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Ray Kelly committee report urges more resources to promote diversity, reframe dialogues

Committee also recommends expansion of uncomfortable discussions

Increased resources for the Office of Institutional Diversity, new diversity benchmarks for undergraduate and graduate student support, and more targeted hiring practices were among the main recommendations released May 20 by the Committee on the Events of October 29 in its second and final report.

The report, which President Christina Paxson announced in a community-wide email May 22, concludes that the University needs to reemphasize and widen discussions of “privilege, equity and inclusion.” In addition to supporting “expression of the widest range of ideas, we need to debate and challenge expression with which we profoundly disagree and which may be harmful to members of our community,” it continues.

Relying on interviews with a variety of Brown community members, the second report was created in a similar manner as the first, which was released in February. That report focused on outlining the events surrounding the controversial planning, protests and shutdown of a lecture by former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on campus last October.

In the second report, the committee examined the broader climate surrounding issues of free speech and diversity on campus, said Anthony Bogues, professor of Africana Studies, director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and the committee’s chair.

The recommendations echo those of the Visiting Committee on Minority Life and Education in 1986 and the Visiting Committee on Diversity in 2000, according to the report, as many of the prior proposals never came to fruition. In response, the report noted, the committee sought to craft an action plan “to identify a set of strategic priorities, appropriate benchmarks, and necessary resources and support, and address accountability at multiple levels.”

The report cites faculty interviews and anonymous posts on the Brown University Micro/Aggressions and Brown University Confessions Facebook pages that point to existing structural inequalities along axes of race and gender at Brown.

Citing the Kelly lecture and a controversial April talk at Brown/RISD Hillel by Israel Defense Forces Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, the committee promoted the idea of “collective responsibility” in order to provide both freedom of speech and freedom to challenge disagreeable expression in a manner acknowledging the “structural violence” that often frames debates over speech.

In its recommendations about freedom of expression, the committee also urged that dialogue about speech, diversity and privilege — like the discussions that dominated campus in the days after Kelly’s lecture — be placed at the heart of the University, rather than on its periphery. "There is a way to defend free speech. … Part of the responsibility is to extend the right to say, ‘We disagree and will protect your saying it,’” Bogues said.

While the report cites several attempts in Brown’s history at addressing issues of pluralism and inclusivity, it concludes that if the University does not take action in “reframing these issues, they will gnaw at the fabric of the institution, exploding now and again even within a climate that is superficially placid.”

Within the administration, the report recommends that the OID play a more central role in hosting conversations and stimulating action on issues of diversity at Brown. The report calls for majorly expanded resources and the significant involvement of at least one tenured faculty member at the office, as well as a renewed push to diversify the ranks of senior administrators.

The report cites a lack of data on benchmarks laid out in the 2006 Diversity Action Plan under then-President Ruth Simmons in areas of growth of faculty members and students of color.

Noting that the proportion of full professors of color has fallen in the past decade, the report suggests expanding several new and existing strategies to hire a more diverse faculty and adequately support faculty members of color. These include potentially ramping up “cluster hires,” increasing support in the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning and bolstering the “Diverse Perspectives in Liberal Learning” course designation.

The report also calls for the consideration of diversity and climate for faculty members and students of color in regular departmental reviews.

At the student level, the committee argues in the report that the University needs to expand difficult conversations about identity and privilege beyond specific spaces and self-selecting groups on campus, with appropriate support to facilitate dialogue without burdening students of color.

In order to sustain such discussions, the report calls for “a more comprehensive approach” at the institutional level, as well as the expansion of diversity perspectives courses to all disciplines and increased support for mentorship programs for underrepresented students.

The report also calls for the University to devote more resources to programs combatting the comparatively high attrition rates among graduate students from underrepresented racial and socioeconomic groups.

The report also focuses on community relations, given the involvement of local community members in the Kelly protest and some deeper underlying town-gown tensions. To improve the dynamic, the committee recommends having a standard process for “soliciting and responding to concerns about public events that occur on campus,” increased opportunities for off-campus work study, expanded community service programs and academic credit granted for community research work. The report also advocates the expansion of the pre-orientation University-Community Academic Advising Program, run through the Swearer Center for Public Service.

Though the committee has concluded its work, the report recommends that an ad hoc group be founded to follow up with the recommendations of the report.



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