This is where we are at, here is where we need to go
This time last year, students at the University of Nevada, Reno, were returning to campus to news the university could not expel or fire a student who attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. What followed was a year filled with tension between the student body and the administration as they locked heads on a number of diversity issues brought to the surface by Charlottesville — starting with a Black Lives Matter march and ending with students chasing Peter Cvjetanovic through campus. A year later, things here at the university have changed, but there is more to be done.
What has changed
After the coverage of Cvjetanovic’s return to campus, UNR took the chance to use the incident to spark new diversity initiatives and listen to student concerns on campus. The first of these campaigns was the “I Am the Real Nevada” T-shirt handout which symbolized that Cvjetanovic’s views did not reflect the university as a whole. They also hosted a town hall before classes started to hear what students had to say. ASUN received backlash for the T-shirts, but ultimately made a difference when it came to listening to students. Their multiple town halls and other methods of reaching out to students made them feel they were listened to — something they felt the university did not to.
Even though ASUN is supposed to be the voice of students, through last year they learned the lesson to listen to their students because of this incident, and hopefully will continue to take that lesson to heart as they enter a new school year.
Students and faculty also continually complained about the Chief Diversity Officer at the university, Patricia Richard. Richard was appointed by UNR President Marc Johnson to the position after her predecessor resigned, despite her having two other jobs and no experience when it came to diversity. Throughout last year, she was the focal point of how the university ignored diversity issues on campus. At the end of the 2018 spring semester, Richard stepped down from the diversity officer position and the university promised to conduct a nationwide search for her replacement.
The search is ongoing and Richard remains in office, but when she is replaced by someone who has experience dealing with diversity, a large complaint will be handled and the university can start to rebuild its relationship with the diverse students of the university, which is extremely important at a predominately white institution.
One of the things Richard did right last year was to form a diversity committee with the goal of addressing issues brought up by staff and students. This gathered important voices in the room to work toward resolving these issues. Also formed was the University Leadership Alliance — which brought together the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, the Graduate Student Association, the Staff Employees Counsel and Faculty Senate to address issues brought up by the different sides of the university and for these governing bodies to stay on the same page.
Overall, the increase in communication between the different groups of the university to work together to address issues is a positive thing, and hopefully a change that will help to avoid calamities in the university’s future.
In light of student diversity issues, a mandated Title IX statement has been added to every professor’s syllabus, which they are required to review in class with their students. The section boasts of a safe learning and work environment for all and gives examples of the types of situations that the Title IX Office handles.
Some teachers have gone to great lengths to explain why this section exists and how students can receive help and guidance. Others have brushed past it forgetting the year of diversity issues that occurred on this campus. If professors aren’t taking their mandated Title IX duties seriously, there isn’t a point in having a section for it at all.
Every professor, especially professors teaching incoming freshmen, have a duty to explain this section of their syllabus and perhaps give context as to why it was mandated to begin with. If we can educate our students about the resources they have, why they exist and the importance of these diversity initiatives, we can eliminate issues before they begin.
What needs to be done
Students and faculty that sit on search committees which hire university employees are required to attend an implicit bias training hosted by the university’s human resources and psychology department. While this is a great idea in theory, its execution falls flat. Participants are asked what diversity means to them and are given vague references to studies to show the importance of a diverse campus. Not once was it mentioned what a PWI is or that UNR belongs in that category.
These trainings need to include better data that reflects the current standings of the demographics of the university so the people who sit on these committees know the true importance of a diverse campus. This would also stress to those people the university’s dedication to the diversity initiatives they set forth.
Part of these initiatives is to hire a more diverse staff, which President Johnson listed at the 2017 State of the University as a high-importance issue. “We are investing in diversity by adding 11 positions, six tenure track faculty positions in Gender, Race and Identity between the College of Liberal Arts and Central Administration,” Johnson said.
As great as 11 new positions are, it doesn’t compare to the other 217 new positions hired in the past four years. According to College Factual, a website dedicated to tracking higher education statistics, 40.2 percent of university undergraduates identify as an ethnicity other than white or caucasian. With 40 percent of undergraduates being classified as diverse, 73.7 percent of professors at the university identify as white.
For being its own feature in the State of the University, the actions made since have been lackluster. The university needs to embrace the diverse students they so heavily market and create a staff with the diversity to match. When the university has the opportunity to maintain a diverse staff they must also support that staff and the issues they face. This was a huge problem in regard to the closure and sudden reopening of the Latino Research Center.
Finding a director for the Latino Research Center needs to be a main priority. University officials faced turmoil when Director Iris West resigned and Director Emma Sepulveda remained on administrative sick leave. The LRC went eight months without a working staff because West and Sepulveda were the only two employees. The LRC has since reopened without a director.
The initial plan was to start searching for a director to start in fall 2019, but putting off the search only intensifies the university’s passive attitude toward diversity initiatives. To restore the LRC to its former glory, action needs to be taken now, not just passive internal reworking. Students of different backgrounds need a place they feel safe and understood on campus, and the LRC remaining without a director is a great disservice to these students.
As students at this university, we recognize the improvements made since the issues in Charlottesville unleashed terror on this campus. While diversity efforts are headed in the right direction, once this campus reaches its full diverse potential it will be a better and safer place for all students.