By Jasmine Huang
The Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Cohesion (CDIC) recently released a campus-wide report detailing the status of their goals for the school year, which included creating a program for first-generation college students and developing protocols for bias reporting and response, which currently are nearly nonexistent.
The CDIC was established after students, faculty, and staff pushed for the administration to further explore issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in 2015-2016. During that time period, the African American Alliance, now known as the Black Student Union (BSU), hosted a “Stand with Mizzou” solidarity gathering in response to the ongoing racial tensions at the University of Missouri.
Following the rally, a panel titled “Sewanee Responds: Racial Discrimination in Higher Education” featuring several professors discussed what moderator Dr. Chris McDonough called the “structural racism and marginalization” of students of color in higher education. Shortly thereafter, two related planning sessions led to the development of 10 task forces whose investigations are guided by the CDIC.
Over the last two years, the organization has sent out annual updates on their work, beginning in 2016 with the help of former Provost John Swallow (C’89). Presently, the committee consists of various Sewanee faculty, staff, and community members, School of Theology representatives, and one current undergraduate student, Adriana Jones-Quaidoo (C’20).
“The reason why I’m on [the committee] is to see how close we can get to the ideals of EQB. That’s what the committee is focused on, on how we are creating a belonging environment for our students here,” replied Karen Proctor, Brown Foundation Fellow and CDIC representative.
Voicing similar feelings, Associate Dean of the College and CDIC member Elizabeth Skomp said, “With my position on the committee and in my administrative role, I want to foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive climate at Sewanee.”
She noted, “The students, faculty, and staff who worked on task forces in spring 2016 invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in producing thoughtful reports and recommendations. Those reports have helped to guide and direct the work of the CDIC.”
Their most recent research report included enrollment and retention data on diversity categorized by class and major. In 2017, nine majors, the largest being art history, anthropology, and forestry, had zero underrepresented minority students. Underrepresented minority students were defined as anyone who is a “non-resident alien, Hispanic, Asian, Black or African American, or [is of] ‘two or more races.’”
Out of the 15 majors who graduated three or more minorities, the three largest still had considerably low rates of minority students. Economics, with a total of 60 graduates, had three international students, four Hispanic students, one Asian student, four Black students, and one multiracial student.
Psychology, with 46 graduates, had two Hispanic students, one Asian student, four Black students, and one multiracial student. Out of their 34 graduates, English had only one international student, one Asian student, and one multiracial student, culminating in three minorities out of the 34 total students.
Forestry, Geology, German, and Natural Resources also graduated zero Asian students and zero Black students in 2017, though Natural Resources had two multiracial students.
Presently, attempts to further diversify the community composition of the University are underway. The CDIC is looking to develop methods for recruiting people from a variety of backgrounds while acknowledging the school’s problematic past.
In an effort to address Sewanee’s lack of bias protocols, students and administrators met together with Liz Braun, the former Dean of Students at Swarthmore College who developed the successful Swarthmore Bias Protocols.
A participant in the discussion, Lala Hilizah (C’21), commented, “The point of the bias protocol meeting was to get Sewanee students’ perspectives on how the institution handles instances of racial, homophobic, classist, etc., prejudices. We discussed a number of things, such as the administration’s lack of transparency, the Charlie Rose scandal, and other students shared their own experiences with different kinds of bias.”
Altogether, the conversation was one of many moves the CDIC has enacted to make Sewanee more equitable. As Proctor emphasized, “When you’re really intentional around diversity and inclusion, you improve the place. There’s research that shows that the more mindful we are around how we include all perspectives, all experiences, [then] all background institutions and organizations greatly benefit from that.”