The Council of the Princeton University Community Special Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which was created on Dec. 8, and its subcommittees have already taken some initial steps to address campus diversity programming and policy.
The University is creating the equivalent of 10 full-time faculty positions intended to diversify the faculty as well as a number of task forces designed to examine the campus culture. Fifteen to 20 people are expected to be hired.
The goal of this initiative is to hire individuals who would increase the diversity of different academic departments, Vice Provost for Institutional Diversity and Equity Michele Minter said. She noted that every department is different, so the definition of diversity will vary across departments. She added that the University does not change or lower its standards in hiring any candidate, regardless of other initiatives.
Moreover, students of color are a significant minority on campus, and they face a host of issues and challenges that the committee is trying to identify, according to Ricardo Hurtado GS, who co-chairs the diversity task force’s group on academics and awareness.
He said diversity training is a possibility for work coming out of his group, though there has been some research disputing its effectiveness.
“If training is something that we pursue, we would want to make sure that it’s effective training … that maybe has a little more evidence behind it,” Hurtado said.
He added he believed the timing of the initiatives is good, because he said he believes students are ready to have difficult conversations about race and diversity. He explained that students are engaging in conversations with administrators to voice their frustrations and that students turned out in large numbers at the protests regarding recent grand jury decisions following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, both of whom were African-Americans killed by white police officers in highly controversial confrontations.
“We are at a point where we have a window of opportunity to create some institutional change, and I think that the student body, from what I’ve seen, both undergrads and grads, have been incredibly engaged with this issue of racial equity,” Hurtado said. “I believe that if we pursue this process right, in a way that is engaging of all participants, it can really begin shifting the culture here at Princeton.”
He said the classroom climate is not necessarily the most accommodating for students of color, because they may bring experiences and interpretations of issues that professors or preceptors do not know how to grapple with. He added that establishing the encouraged academic relationships with professors might be hurdles for such students because they come from very different backgrounds from their peers.
Asanni York ’17, co-chair of the task force’s Working Group on Structure and Support, explained that one way to improve campus equity and diversity would be to create an anonymous reporting system for offensive comments made by authority figures.
York said that while students have complained that some professors and preceptors have made racist remarks or acted in offensive ways, they have no formal way to report such acts.
“We’re trying to work towards creating a platform where we can report professors and preceptors who might say racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic things and not have it affect our grades,” he said.
He added that another large goal of his committee is to alter the distribution requirements for students, ideally adding a requirement that deals with gender and cultural identities, and potentially disability studies as well. York noted that there will be an administrative meeting to discuss and update the University’s distribution requirements in 2015 or 2016, and his committee will then try to push for this additional requirement.
Harvard originally created a task force addressing diversity, inclusion and equity last year, and York presented an idea for a similar task force to the CPUC earlier this year.
York explained that he likes how Harvard’s task force acknowledges racial issues on campus and makes efforts to combat them. He said the University’s committee should, like Harvard’s, involve administrative staff, rather than just students and faculty, for greater success.