Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

SBS plans to ‘close that community gap’ with diversity and inclusion action plan

College listens as students voice concerns with racist matters at the University of Massachusetts
Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian (2016)

In efforts to make its department more inclusive and diverse, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) created an action plan and held a forum on Dec. 8 for students to voice their concerns on racism and brainstorm ideas with SBS staff on how the department can help.

On Thursday, there were roughly 30 attendees including staff, faculty and students at the forum hosted by R. Karl Rethemeyer, dean and professor of social and behavioral sciences. Rethemeyer said the forum was a good opportunity to begin student interaction, especially concerning these pressing matters.

“This is … an opportunity for you [students] to raise issues and ask questions,” Rethemyer said at the beginning of the forum, “and for leadership, faculty and staff to listen carefully and deeply to student concerns and trauma that’s been experienced in the past.”

Students spoke up about the racist emails from the fall of 2021 and spring of 2022. Students said they felt the investigations were inconclusive and suggested the University send out frequent emails to update students and faculty on the racist email investigations.

Another suggestion was that the SBS department holds a survey for students to share what courses they may be interested in to help with advancing diversity and creating more research opportunities. Students felt that there is a lack of diversity and would like to see more African-centric studies provided by the SBS department.

In order to “create a sense of belonging” for students on campus, Rethemeyer said he plans to hold more forums like this in the future to help students express their interests. Rethemeyer said he also hopes to share these perspectives with the upper administration at UMass.

Jonathan Wynn, associate professor and department chair for sociology, said the forum was a “productive listening session that pointed to a few clearing strategies that we can work on at the department level.”

Wynn said the strategies can be used in the classrooms, as well as for advisors, with the hope that other departments will follow the lead of SBS in these discussions.

Wynn explained how students should not have to deal with representation fatigue, which is the feeling of being burnt out and isolated for being a minority. “A college student has a lot of things to do,” Wynn said, “they shouldn’t have to worry about this.”

SBS created a 2021-22 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Action Plan last year which is updated yearly. The plan so far has four actions.

Action item one states, “Establish an organizational structure within SBS that is dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

According to the SBS website, the department has the SBS RISE Program (Remedying Inequity through Social Engagement). Currently directed by Dr. Felicia Griffin-Fennell, RISE is a community for anyone who identifies as marginalized. The organization holds community-building events, support opportunities, research, scholarships and more.

Action item two is, “Incorporate anti-racist pedagogy and content throughout SBS curriculum.”

Action item three is, “Actively recruit, retain, and promote a diverse faculty, staff and student body within the college.”

Lastly, action item four states, “Cultivate a college and campus climate that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The listening session held on Thursday was a part of action item four.

Lynn Phillips, senior associate dean for education and student development at SBS said she appreciated students’ courage for coming to the forum and speaking up. Phillips said she learned “some things we can institute” in reference to the course survey and continuation of SBS forums.

“We heard themes we’ve heard too often,” Phillips said, “we need [student’s] voices to be heard and actions to be taken. Changes are happening in SBS that students need for community … but there’s always so much more to be done. I’m grateful for the students who came.”

If students wish to voice their concerns anonymously, they can fill out this google form. Students can also reach out to speak one on one with Dr. Felicia Griffin-Fennell, director of the SBS RISE Program and Jennifer Lundquist, professor and senior associate dean of research and faculty development by contacting via email.

“There’s a great deal of care in SBS not just in understanding but for changing and wanting to close that community gap. That’s on top of our list,” Phillips said.

Liesel Nygard can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @LieselNygard.

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