Devon Sipes/ The Sunflower
The first Black Excellence listening session of the semester took place yesterday evening, giving Black students a chance to talk to faculty members about their experience and what they think could be improved. Members of the university’s equity task force were present and said that they plan to evaluate the data from these sessions in order to start making progress on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Certainly this helps the university as we look forward to making plans and executing our strategic plan,” Alicia Sanchez, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said. “We recently launched the diversity, equity and inclusion plan, so certainly your input is a priority for us.”
The event featured roundtable discussions, with five faculty and staff members rotating to a different table every 10 minutes. Faculty members were in charge of a topic, including general experiences and perceptions, student services, involvement on campus, recruitment and admissions and classroom experiences.
While the room was quiet at first, voices and occasional laughter quickly filled the room. There were roughly 25 students in attendance, with dinner being served beforehand.
During discussions afterward about highlights from conversations, Aaron Austin, dean of students, said that there was a lot of importance placed on relationships and interactions with the offices on campus.
Alexus Scott, coordinator of student diversity programs, said that many students felt that they were sold a dream during the admissions process and the reality was not matching up.
“I think a lot of the things that I was seeing and hearing was students wanting to feel support from their faculty members, not feeling as if they feel included in their academic experiences or feeling support,” Bobby Berry, assistant dean in the college of applied studies, said. “The lack of representation was a common theme within the student body and within their faculty members.”
Christina Freeman, a junior majoring in business, decided to attend after seeing it in the Black Student Union Group Chat. Being a transfer student, she said she wanted to be more involved and see how other students feel.
“I’m new here, some of these people have been here so I wanna know what they feel and hopefully because they said they are going to use all of this information, hopefully I can see it applied before I graduate in two years,” Freeman said. “I’m just really excited and to just be more included.”
Freeman hopes that these conversations don’t just stay within ODI, and higher-up faculty will take this as an opportunity to improve inclusion for students.
Jayden Johnson, a marketing junior, said that one thing that stuck out in conversations was finding a way to educate parents and students about the admission process and make them feel more comfortable, since many Black students are first-generation students.
“I came to this event today because, for one, this is one of the main chances I have to be around other minority students,” Johnson said. “Out of this event today, I came because I knew this was a chance to have our voices heard by people who actually have power to make changes.”
Members of the equity task force, including Terri Hall, vice president of student affairs and Shirley Lefever, interim provost, concluded the session by assuring students that this will not be the last time for conversations and that they want to be intentional when approaching diversity related issues.
“We don’t want to lose you guys, right,” Berry said. “We value you and we want you to feel valued and so the next step is then trying to see what progress can be made in these areas.”
Scott said that overall, the event exceeded her expectations.
“I’m super excited about the feedback that we got tonight,” Scott said. “The students really provided a unique perspective that opened our eyes tonight.”