Conversations about race, building a safer and more equitable campus and the changing face of higher education were among the issues discussed Tuesday, Oct. 10 at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s “Race Dynamics and Racism on Today’s Campus” conference, hosted by the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.
“I read in The Chronicle of Higher Education that they reported 120 events of racial incidents across the country in the last quarter,” said SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook in his welcome address to conference participants. Approximately 200 people registered for the conference. “This is a particularly important time to be having this conversation on race and racism on campus.”
“It is vital to discuss and work towards the kind of learning environment we want to have at SIUE,” Pembrook continued. “It is important that we stand up against racism and hate. We want to talk about policies and procedures, evaluate what we’ve done in the past few years, look at where we are making progress, and examine the areas where we still have work to do.”
The goal of the session, according to conference host Venessa Brown, Ph.D., associate chancellor and chief diversity officer, was to do an institutional review in reference to the national climate, changing demographics in the country and across college campuses, and in light of recent racial incidents on the SIUE campus that go against the University’s values.
“My challenge to you today is to listen to each other, and for each of us to ask ourselves the question: ‘What do I need to learn to be a part of change?’” Brown told the audience. “What role do I play in ensuring institutional change here at SIUE?”
Kenith Bergeron, of the Community Relations Service (CRS) program in the Midwest Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Justice, told the group that his office learned of the racial incidents at SIUE through media reports. Bergeron said when he contacted Brown’s office, he was glad to learn about the upcoming racism conference and was more than happy to be a speaker.
Racism Conference Group “The Community Relations Service is the U.S. Department’s ‘peacemaker’ for community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of race, color and national origin,” Bergeron said. “We help communities develop local resolutions to conflict, conduct training and take other proactive measures that prevent or reduce racial and ethnic tensions and incidents. We all have rights, but do we have rights to hurt each other?”
“I visit a lot of campuses,” he continued, “and when you see individuals who come from cultural isolation, it is important for you to try and offer up dialogue and conversation. No one is ethnically superior to anyone else. So when you leave here today, you have a responsibility to plant seeds that can germinate across campus for the good.”
“The Changing Demographics in Higher Education,” as reported by Jerrica Ampadu, Ph.D., assistant professor in the SIUE School of Nursing and diversity and inclusion coordinator; and Megan Robb, M.A., associate professor in the Department of Art and Design.
Through the year 2022, student enrollment in higher education is expected to increase by 7 percent for white students, 26 percent for black students, 27 percent for Hispanic students and 7 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander students.
There were small group discussions to rate where SIUE ranked on the Multicultural Organization Development (MCOD) scale, with stage one as being an exclusionary organization and stage six as being a multicultural organization. Terra Cole Brown, program advisor in the Office of Graduate and International Admissions, and Jessica Harris, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Historical Studies and director of Black Studies, facilitated the discussions.
“I enjoyed the conference because we were able to have an open dialogue about racial tension on our campus, so we can find definitive outlets and solutions for improving the situation,” said Terrell Jones, graduate assistant in University Housing.
Scott Baietti, community director in University Housing, was encouraged by the conversations. He said he would watch to see how the conference ideas and discussions would be implemented in the day-to-day life of the campus, especially in the SIUE Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan.
—- Leaders talk improving racial equality, SIUE campus climate —-