SGA senator plans survey on bigotry

By Anthony Rentsch

The racist messages left on doors in several residence halls earlier this semester elicited impassioned responses across the University of Massachusetts campus, from columns in the Daily Collegian, to a rally against racism, to emails rife with commitments from the administration and high turnout at the Diversity Town Hall Meeting.

Now, Alejandro Arellano, a senator in the Student Government Association, has plans to investigate the “breadth and depth” of bigotry on campus in order to bring about change.

“I come from Oxnard, California, which is super liberal. Where I am from, racism is not a huge problem,” Arellano said. “I came here expecting the same liberal atmosphere.”

However, when the news of the racist door messages reached Arellano, his liberal vision may have been colored just a bit and pushed him toward taking action.

For the past month, Arellano has been working on creating a survey that will gather information, not only on the status of racism on campus, but of bigotry in general, including but not limited to sexism, religious discrimination and heterosexism.

Arellano said he hopes the survey will be finalized and ready to launch by the beginning of the spring semester. He has already been in contact with Vice Chancellor Enku Gelaye regarding her ability to send mass emails to a random group within the student body to launch the 50-to 60-question survey, which will be important in gathering representative data. The length of the survey will vary by how the user answers each question.

Although Arellano is currently the only senator working on this project, he has been collaborating with Professor Nilanjana Dasgupta of the Psychology Department, who has an interest in ethnicity and race and experience with statistical analysis.

“Her input has been very beneficial so far,” Arellano said.

After all of the data has been collected and analyzed, Arellano said he plans to use the information to “show students a different perspective of problems on campus.”

“It is going to show the climate of UMass,” Speaker of the Senate Sionan Barrett said, adding that Arellano came to her with the idea a few weeks ago. “It is important because if we want to be an inclusive community we need to be an aware community.”

Informing the student body is a key component of Arellano’s plan, but it is not the only part. He also hopes to recommend policies based on individual comments in the survey as well as trends in the aggregate data.

“There are going to be policy-directed questions so that we can create an action plan on how to solve (the issue of bigotry at UMass),” Arellano said.

Arellano brings some experience constructing surveys already used this semester. After the University suspended the use of the Confidential Informant (CI) program in October, he put together a last-minute survey to gather student sentiments about the program.

That project was a teaching point for Arellano, who hopes the bigotry-related survey can have more functional use than the seven-question CI one.

“I am taking my time to phrase questions more accurately with this one,” he said.

In addition to the survey, Barrett also said SGA members are discussing other proposals to deal with the issue of racism at UMass, including one that would create a class that new students will take before getting to campus about issues of social justice.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected]