University News

Students of color release diversity demands

After confrontation, Paxson extends deadline for community feedback on inclusion plan to Jan. 8

By
Metro Editor
Friday, December 4, 2015

Last semester, students of color gathered in the Leung Gallery to compile a list of demands to improve the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan draft.

Students of color gathered outside President Christina Paxson’s P’19 office Thursday to serve as “diversity consultants” for the University after the release of a draft of the diversity and inclusion action plan Nov. 19.

As part of the “Day of Reclamation,” they developed a list of demands in response to the University’s action plan throughout the day before reading the demands aloud in the Leung Family Gallery in the late afternoon. Demands included disarming Department of Public Safety officers, making a Diverse Perspectives in Liberal Learning course a curricular requirement, adding $50 million each to the endowments of the ethnic studies program and the Department of Africana Studies during the BrownTogether fundraising campaign and creating several new concentrations that focus on traditionally marginalized identities.

When the draft of the University’s diversity plan was released, administrators opened an online form, initially slated to close Dec. 4, for students to provide feedback on the plan. But in response to the students’ demands, Paxson announced in a community-wide email Thursday night that she would extend the deadline to submit feedback on the plan to Jan. 8.

Developing the demands

During Paxson’s office hours from 1:30 to 3 p.m., the students occupied the rotunda outside her office. They attempting to “reclaim” the space to conduct their work: drafting and sharing their demands.

A statement on the Facebook event page reads: “The diversity action and inclusion plan is illegitimate and insufficient. As a result of the arbitrary deadline of the feedback forum for (the plan) closing on Dec. 4, 2015, the administration has not acknowledged our countless and persistent demands to this institution.”

Students also gathered in the Leung Gallery to allow students who did not want to work in University Hall to contribute to the development of the demands. “We also aim to make our work visible to our peers that are so often afforded the ability to ignore this work,” according to the Facebook event page.

The students confronted Paxson when she declined to speak with them during her office hours because other students had signed up beforehand.

Citing another obligation, Paxson said she would have another administrator go to Leung at 4:30 p.m. to hear the demands. When a student pressed her to specify what the obligation was, she said it was “none of (their) business.”

“I don’t know how I can persuade you that I really want to work with you and the faculty, and I do value our black students,” Paxson said.

“Just do it,” a student responded.

A number of students then brought up that Paxson has not agreed to disarm DPS officers.

“Valuing people and agreeing with them are not the same thing,” Paxson responded. When asked whether she thinks DPS officers should be armed, she said, “Absolutely, I do.”

A student noted that many students and faculty members objected to the arming of DPS officers in the early 2000s, but former President Ruth Simmons decided to arm the force anyway.

When Provost Richard Locke P’17 asked if he could make a suggestion, several students responded, “No.” When one said that heterosexual white males always dominate the conversation, Locke clarified that he is not heterosexual. But the student said it didn’t matter, adding, “Cisgender white males are at the top of the hierarchy.”

“What percent of 3 billion is 100 million?” a student asked Paxson, referring to the proposed $100 million in diversity and inclusion investments compared to the BrownTogether campaign’s overall goal of $3 billion. When she didn’t respond, a student said, “It’s 3.33 percent, and it’s not enough.”

Students asked whether, once they assembled their demands, the administration would actually use them, rather than just reading them. They also demanded that students not be subject to disciplinary action for their activism.

Paxson said, “You have amnesty for this action. You are doing nothing wrong.”

Sharing the demands

Chrysanthemum Tran ’17, one of the organizers of the event, asked all administrators in the audience to identify themselves. Though several top administrators were in attendance, students pointed out that both Paxson and Locke were not present.

Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 said, “The provost is going to be here in just a few moments,” prompting laughter from the audience.

Locke arrived a few minutes later. “With Provost Locke finally in the room, let’s begin with the demands from people of color,” Tran said.

The demands, recorded in a 14-page document, were compiled by Asian American/Pacific Islander, black, Southwest Asian and North African and Latinx students, students with disabilities and members of Students Against the Prison-Industrial Complex.

The demands were sweeping and included changes to the administration, faculty, staff, curriculum, financial aid, admission, the Office of Residential Life, DPS, Title IX, student health and the University’s relationship with the Providence community. Many of the demands entailed disaggregating and publicly sharing data regarding racial and ethnic diversity, adding excluded groups to the diversity and inclusion plan, making departmental action plans more transparent, adding intersectionality for issues related to LGBTQ identity, womanhood, class and disability to the plan, and boycotting companies and countries with objectionable records.

Collecting and disaggregating data

The students demanded more transparency regarding diversity at the University through more detailed collection and reporting of data.

With regard to the diversity action plan, students demanded that the designation “historically underrepresented groups” include SWANA students; Asian American faculty members in the humanities, social sciences and arts; and South Asian, Southeast Asian and SWANA faculty members. Students also called for the University to disaggregate its data regarding HUGs within the student body and faculty.

Students asked the University to break down the categories of black, Asian/Asian American and Pacific Islander and Native American students in the data it reports.

The University should release data on faculty wages and advancement rates disaggregated by race and ethnicity and address any gaps evident in the data, students said.

Students recommended tracking and increasing the number of students from various backgrounds — including Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, Cape Verdean and Narragansett students ­— to better reflect the population of the United States and Providence.

They also proposed increasing the black student population to 15.2 percent and the population of low-income students to 20 percent.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the use of quotas in college admission unconstitutional in its landmark 1978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

Students also demanded that the University report more demographic information about DPS, endorse Providence’s Community Safety Act and work with community organizations to assess the relationship between DPS and the Providence community.

Many of the demands also discussed gender identities with regard to University bureaucracy, including allowing an open-text option on University forms requiring gender identification, using the term “legal sex” on government forms and allowing students to input their preferred pronouns into Banner.

Curricular inclusivity

Students proposed creating several new departments, centers and programs focused on Native American and Indigenous studies, U.S. Latinx studies, Asian American studies, disability studies and African studies.

They demanded the University endow several positions and create “hiring lines” in these and related areas, totaling at least 12.

Students also proposed hiring faculty to study intersectionality in political science, sociology, economics, international relations, philosophy and urban studies.

Students demanded more people of color in “predominantly white programs and centers.”

All concentrations ­— particularly those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — should require at least one course that engages with class, gender, sexuality and ability, said the students, who also called for a DPLL requirement for graduation.

Courses with “gender” in their title should include transgender identities and experiences, students said.

The diversity action plan currently calls on departments to submit their own action plans to address inclusivity. Students demanded that each department’s action plan be made public and that the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion create a system to approve them.

In addition to new courses and programs, students also demanded more resources — financial and physical — for existing centers: a $15,000 per year commitment to the Brown Center for Students of Color to establish a SWANA Heritage Series and a new home for the Center of the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, which is currently housed in Brown/RISD Hillel.

University training, policies and governance

Students demanded mandatory training for all members of the administration on “an intersectional framework that recognizes various forms of diversity and identity … and the ways that trauma can manifest for people who hold one or more of these identities.”

The tenure review process should take participation in training on identity and inclusion into account, students said.

Students also demanded the ability to approve the organizations conducting faculty training on identity and inclusion and be involved in hiring faculty of color.

The University should also create ways in which students can report discrimination and oppression by administrators, the students said.

Because of significant racial disparities in incarceration rates by race, students said the University should eliminate the section of applications requiring prospective employees and students to indicate whether they have been convicted of or charged with crimes. President Obama directed federal agencies to “ban the box” on federal government job applications in November.

Several other demands also related to making the University a better workplace for staff members, including providing information and training in workers’ preferred languages and including staff members in the plan’s proposed campus climate survey.

Students also demanded the University make a greater variety of child care, prenatal care and maternity leave options available to graduate students and faculty members.

Students called on the University to revamp its governance structures as well.

The students recommended creating an office to manage issues related to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as a paid student position on the Corporation.

The University’s plan also creates a Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee, and students wanted undergraduates and graduate students serving on the committee to have voting power.

While the diversity action plan suggests adding a position to the OIDI, students said it should be expanded by multiple positions.

With regard to Title IX, students demanded the University “stop chalking up sexual assault to alcohol consumption” and improve the orientation program regarding sexual assault. Students also demanded that the Title IX complaint process be changed to better accommodate students of color, so they do not have to file multiple complaints — one for Title IX and one for Title VI.

Student life and services

The diversity action plan proposes creating a center for first-generation students and hiring a dean to oversee the center. Students reiterated the need for this center, in addition to recommending that the University create a board of first-generation alums to oversee the center and devote part of the BrownTogether campaign funds to it.

Students demanded that the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice participate in orientation programming, including by delivering a presentation on structural racism and Brown’s legacy of slavery and oppression.

The expansion and diversification of Student and Employee Accessibility Services were also central to the students’ demands, which included that the office be elevated to a center. They also noted that faculty members can ignore requests for accommodations granted by SEAS and demanded that faculty be required to respect these accommodations.

Other demands focused on reforming health resources available to students, particularly Counseling and Psychological Services and Health Services. Students proposed lifting the limit of seven CAPS appointments per academic year, as well as increasing the diversity of CAPS clinical staff, sharing data regarding the diversity of the CAPS staff and creating an intersectional diversity training for all CAPS and Health Services staff members.

The University’s health insurance plan should include counseling and health care for transgender people, students said, supplementing their call for a physical and staff expansion of the LGBTQ Center.

Students demanded the presence of at least one Minority Peer Counselor and one Women Peer Counselor in each first-year residential unit, in addition to the University funding the MPC program “in perpetuity.” Students also recommended increasing the number of people of color working as WPCs, Residential Peer Leaders and community directors.

Financial aid and admission

Students made several demands regarding University financial aid packages and how they are calculated, specifically demanding that the financial aid process take disability into account, eliminate summer contributions and include the University health insurance plan,  graduation expenses and yearly travel allowances for international students.

Students also recommended that the University create a timeline to achieve need-blind admission for international, transfer and Resumed Undergraduate Education students.

Linking Internships and Knowledge awards should be available to low-income students for all summers, students said.

Students proposed establishing a scholarship fund for students with refugee status, as well as one for Rhode Island high school students of color, particularly first-generation or undocumented students.

Students demanded the University hire more financial aid and admission officers, including a financial aid officer specifically focused on undocumented students, an admission officer to recruit low-income and first-generation students and an admission officer to recruit undocumented students.

Students also proposed hiring staff translators to better communicate with families who prefer not to use English, as well as a legal counselor to aid undocumented students.

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