‘Berg reflects and urges for more change

Members of the Muhlenberg community voice their thoughts on recent changes regarding diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the college.

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Photo Credit: Katherine Dickey '22. Associate Provost Brooke Vick talking about the DEI updates

Associate Provost for Faculty & Diversity Initiatives Brooke Vick, Ph.D., was the primary author of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Report for 2020-2021, released in fall 2021. The report outlines a plethora of community and institutional initiatives to further DEI on campus, in categories such as recruitment and retention, cultural awareness, student outcomes, campus climate and student support and institutional commitments and activities. 

One part of the report was about recruiting and retaining faculty and students from diverse backgrounds. This year Muhlenberg hired 13 faculty of color, five of whom were appointed through the Consortium for Faculty Diversity (CFD). 

“The consortium is a group of liberal arts colleges, that we pay dues to be part of this consortium. And our goal collectively is to increase the diversity of faculty at liberal arts colleges in particular… What we’re able to do [through CFD] is to host fellows that serve in postdoctoral roles,” explained Vick. “These are new faculty who have just gotten their Ph.D.s who have not moved into tenure track positions yet and are looking for experience teaching and working in a liberal arts college environment. So it’s a win-win relationship between the institution and the scholars.” One of these faculty members has already moved into a tenure track position in the Africana studies program and psychology department. 

Vick adds, “[The College] just tenured the most diverse group of faculty we ever have, we tenured five faculty members of color, in a group of 11.” She explained that this is a result of the College advocating for more equitable recruitment and hiring processes through extensive training. 

[The College] just tenured the most diverse group of faculty we ever have, we tenured five faculty members of color, in a group of 11.

Brooke Vick, Ph.D.

One highlight from the report that Emanuela Kucik, Ph.D., assistant professor of English and co-chair of the Africana studies program, pointed out was support for the new Graduate School Preparatory Program (GSPP), saying, “We’ve gotten a lot of support from the community for that; there are over 40 people who volunteered to be part of the Committee. The GSPP is geared toward helping students from underrepresented groups apply to graduate schools, so the widespread support from the community shows how deeply committed people across the College are to that mission.”

Kucik also talked about the new curriculum change happening in several departments, including music and English, as well as a proposed race and power general academic requirement that has come as a result of the Black faculty letter of June 2020. Kucik said, “In the letter, we had requested that the school institute requirements in studying anti-Blackness and the roots of that in the United States. We wanted to institute requirements for courses that explained how we got to the murder of George Floyd. We need all students to receive education about that history. We are seeing that the College took our comments about that need seriously, and curriculum changes are being made.”

There’s also a relatively new group on campus called Student Advocates for Inclusion and Diversity (SAID). They hope to work closely with DEI chairs around campus as well as taking some of the weight off of DEI chairs by working with executive boards of different organizations to make sure that diversity, equity and inclusion are considered at every level.

Kelsey Casimir ‘23, president of SAID, explained, “I feel like when there are problems with DEI, the first person people reach out to is Miss Robin Riley-Casey, because she is the director of Multicultural Life. She’s an assistant dean of students. Our objective is to be, not a buffer, but a student resource first before we take it to Miss Robin.”

While many members of the community touted the successes of the report, they also acknowledged that the College has blind spots. Vick said, “I think that where a lot of the disability focus has been a collaboration between Disability Services, the Dean of Students office, and the Dean of Academic Life working through policy to increase accessibility… It tends to be more of an accessibility question that can sometimes get separated from DEI work in a way that I think really doesn’t serve our broader goals.”

Oyinkansola Adebajo ‘23 expressed a similar sentiment, saying, “I think they’re at least attempting but there’s definitely room for improvement, especially in terms of disability… there’s a lack of understanding surrounding disability. That’s the biggest hole. And I’m saying that as someone who has multiple intersectional identities. I think the way the CARE Team handles students has not been the best. As someone who did go to a CARE Team meeting, it has been fraught with non-inclusive language.”

 there’s a lack of understanding surrounding disability. That’s the biggest hole.

Oyinkansola Adebajo ‘23

Kucik and Elena FitzPatrick Sifford, associate professor of art history, both praised Vick for her efforts in furthering DEI at Muhlenberg and expressed their support for the creation of additional roles that support DEI at the College and for continued hires of people from diverse backgrounds in faculty, staff and administration positions. FitzPatrick Sifford also noted that another area for development is increased communication between students and the institution so that students have more transparency about the nuances and the processes behind DEI work. She said, “I don’t think a lot of students realize how these things work. Who holds power in the institution? I don’t mean to say that to belittle students. I just think it’s not transparent, sometimes, for students to know how these things operate.”

Vick said, “I think that we have some more work to do in terms of education, particularly in intersectionality, and helping our community to understand the ways in which none of us really live any individual identity, but that we live them at the intersections and what does that mean for supporting one another.” 

Intersectionality wasn’t the only area for improvement that community members pointed out. FitzPatrick Sifford said, “I wish that there was more transparency about, what’s the reality of Muhlenberg College? How many faculty of color do we actually have? How many Black people in this institution have ever gotten tenure?”

We have all of these sort of plans and initiatives and strategies that we’re employing, but none of it really matters if students don’t feel the effect of them.

Zaire Carter ’22

This critique of communication and transparency was echoed by Zaire Carter ‘22, Student Government Association (SGA) president, “Dr. Vick is doing a lot of good work as chair of PDAC [President’s Diversity Advisory Council], and when I worked with her when I was on SGA on PDAC, the work that that committee was doing was quite significant. I do think they still need to work on communicating their efforts to the student body. We have all of these sort of plans and initiatives and strategies that we’re employing, but none of it really matters if students don’t feel the effect of them.”

Aevyn Barnett ‘22, president of Students for Queer Advocacy (SQuAd), added, “I think that taking a lot of good steps in the right direction, I think there are still a lot of areas that can improve. I think one of the issues is that a lot of times, groups that are in the public view, so colleges, businesses, whatever, there’s a performative element to it, they have to appear as if they’re dreaming. So they do a lot of things that look really good on paper and look really good in writing that might not necessarily be as effective in reality.”

As an effort to bring more transparency to the College, community conversations about the DEI Report were held on Wednesday, Mar. 2 and Friday, Mar. 4, 2022. Discussions with faculty and students brought up issues of wishing to hear more about disability on campus, how to get alumni involved in DEI efforts and more initiatives around diversity of faith.

After the Mar. 4 conversation, Leslie Avecillas ‘23, president of the Emerging Leaders Council and president of Comunidad, said, “I wish that these conversations would happen with more of a purpose besides just informing us and more of a purpose of listening and taking suggestions, because there was a very small portion of the entire hour talk focused on that. A lot of times we do know what types of diversity initiatives are being held. I don’t think that we don’t know. I just think maybe it might feel a little better for all students of marginalized identities, and all faculty and staff of marginalized identities, to have a space to offer their input.”

When asked how we can all learn without harming those of marginalized identities, Vick emphasized, “There’s got to be a balance between offering grace and understanding for mistakes, and being accountable for the impact that we have on other people. And something can be an honest mistake. And we want to be able to create space for education, for learning, for growth, so that we don’t make those mistakes again.”

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