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The Undergraduate Council of Students: Regarding the upcoming Diversity Action Plan

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

This statement comes as a culmination of multiple focus groups and meetings with various students, groups, administrators and Corporation members about the Diversity Action Plan. A single op-ed does not do justice to the needs of underrepresented groups on campus. In consultation with other students and groups, UCS compiled a list of action items related to the Diversity Action Plan that can be found on the UCS website. We appreciate any comments or feedback.

In 2006, the administration released a Diversity Action Plan for the University with the goal of making Brown “a national leader in fully integrating diversity into the core operations of an institution.” Nine years later, it would be difficult to argue that the University has achieved this goal. Without proper benchmarks and concrete mechanisms for accountability, this plan was not sustained over time. As the senior administration prepares to release a new DAP, the Undergraduate Council of Students hopes that it will be more comprehensive and specific than the previous one. Thus, we believe it is necessary to put forth our minimal expectations for what must be included.

One reason for Brown’s lack of success over the past decade has been its inability — or unwillingness — to thoughtfully define the “diversity” it seeks. The last plan sought to encompass “diversity in the broadest sense to include race, color, religion, age, national and ethnic origin, disability, status as a veteran, language, socioeconomic background, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, political ideology and theoretical approach, to name a few.” Unfortunately, this broad interpretation dilutes the entire purpose of having such a plan. Specificity and clarity are needed for the administration and academic departments to develop proper strategies and benchmarks for recruitment and support over the next 10 years.

The University is focused on doubling underrepresented minorities in the faculty by 2025. This intention should be directly stated in the new plan’s definition. Even the category of underrepresented minority does not sufficiently address the need to disaggregate data regarding minority faculty within racial categories to account for ethnic and educational backgrounds. Naivete can no longer excuse publishing a DAP without specifying the “diversity” it is supposed to address.

As with the operational plan, the administration has publicized that the new DAP will be a “living document” so that it can be adjusted and changed over time. This flexibility is a crucial component of a successful plan, but it should not be an excuse for vagueness. The 2006 plan aimed to have diversity “improve significantly” and “better reflect the diversity of the nation.” These imprecise goals did not establish clear measures for the University to assess its progress over subsequent years. The plan also failed to establish mechanisms to hold the various units and departments on campus accountable for failing to meet its goals. Many of the initiatives with specific details were not carried out or well publicized, or they are no longer in effect.

The new plan needs to be more precise by including specific measures with incremental benchmarks to hold the University accountable for the plan’s implementation. Such structure could provide a framework for the entire Brown community to understand and engage with how we plan to fight institutional racism and create a more inclusive campus. Knowledge of how this plan will be enacted cannot be limited to senior administrators. Rather, if Brown is to move forward together, as the new $3 billion comprehensive campaign suggests, we must all be part of its creation and implementation.

As an initial effort, we encourage the University to release data on the diversity of faculty hires made in the 2014-15 academic year in conjunction with the DAP, rather than waiting until a year following the plan’s release. Increased transparency about Brown’s current climate is needed for our community to be more fully aware of the need for immediate improvements, especially in departments that are the least representative. As departments develop their individual action plans, it is critical that student voices be prioritized, especially those of students of color.

Embedded in the plan is a call to create a “culturally competent and inclusive campus.” To achieve this aim, the plan must go beyond acknowledging the need for faculty training on race, gender identity and other LGBTQIA+ issues and propose strategies and time frames for implementing such programs. It must also describe how the Diverse Perspectives in Liberal Learning course designation will be given more weight in order to generate a more culturally competent curriculum across departments, including those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Furthermore, the Brown Center for Students of Color, the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center and the LGBTQ Center are instrumental in offering support for marginalized communities on campus and for building programs for our entire community. The DAP should name which specific efforts will be advocated on behalf of these centers in both the immediate and long-term future.

Presently, it seems as though the University and other constituents define “plans” on different terms. It is essential that the DAP be more than an adaptable framework. It must provide a clear and comprehensive structure with accountability measures that will guide the University’s efforts to build and support diversity. This is not a criticism of the Office of Institutional Diversity. Rather, it speaks to the need for a more collaborative development of the DAP so that the burden of its planning does not fall on a single woman of color within Brown’s senior administration.

The DAP must be fully integrated into the operational plan, which guides all aspects of the University’s development over the next decade, so that none of the objectives within the operational plan escape the mission of the DAP. As we reflect on the University’s progress after the 2006 DAP, exactly two years following the Ray Kelly protest, we must show — as a collective community — that we are capable of producing a plan that names progressive goals alongside a comprehensive framework to show how those ideas will translate into action.

The Undergraduate Council of Students can be reached at ucs@brown.edu.

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