Student committee presents diversity plan to University

By Catherine Ferris

(University of Massachusetts)
(University of Massachusetts)

The University of Massachusetts has been engaged in a two-year process focused on diversity, and recently, a draft of a diversity plan was released to the campus community.

Robert Feldman, the deputy chancellor and chair of the steering committee that put the plan together, wanted to emphasize that what was released is a draft, and is open to discussion at an open forum on Thursday from 4-5 p.m. in the Campus Center Auditorium.

“What we’re doing is getting input from the community. We’re doing less of a presentation (today) and giving people an opportunity to give feedback,” he said.

The committee, began writing the draft in late spring 2014. They also met in May, as well as a few times during the summer. It was last semester that the committee began meeting once each week.

Feldman said the members of the committee were “broad and terrific.” They included Enku Gelaye, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life, Josh Odam and Jasmine Bertrand-Haliday, both members of Student Bridges and Vinayak Rao, president of the Student Government Association.

Part of the reason for the committee meeting last semester as frequently as they did had to do with the events surrounding Ferguson and the campus reaction. Feldman said the emotion led them to feel a sense of urgency to accelerate the planning process.

“We did a lot of looking at where we are as a campus, and where we should be going, and how we can get there,” Feldman said. “It was a very large task.”

Through several sources of feedback, including meetings, presentations and meetings with the deans of different colleges, Feldman said the committee continues to collect data and feedback through “unit planning.” The data and feedback will be put into one plan, and Feldman sees a point in which there is a finished plan.

But he is not interested in simply completing the plan and then forgetting about it.

“I think there’s a real sense from Chancellor (Kumble Subbaswamy) that he wants the plan to be a living document, and reflect changes in the campus as we move ahead,” Feldman said.

Feldman also recognized the chancellor’s role in the process of drafting the plan. He said the chancellor attended some meetings, but this issue is something that is important to him.

“While he has not been involved in the ‘day to day’ things, he’s looked at the plan, is supportive of it and sees it as absolutely essential to make the campus the best place it can be,” Feldman said.

While it is Feldman’s job to work with Subbaswamy and make sure the tasks on his agenda are put into place, this is an issue that is important to him personally as well.

Prior to his position as Deputy Chancellor, Feldman worked in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, leading him to develop an interest in the topic.

“It’s an essential interest. I’m a social psychologist, and it’s one of those core issues social psychologists are interested in. I have, for my own disciplinary point of view, a real interest in this.”

The plan outlined a number of different points, including the admissions process, something Feldman believes should be examined further, saying there are not as many underrepresented minority students as there should be on campus.

Feldman said the chancellor has suggested they hire someone to assist with undergraduate admissions, and focus on raising the number of underrepresented minority students.

“It’s not just a matter of saying ‘I want to do it.’ We really have to put some resources in place and provide more funding and scholarships,” said Feldman.

Though, there have been some difficulties in coming up with the sufficient funds for scholarship money that would allow the University to move forward with that plan, Feldman believes it is a task that must be done.

He has also collected data that shows many minority students feel there are relatively profound racial problems with microaggressions.

“We can’t have that. Increasing the number of students of color will help the overall environment. We need to have students having conversation with people who are different from they are,” Feldman said.

Throughout the planning and put into writing the draft and meeting, Feldman stressed the importance of feedback and being open with the students on behalf of the committee and the chancellor.

“I think one of the hallmarks of the chancellor’s process as he’s laid this out is transparency. There really are no secrets. We also have a strong feeling that we want to get feedback from people.”

Catherine Ferris can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @Ca_Ferris2.