By Sophie Foster
The most recent diversity, equity, and inclusion forum held by Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Senior Equity Officer, and Associate Professor of English Dr. Alisha Knight took place on Thursday, Nov. 3 in Hynson Lounge and was centered around student leadership and engagement.
“This is a place of inclusive excellence,” Dr. Knight said. She indicated that the forum was being held both to discuss and dissect the strategic diversity plan and to talk about ways to address inclusivity in student leadership. Dr. Knight added that the forum was not only regarding the Student Government Association, but also considering student organizations and involvement on the broadscale.
“I will not be commenting or editorializing,” Dr. Knight said, addressing an audience composed almost entirely of students. “This is about you.”
According to Dr. Knight, Washington College’s inclusivity goals cannot be achieved until they are articulated effectively in writing, progress is tracked broadly, and efforts are assessed in full.
Beginning the conversation with the question of where progress has already been prominent on campus, Dr. Knight opened the floor to attendees to share their experiences and insights into successful inclusivity efforts at the College.
Positive remarks included an appreciation for the increase in student engagement and the heightening of school spirit coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students nodded toward the development of safe spaces for open discussion, increased student dedication to promoting DEI and advancing DEI initiatives, and larger collective of students interested in involvement in leadership roles on campus such as class officer positions.
According to SGA Secretary of Student Life Kamden Richardson, the promotion and hiring of Dr. Kniht and Director of Student Intercultural Affairs Stephanie Gilmore were significant areas of improvement for student on-campus experiences.
“I know Ms. Gilmore specifically is always on board to help with ideas, event planning, [or] monetary support, as well as offering her spaces in Minta [Martin Hall] for clubs to use,” Richardson said. “It’s really giving a large voice to the affinity groups on campus through all of the support she has given not only to them, but to all club leaders on campus.”
In terms of student organizational growth, it was noted that the SGA collaborated more thoroughly with campus affinity groups, such as the Black Student Union, the Latinx Student Union, and Encouraging Respect of Sexualities (EROS). Students discussed an appreciation for the increase in inclusivity in Greek life organizations, heightened student involvement in administrative efforts, and broadened recognition of major issues among students.
Moving forward into discussion of areas in which progress can be made in the future, a major focus was on being less reactive and more proactive in response to DEI. Attendees examined the need for preventative action, the hope that campus leaders can congregate and collaborate more often, and a desire to give students more personal agency in cases where conflict resolution is necessary.
Looking into the issue with heightened specificity, several students pointed at a disconnect between students and administration as a major contributor to issues in resolving DEI issues on campus. According to the conversation of the forum, the intimidation and hierarchical features of the administration’s structure potentially prevents students from going to administrators to address problems in this thematic area.
On a student level, the perspectives were also shared that Greek life leadership has a tendency to be unreachable, students events need an increase in accessibility, and the environment on campus needs to be more welcoming and more reflective of students’ perspectives. Students also requested that advertising for DEI efforts be improved.
“While the school has been hiring individuals that help not only student leaders, but the student body as a whole, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to support all individuals on this campus,” Richardson said. “Many students feel as if they are the ones who voice and raise concerns…that administrators should be addressing before students have to raise [them].”
According to Richardson, there is also a need for the school to more thoroughly address the letter of demands that was made in the spring of 2022.
“The school has made progress, but not nearly enough progress to be sufficient,” Richardson said.
The College’s strategic diversity plan is currently being curated, primarily by Dr. Knight and Vice President for Planning and Policy and Chief of Staff Victor Sensenig. “Pursuing Inclusive Excellence: a Five-Year Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” will be revised and improved based largely on this ongoing forum series, and a working draft of the plan is accessible to the WC community through Sensenig’s OneDrive.
The next DEI forum is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 14 at 4:30 p.m. in Hynson Lounge. All students and members of the campus community are invited to join, and attendees can share their reflections, questions, comments, and concerns via the Qualtrics response survey at https://washcoll.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_ewJSxTRwIUejuuO.
Photo by Miranda Parrish
Dr. Knight’s DEI forum series continued with a dialogue regarding student engagement.