By Sophie Foster
Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Senior Equity Officer, and Associate Professor of English Dr. Alisha Knight invited the campus to the latest diversity, equity, and inclusion forum, this time centered around the departments of the humanities and fine arts at Washington College.
The forum, held in Hynson Lounge on Monday, Nov. 14, was attended by several members of the WC community, including faculty and staff affiliated with the featured departments and some of the student population.
To introduce the forum, Dr. Knight reminded attendees that “diversity and educational excellence are intertwined,” highlighting integrated, centralized, and decentralized diversity plans as the three categories of focus as she pursues further action in her position at the College.
The consensus among those sharing perspectives was that progress was often affiliated with experiential learning and tended to be anecdotal.
Specifically, curriculum was brought up as an area of significant growth, considering the tendency of many professors to practice awareness as they address more diverse subject matters in the classroom.
Additionally, it was remarked that faculty recruitment was been more intentional, with more inclusive hiring practices being adopted in most departments.
Some pointed out that the ability to use chosen names and pronouns is more available to transgender students.
Other areas of marked improvement include the implementation of support networks for diverse student groups, better provisions of help for transfer students, and support for neurologically diverse students in need of accommodations.
It was also said that co-curricular programming, such as lectures, series, and special topics, are an opportunity for this observable progress to continue.
According to Associate Professor of English, Director of Writing, and Co-Director of the Cromwell Center for Teaching and Learning Dr. Sean Meehan, Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) training sessions have been useful, as well.
Dr. Meehan identified “workshops sponsored by Cromwell Center for Teaching and Learning that have focused on pedagogical issues related to access and inclusion, the inclusive excellence speaker series and book discussion of Freeman Hrabowski’s ‘The Empowered University,’ [and] work done in departments to support equity and inclusion in curriculum and programs” as significant areas of growth in DEI at the College.
As the conversation shifted to discussion of areas in which improvement can be made, the first issue remarked on was the lack of support for students in need of consistent aid, such as those with disabilities and other underlying issues impacting their academic life.
It was also suggested that DEI should be a required component of the curriculum at WC in order to identify more diverse content, including the potential of service learning credits that make attendance of DEI events mandatory or more appealing to the campus community on the whole.
The notion was shared that connecting with the Chestertown community could be integral to improving the College’s approach to DEI so WC might be able to bring the local community on board as alterations to DEI applications are made on the broadscale.
Several attendees pointed out the necessity of more time and better training devoted to DEI in humanities and the fine arts in order to most appropriately address the range of concerns. Some added that there is a heightened need to actually make an effort to acknowledge in full the comments and complaints made by students and campus affinity groups such as the Black Student Union.
The needs to disrupt the hierarchy of staff operations, create diverse networks instead of relying on one-on-one mentorships, and communicate rights and options such as petitioning were also brought into the dialogue.
The ultimate conclusion of much of the conversation at the forum was that, as intrinsically expressive thematic areas, the humanities and fine arts divisions should be able to most completely express the issues they experience.
Dr. Meehan emphasized the importance of “continuing to think about access and inclusion as a foundation for all learning and all experiences at WC, not as something that needs to be added in some places or for some people.”
The final DEI forum will be held on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 2:30 p.m. in Hynson Lounge and will center on talent management.