Students, faculty gather to discuss UMass’ Diversity Strategic Plan

By Catherine Ferris

(Claire Anderson/Daily Collegian)
(Claire Anderson/Daily Collegian)

Approximately 70 students and faculty members gathered in the Campus Center Auditorium Thursday to share their thoughts and feedback on a draft of the University of Massachusetts’ Diversity Strategic Plan, which was emailed to the campus community Jan. 26.

Many members of the Diversity Strategic Plan Steering Committee attended the meeting, including Student Government Association President Vinayak Rao; Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life; and Deputy Chancellor Robert Feldman, who is chair of the committee.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy also attended the forum and listened to input offered by the audience.

“We, as a university, are in a great position to change and grow,” Subbaswamy said in his opening remarks. He added that UMass must find a way to create a more welcoming campus community.

Feldman proceeded to discuss the drafting process, including several themes that are central to the plan. These include establishing UMass as a destination of choice for students of color and other underrepresented groups, improving the campus climate and enhancing the effectiveness of curriculum and educational programs with regard to diversity and inclusion.

During the meeting, it was also made clear that because the plan has not yet been finalized, the forum is not the only place for members of the campus community to share their thoughts. The University’s website also provides a place for people to comment on the draft.

And while many people in the audience were pleased with the opportunity to weigh in on the plan, some also expressed dissatisfaction with the draft.

A group of students representing a variety of organizations on campus, including the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, the Graduate Student Senate, Student Bridges, the Black Student Union, and the SGA’s Diversity and Student Engagement Committee, said they believe the draft is not sufficient and that students should be more integral to the process. The group also raised questions about why need-based aid was not touched upon in the draft.

The group suggested more University outreach to the surrounding urban communities, such as Springfield and Holyoke, as well as local high schools.

The lack of mention of the LGBT community in the draft was also discussed during the forum.

Feldman said the committee focused primarily on race, but is looking to expand the plan to include other groups.

“It’s important to us and to the community,” he said.

Racism on the UMass campus was also discussed during the meeting.

Graduate student Jenny Folsom, who is studying sociology at the University, said, “I would like it if we just acknowledge that (subconscious) racism and bias exist.”

Originally from Alaska, Folsom got her undergraduate degree in Montana and said she only really experienced racism once she got to UMass.

Feldman stressed the plan is not yet finalized, and people are still able to share their thoughts and concerns even if they were unable to attend the meeting.

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

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a group of students attended the event representing the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success. The error has been corrected above.