Chancellor Subbaswamy addresses students’ calls for diversity in e-mail Wednesday

By Colby Sears


(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy sent an email Wednesday afternoon assuring campus community members that University administration is committed to addressing issues of racism and bias at UMass, despite student dissatisfaction with how race, inclusiveness and social justice are being handled on campus.

The email follows a Campus Listening session orchestrated by Subbaswamy on Friday between administration and students regarding issues of race, and a student organized class walkout that protested the lack of diversity on UMass’s campus on Wednesday.

The Campus Listening Session held Friday afternoon in Mahar Auditorium was designed for administration to listen to concerns regarding how race and inequality are handled at UMass. About 250 students and a dozen administrators, including Subbaswamy, attended the open discussion, which was held in light of recent protests of racism at the University of Missouri.

“It was troubling and disheartening to hear our students tell their stories of a campus experience shaped by racism and bias, often resulting in feelings of loneliness and isolation,” Subbaswamy said in the email.

The chancellor’s email was sent within an hour of  the Class Walkout which was as part of the national #StudentBlackOut movement. UMass students, who after marching to the provost and chancellor’s offices got a meeting with administration scheduled for Sunday, joined other university students around the country to walk and protest against racial injustice.

Subbaswamy praised students in his email for continuing to challenge the University against these issues.

In his email, which he said addresses the prevalent “enough talk, we want action” theme many students discussed at the Listening Session, Subbaswamy mentioned that the Diversity Strategic Planning Process has made significant progress since the system began action last semester.

“I know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but just as other campuses and communities across the country struggle with issues of injustice, we too must continually work to improve our campus climate,” he wrote. “Together, I know we can make significant strides.”

Subbaswamy said he is immediately implementing two initiatives: one, University administration will provide additional support for student-initiated programming focused on inclusion and diversity issues.

The second plan of action will come in the form of the DSPP, in which University leadership will assess the progress of those initiatives on a regular basis. This is intended for campus community members to keep an eye on how diversity issues effect overall University development.

Although the University was one of the first campuses in the country to implement a General Education diversity requirement thirty years ago, the chancellor acknowledged that the University has fallen behind in creating a diverse campus.

Subbaswamy said the hire of Assistant Provost for Diversity Leykia Brill six months ago to increase the recruitment and retention of underrepresented undergraduate students was an example of administration action in the right direction.

According to Subbaswamy, Brill has established partnerships with more than 15 organizations that work with first generation college students, low-income students and students of color to assist in University recruitment strategies. She has also partnered with the mentoring program 100 Men to College Springfield and improved recruitment by visiting 14 schools in New England, New York and New Jersey.

He also wrote that 98 percent of community scholarships awarded last semester were given to African American, Latino/a, Asian and Native American students, and 54 percent were underrepresented minority students. Of the 36 students from community college honors programs accepted into the Commonwealth Honors College through the new “Honors-to-Honors” program, 40 percent are ALANA, 30 percent are URM and 75 percent are first generation college students.

The email also outlined a number of plan to increase funding to a number of majors at UMass to increase the diversity of its students T undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels.

The email stated that the graduate school is repurposing its diversity fellowship to increase the recruitment and retention of underrepresented doctoral and MFA students. Additional funding will be allocated to a program that provides summer research fellowships to graduates from to underrepresented student populations.

Subbaswamy said the University has developed more student support services, including the appointment of two University Health Services ombudspersons – one to address healthcare concerns related to racial and ethnic discrimination, and another to address gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.

The email also stated that the accountability system for hate crimes and acts of bias has been strengthened by creating a centralized reporting link and by training hundreds of staff in immediate response, in addition to twenty-six new faculty members of color being hired this fall in a $6 million investment.

The Institute for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development is also increasing its emphasis on classroom climate training for diverse groups by hiring staff who specialize in intercultural teaching and development.

Subbaswamy has said there will be more public conversations at UMass in the future to discuss such issues and how they affect the campus community.  However, the chancellor’s previous public remarks promising future action has drawn criticism from student groups alleging that little action follows his statements.

Colby Sears can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colbysears.