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Heading into discussion on diversity and inclusion Thursday evening, UMass students want more action

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(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Students and administrators at the University of Massachusetts will meet Thursday evening to discuss UMass’ commitment to diversity and constructing an inclusive environment on campus.

The forum will be the second one held by the University, and the third one held overall on UMass’ campus – the administration held a “listening session” on Nov. 13 and students held an “answering session” on Nov. 22. Thursday’s forum is slated to run from 5:30 to 7:15 p.m. in Mahar Auditorium.

At the first forum, members of the campus community were encouraged to voice their concerns and suggestions on how to improve the University as higher-ups sat among the audience in Mahar and listened. At the second, students presented demands, community members continued to share their perspectives and administrators also provided answers and additional information.

Specific details of Thursday’s forum are still being finalized, a University spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Students’ reactions to the meetings have varied. At the “listening session,” students criticized the University for being reactionary and questioned how sincere administrators were in their efforts to hold the session.

At the “answering session” students, while still critical, expressed support for some comments made by Katherine Newman, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, and others. Zareb Noel, who was a student panelist, said afterward that while the forums shed light upon the general lack of communication between students and administrators, he was hopeful moving forward because the administration seemed to be “on our side.”

Now, students want to see the administration take action.

Chantal Lima Barbosa, vice president of the Student Government Association, said that it is important for administrators to take time to listen to students whose perspectives have not yet been heard, especially Newman, who was not present at the “listening session.” However, she reinforced a sentiment she expressed at the “listening session:” students are tired of sharing their stories.

“I appreciate that they are listening, but it’s like, ‘OK, when are we going to actually start doing things,’” she said.

Specifically, Barbosa and Noel said they wanted to see an enhanced effort at recruiting prospective students of color.

“The issue of recruitment and retention – I think there is a lack of investment, not just of resources but of personal investment,” Noel said.

While at the “answering session,” Newman discussed increasing recruitment efforts in Boston, both Barbosa and Noel pointed to local communities that are home to many students of color, including Holyoke, Springfield and Worcester. Noel said it is important to have student representatives go to schools in these communities with the intent of recruiting students to come attend UMass. Barbosa added administrators could do a better job of coordinating recruiting efforts with student groups, like Student Bridges, that already work with local underrepresented students to improve college access and success rates.

However, Noel said students want to see more than just an increased effort.

“As far as I’m concerned, you can try all you want but we are concerned with the actual results,” he said. “We’re not looking to have the effort inform us of the results, we are looking for the results to inform us about the effort being taken.”

Noel and Barbosa acknowledged that recruitment would take time. However, Barbosa was encouraged that more students of color are already coming to campus.

“I’ve seen more students of color this year,” she said. “That’s something that is really important to me: looking in a classroom and seeing someone that looks like me or walking through campus and seeing someone that looks like me.”

Data reported by the University indicates that the percentage of African, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American students that entered as first-years climbed from 23.7 percent in 2014 to 26.1 percent in 2015. Of these 1,067 students, 502  identified as Asian, 143 as black/African American, 291  as Hispanic/Latino and three percent as two or more races. Overall, there are 4,750 total ALANA students as of fall 2015, according to enrollment data.

In addition to recruitment, Barbosa said it would be important for the University to implement first-year seminars that focus on topics such as social justice, allyship and white privilege. She said these types of seminars have been missing and would be beneficial to the education of future classes.

Barbosa and Noel are also hoping for more transparency moving forward. Barbosa said many students at the “answering session” weren’t aware of scholarships that Newman said her office recently created. Noel said on Wednesday that some of the details of Thursday’s forum were still unclear to him and others who have been involved with the previous two meetings.

University representatives expected to be in attendance include Carol Barr, vice provost for undergraduate and continuing education; professor Mari Castañeda, chancellor’s leadership fellow; Gabriela Weaver, vice provost for faculty development and director of the Institute for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development; Jim Roche, associate provost for enrollment management; Leykia Brill, assistant provost for diversity; MJ Peterson, secretary of the Faculty Senate; A. Yemisi Jimoh, chair of the Faculty Senate Rules Committee; and Newman.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.

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