On Feb 28, 2018, the College of Charleston Student Government held a diversity forum where students could address certain administrators and bring to light issues regarding diversity on our campus.
This event was held from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and was separated into three sections. First, there were introductions for all of the panelists and their role on campus. Next, there were pre-asked questions that were displayed on the board and answered. Lastly, there was a live question/answer segment.
At the start of the forum the moderator made sure to set ground rules due to the sensitive material that would soon be covered. They were focused around respecting everyone’s opinion, allowing each individual to speak their mind as well as keeping the conversation civil.
Some of the panelists at this discussion included Provost Brian McGee as well as faculty from the Office of Student Affairs, Office of Institutional Advancement and Center for Disability Services among others.
To begin the question segment of the night, 11 questions that had been asked prior to the event were posted in the front of the room. These questions ranged from the status of current diversity initiatives to the steps that are being taken to ensure that religious prejudices are absent from administrative decisions.
“Is racial diversity of the candidates, and their views and strategies on improving diversity on campus, factors in the current search for the next president?
According to the panel, the simple answer to this question is yes. This is a component being taken into account in the current presidential search. The panel also emphasized that while it is being taken into consideration, if you feel strongly about this issue then you need to make your voice heard. You need to express your opinions in order to make sure that they are being thoroughly taken into consideration. Students need to take responsibility for making their desired outcome occur.
“What is the process for hiring faculty of minority status, and is affirmative action policy employed?”
In regard to this question, the panel stated that the full policy for hiring faculty can be found on the academic affairs website. However, during the time that Provost McGee has been at the College, faculty of color has increased from 12.7% to 15%. The College does utilize affirmative action, as it is federal law, and they said they are committed to generating a more diverse pool of faculty. The panel also mentioned that College of Charleston was ranked first in all four-year colleges in SC for becoming more diverse.
“Many transgender students have a name they use that does not match the name listed on their Cougar Card. However, many RAs, DAs, security guards, and food service staff say the name on the Cougar Card and essentially “out” transgender students every time they sign in a guest or use the dining services. Is there any progress on making it easier for transgender students to have their preferred name listed rather than their legal name?
Provost McGee was quick to respond to this question. He stated that the preferred name process is incredibly complicated and he is becoming impatient with the federal government in regard to this issue. The federal government wants full legal names for security purposes, however this is incredibly difficult for many transgender students. This same process of using preferred names took the University of Vermont seven years to accomplish, however the College has stated that it will take less time than that, but more time than they would like it to take. This has been an active conversation and initiative since the 2015/2016 school year, and they are dedicated.
The next segment of the forum consisted of audience members asking questions directly to the panelists. Some of these questions were follow ups to the answers of previous questions, while others covered new topics.
This question was a response to the question from the previous segment in which they were discussing the diversity of the faulty. This student asked where are these faculty members placed? Because, in his experience he only sees this diversity represented in the janitorial, kitchen, and other helping staff, rather than in the classroom.
In response to this question Provost McGee recommend that the student email him and he would be able to get the exact numbers, however once again reiterated the growth from 12.7% to 15% in terms of increasing diversity of faculty members. McGee also stated that due to fairly fast turnover rates of faculty they will be trying to hire more faculty member that align with the initiative to create and fostering a more diverse and welcoming community. McGee also recognized that there are certain positions on campus that are unbalanced in terms of not having enough diversity or having too many individuals of color, and these positions tend to not be in the classroom. However, he sees this as an opportunity to become a more well balanced and diverse community. Another panelist stated that not only do we need more faculty of color, but “we need to make sure that our faculty that is not of color, knows how to work with students of color,” because if we don’t do this then students of color will only want to meet with like individuals, and therefore overtax these professors that are of color.
This question was in response to the Bias Incident Response team that is being created to help combat issues dealing with race, and other offenses that may happen on campus. The student was trying to figure how much power this group would have and whether or not they would have the ability to discipline.
Ultimately, the Bias Incident Response team will not have the ability to discipline, however they will be helping review and influence policy with their input being fully heard and taken into account. The team will constantly be researching different ways to improve the campus climate and will include that research when discussing policy.
The forum brought up many topics that are very sensitive and important to the students of the College and was an open platform to share concerns or gain clarity on certain matters. The need for students to get involved was one of the main points of the night. Without student involvement, it is nearly impossible to accomplish what they need and desire from the institution.