Participants emphasize need for action in addition to communication
After a Day of Dialogue that drew hundreds of faculty, staff, students and alumni participants, the central question for the Case Western Reserve community became exceptionally clear:
What comes next?
Even before Wednesday’s sessions began, submitted comments and social media posts expressed a consistent sentiment that talk alone is not sufficient to address either the university’s challenges relating to diversity and inclusion—much less those facing the local community and broader society.
At the same time, however, panelists and participants across the day’s 11 events acknowledged that some of the most profound questions require ongoing communication—in one-on-one and group conversations, training sessions and working groups, and in ongoing reminders and updates regarding programs that already exist and progress they’ve made.
“It’s hard to ask for patience when we’ve been dealing with these issues for so long,” Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Robert Solomon said in the day’s concluding leadership panel, “but we’re working to further develop those foundational things [already] in place.”
Solomon, who started Feb. 1 after several decades in diversity and other roles at Ohio State University, emphasized the “great infrastructure” he has found at Case Western Reserve. He cited as one example the anti-bias training all academic search committees must take before recruitment begins, and noted plans to expand the training to all hiring supervisors.
Another initiative, Diversity 360, came up repeatedly throughout the day. An education program that the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) originally developed for students, it soon led to a companion effort for faculty and staff.
David Miller, immediate past chair of the Faculty Senate and an associate professor at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, noted in the health disparities panel that it “is not the end all and be all, but is a first step.” He encouraged those who had not taken the program to do so, and added “if you have, go back.”
In the afternoon’s concluding panel, OMA Director Naomi Sigg explained that Diversity 360 was purposely designed to be an introductory program. Now, she added: “We need to push to have a 2.0. Anti-racism training and workshops. How do we become a more anti-racist institution? … Change the narrative by educating ourselves and each other. Stay hopeful.”
Part of the need for a 2.0, Sigg explained, is to address the ongoing need to create a more warm and welcoming campus climate, a factor that directly affects recruitment and retention of students, faculty and staff. A point repeatedly raised during the day involved fairly stagnant numbers of black undergraduates and faculty, especially relative to their significant presence in lower-paid staff positions on campus.
At the direction of President Barbara R. Snyder and Provost Ben Vinson III, Solomon and Sigg will create and lead a working group charged to address issues raised during the Day of Dialogue and earlier. Solomon identified four categories of focus—the university’s community, climate, culture and curriculum—and emphasized that the effort would have a clear agenda and timelines.
That said, Solomon noted, those activities will take place on a much different campus given all of the restrictions and precautions required to reduce pandemic infection risks.
The two will update the campus community about the process in the near future.
“We do have leadership committed and interested,” Solomon said. “We have to execute it as a collective whole.”