions of every incident. “[P]rofessors already worry about time in class,” Stone said, “and this could become repetitive to the point students blur it out if every teacher in every class has a discussion about it.”

“Our goal is an education that best fits the needs of all students,” Weissman said and explained that the initiative is an “ongoing effort” and it will “receive more emphasis going forward.”