October 24, 2012

S.A. Creates New Coalition, Position to Address Diversity

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As the administration works to implement University-wide diversity initiatives, the Student Assembly has added a new leadership position and coalition this month to increase student involvement in the initiatives.

The newly created S.A. Diversity Affairs Coalition will be composed of students, faculty and staff who will oversee the implementation of specific academic initiatives in the University’s various colleges. Additionally, a new vice president of diversity and inclusion position has been added to the S.A.’s executive board.

In February, President David Skorton announced that the administration would begin the process of implementing University-wide diversity initiatives in a plan called “Toward New Destinations.” S.A. members said they hope the establishment of the new coalition will enable students to help each of the colleges formulate concrete strategies to address the University’s charge.

Ulysses Smith ’13, S.A. representative for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, who spearheaded the resolutions, said the coalition should ensure that the student population has a voice in academic initiatives related to diversity. He cited a few ideas the coalition may discuss, including creating a social justice course requirement for all undergraduates, working to diversify faculty composition and improving retention rates among minority students and faculty.

The vice president of diversity and inclusion position –– to which Smith was appointed through an internal elections process Sunday –– will be different than the S.A.’s existing minority affairs representative, according to Smith.

He said the new position will be responsible for overseeing diversity efforts of the S.A. and address facets of diversity that extend beyond exclusively minority issues: socio-economics, religion and personal beliefs, for instance.

“Diversity and inclusion is not synonymous with minority, and that’s the mentality that absolutely needs to change. That’s another great reason why we need this [new] person on [the assembly],” Smith said.

Smith will also serve as a liaison between the Office of Academic and Diversity Initiatives and the Center for Intercultural Dialogue.

While the resolutions were praised by students and administrators, some initially questioned whether the coalition’s purpose might overlap with that of existing campus groups — including the University Diversity Community and the S.A. Joint Assemblies Multicultural Issues Committee, which functions as a forum for communication between different multicultural communities.

The Diversity Community is composed of members of the University Diversity Council, other administrators, staff and members of the Ithaca community –– but lacks student involvement, according to Smith.

Other S.A. members expressed concern that the new coalition would also overlap with the S.A. Joint Assemblies Multicultural Issues Committee, which functions as a forum for communication between different multicultural communities.

“I originally abstained from voting on the coalition,” said Cameron Pritchett ’15, minority liaison at-large and co-chair of JAMIC. “My reasoning was that I didn’t feel that I could give an opinion on the merit of that coalition until I delineated the differences between JAMIC and the [new] coalition.”

But Pritchett added that the S.A. has since made progress in its efforts to restructure JAMIC, which has primarily functioned as a forum for dialogue, to serve as a more results-driven committee that focuses on diversity issues surrounding student life.

The new Diversity Affairs Coalition, on the other hand, is intended to focus on academic initiatives, according to Roneal Desai ’13, S.A. vice president of finance and former S.A. minority representative.

“JAMIC — which is being re-branded as the [Student Assembly Committee for Inclusion and Diversity Initiatives] — is much more aimed at executing Student Assembly initiatives through the collaboration of Student Assembly representatives and other student leaders,” Desai said. “[Meanwhile], the coalition created by Resolution 9 looks to unify students, faculty, staff and administrators in addressing academic issues which pertain to diversity and inclusion.”

Smith emphasized the importance of student involvement in the implementation of the University’s diversity initiatives.

“It’s amazing how often stuff involving us is discussed, but then nobody has ever asked us to participate,” Smith said. “Nobody knows the student experience or what’s happening in the classroom better than we do, so why are we not being engaged in this?”

Original Author: Sylvia Rusnak