UMass administrators and faculty members outline actions taken to increase diversity and inclusion at forum

By Brendan Deady

A. Yemisi Jimoh chair of the Faculty Senate Rules Committee speaks at a forum held on Dec. 3 in Mahar Auditorium. Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
A. Yemisi Jimoh, chair of the Faculty Senate Rules Committee speaks, at a forum held on Dec. 3 in Mahar Auditorium.
Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Administrators and faculty members at the University of Massachusetts outlined actions that have been made to increase diversity and inclusion within the University’s curriculum and recruitment processes at a forum held Thursday evening.

The forum was the third such event held at the University following a wave of protests that have swept the country following student protests at the University of Missouri. Facing criticisms of inaction from the student body, administrators and faculty members made a point to meticulously outline a series of actions made in response.

About 100 people gathered in Mahar Auditorium as nine panelists discussed current and future programs to diversify the campus community. The panelists outlined ongoing efforts to recruit students and faculty of color, to increase financial aid for underrepresented populations and to alter general education requirements to include courses focused on race.

A. Yemisi Jimoh, professor in the W.E.B. Du Bois department of Afro-American Studies and chair of the Faculty Senate Rules Committee, moderated the forum. She opened the session by acknowledging that UMass had heard the criticisms from the student body.

Katherine Newman, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, reiterated Jimoh’s remarks and explained that the event was for University representatives to detail what actions have been taken.

“The purpose of this program is to report to you some of the accomplishments already underway and frankly the long distance we have left to go,” Newman said. “You asked for examples of action, so here we are.”

Assistant provost for diversity Leykia Brill responded to criticisms that the administration is falling behind on recruitment of underrepresented populations. In particular, she acknowledged that UMass should be recruiting in Springfield and Holyoke, one of the criticisms aired at previous forums by Zareb Noel, an engineering student in the Commonwealth Honors College.

“I’m happy to report that we’ve had some form of contact with all of the high schools in those areas,” Brill said.

Brill outlined numerous steps that she and her colleagues have taken to increase recruitment of minorities and students from low-income backgrounds. Newman commended Brill for the progress she’s made in her six months at the University. Newman said that it would take a full academic year for the results of her programs to be seen.

Newman also said the University would be opening a recruitment office in Boston to access the “talent on the other side of the state.”

Jim Roche, the associate provost for enrollment management, spoke about the actions his office has taken to expand their reach of enrollment. He commented that the number of students receiving Pell Grants and from underrepresented has increased relatively, although he added that numbers for 2015 were lower than expected.

“We want nothing more than to bring more of those talented students here,” Roche said. “The reality is that the degree of competition is higher than ever before.”

Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, dean of the Honors College, discussed steps the college has taken to increase recruitment, including expanding programs that target students who graduate from honors programs at community colleges throughout the state. She also responded to criticisms of diversity in the Honors College by saying, proportionally speaking, the number of minority students within the college is approximately the same as the amount of minority students among all undergraduates.

MJ Peterson, secretary of the Faculty Senate, told attendees that faculty members are actively discussing the option to include courses focusing on race into the general education requirements. She said that by the nature of the Senate’s organization, the process is slow. Peterson said this was a good thing, as it allows faculty to identify the best areas to focus their attention as well as the best points to reach students on those issues.

After the lengthy presentation by the panelists, attendees were invited to ask the panelists questions.

Sheena Jeune, vice president of the Black Student Union and transfer student from UMass Boston, discussed her experience of alienation coming to the school from another college and asked if there were any plans to increase resources for transfer students.

Roche admitted that freshmen students receive financial preference and that transfer students often face a difficult financial situation. Newman frankly stated that during the conversations of recruiting the transfer student population hadn’t come up.

Other speakers described the lack of attention given to students of mixed race and LGBTQ students.

David Jackson, an assistant track and field coach, was the last to speak in the questioning section. He commended the efforts of the administration but said transparency was necessary.

“We need a place to streamline all this information,” he said. “Kids don’t know and parents don’t know that there all these resources out there for them.”

Brendan Deady can be reached at [email protected]