An open letter to Chancellor Subbaswamy about diversity

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Dear Chancellor Subbaswamy,

How are you doing?

I recently went to the Campus Listening Session held last Friday, which was a way for students to talk to faculty and administrators about their experiences with diversity (and lack thereof) at the University of Massachusetts. I learned a lot – I never experienced much discrimination first-hand, and I appreciated hearing alternate viewpoints that I never would have heard without this event.

Early on, I asked you to define some terms attached to the listening session, like “underrepresented minorities,” “bias” and – most importantly – “diversity.” Because how we use words affects how we act. If our words are vague, our goals are vague. And if our goals are vague, nothing happens. In response, you directed me to the UMass Amherst Diversity Strategic Plan, which I read.

Unfortunately, I did not find the clearly defined terms I asked for. Or clearly defined goals. Or clearly defined anything, for that matter. I just saw buzzword-laden bullet points, such as what follows.

“Human Resources: increase the focus on diversity training for staff in units that provide tangible services to students, such as admissions, financial aid, UMass Police, Registrar’s Office and Bursar’s Office.”

There was an awful lot of reviewing, analyzing, changing focus and beginning discussion in the paper. Granted, later in the paper, there is serious data and real progress has been made recently. But few (if any) of the goals in the Diversity Strategic Plan involved any real doing, and none of them had teeth.

I understand: this paper was written by consensus, and that’s a good thing. Pieces written by consensus – provided you have the right committee – prevent any party from getting a bad deal. But again: words are important. Vague words lead to vague goals, and vague goals are very easy to procrastinate.

That needs to change. We as a University need to anchor our dreams for a better future with goals that bite.

And because I’m a person of my word, here are some suggestions for the Diversity Strategic Plan, written the way they should be written:

  • Define critical terms, including but not limited to: “person of color,” “underrepresented minority,” “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “campus environment.”
  • Set specific, measurable, University-wide goals for diversity with deadlines, e.g. increase enrollment of African-American students to X% of the student body by Sep. 1, 2025.
  • Increase support and funding for outreach and education, both through centers like the New Africa House and Stonewall Center and through education programs for Residential Life staff, faculty and students. Draft syllabi and edit curricula as needed. Have relevant underrepresented minorities lead programs to increase support and funding, e.g. have women lead effort to develop educational materials regarding sexism in residence halls.
  • Set specific, measurable goals for individual schools and departments that are tied to the terms of deans in their respective departments, e.g. the Department of X needs to hire [Y] faculty of color by the end of the current dean’s term.
  • Publicize all of these goals, and publish yearly status reports regarding progress toward those goals and insights that would be useful for other colleges and departments in the University of Massachusetts and other higher education institutions.
  • Complete these changes to the Diversity Strategic Plan by March 1, 2016.

These improvements are by no means definitive – I’m not a committee, and I don’t know everything. But it’s a start, and the results would promote action, which – from what I heard at the Community Listening Session – is long overdue.

Thank you,

Ajey Pandey

UMass student