Diversity, responsibility, and a healthy campus climate

Students, staff, and faculty cooperate across groups to raise awareness

By Ashley Klann

Clark is an institution that prides itself on being open-minded, liberal, and actively engaged in serious discussion. While you’d be hard pressed to find someone who disagreed that diversity is an important issue,

Director of Graduate Studies in English, SunHee Gertz. Photo courtesy of clarku.edu

Clark’s practices in this area have fallen into what the Diversity Task force calls “benign neglect.”

Sure, you hear a few words about it during Week One, but diversity is something few contemplate post-orientation. Every year the international flags go up for Gala, and we’re all reminded that this topic is paramount, but what are students really doing to promote diversity, responsibility, and a healthy campus climate?

Two sophomore students, grad students, and a slew of faculty and staff members from various departments have pooled their efforts to raise awareness about diversity at Clark.

“Take something as simple and specific as majors,” said Taskforce member Maya Baum. “There’s no major that focuses on diversity. You can go your whole time here and not deal with it. Diversity can be incorporated into every subject taught at Clark. It should be a part of the discussion. It’s something we should have here.”

The Diversity Taskforce has been holding meetings with various committees and departments since November to sort out its objectives. Spearheading the effort is Professor of English and Director of Graduate Studies in English, SunHee Gertz, and sophomores Maya Baum and Hannah Yukon.

According to Gertz, the Diversity Taskforce was mandated by the Academic and Financial Plan established in April. Objectives therein made a dedication to promote institutional diversity by means of a dedicated group of students, faculty, and staff. This taskforce would assess the current campus environment and make recommendations for diversifying campus.

“There were two prior taskforces in this decade alone,” Gertz said. “We want this to be not repeated. We need a structure. We want to coordinate across campus and make a campus-wide framework.”

Gertz believes that only through a strong framework across disciplines, committees, and departments can the Taskforce succeed in knowing the best ways to improve Clark’s climate.

While some may think that in the open-minded accepting bubble of Clark, such a measure is uncalled for, the group of students and faculty feel strongly that this is something that is in dire need of attention.

“It’s in the state of benign neglect,” Gertz said. “No one is against it, but with no framework, we fall behind. For example, on Martin Luther King Day, every college in Worcester gave staff a day off, except Clark.”

For Baum, the realization that Clark’s awareness of diversity needed improvement came when she was on crutches. The swinging doors in the JC, uneven sidewalks, and daily mundane tasks become insurmountable when you throw inability into the picture.

“I live on the second floor of my [Clark owned] apartment. I couldn’t function on this campus. I couldn’t swipe in to buildings. I couldn’t eat in the dining hall. That made me realize,” she said.

While apathy is a prevalent issue on campus, the group is staying positive that there will be a solid effort made for this cause.

“I don’t think it’s due to lack of drive or agreement,” Baum said, in considering student engagement. “As a student body, we’re pretty apathetic. It’s not on an individual level though. Each student individually could go on forever about topics they care about, but we get burned out on school work.” This aside, Baum has seen encouraging feedback and support from students.

Another issue the group is seeking to tackle is the lack of space available for talking about these issues. Baum said she has been made aware of this problem through one of Professor Ravi Perry’s classes, where she also learned about the Diversity Taskforce.

So far, the group has decided to garner support from students through a survey and petition. They also will be contacting groups such as OPEN, Hillel, CUSPR, and SASA to raise awareness. Their main objective is staying organized and adhering to an established framework. Gertz believes in the students to achieve this and thought back to college campuses of her generation in their response to the Vietnam War.

“[In my time] we organized. We had groups that organized people on campus. You’re seeing it with Occupy now – there’s a lot of energy, but it needs organization,” she said.

While the clear objectives of the Taskforce say that plans are still a work in progress, they are planning to have a standing committee with faculty, staff, and students, and a position like a chief officer to generate energy behind their movement.

“We have a need for raising consciousness about this,” Gertz said. “We want students to be able to self-identify and not feel threatened. They also need to take responsibility.”

If you’re interested in getting involved or learning more about the Diversity Taskforce, contact SunHee Gertz at [email protected], Hannah Yukon at [email protected] or Maya Baum at [email protected] .

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