By: Mira Costello
The words “diversity,” “equity” and “inclusion” (DEI) haven’t lost any of their buzz since entering the collegiate vocabulary. Often, though, the question remains: are we walking the talk?
On Jan. 18, the Student Government Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee hosted a speak-out to discuss just that. In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, SGA President Rana Hamad moderated the hour-long forum about both IU South Bend’s strengths in DEI and its opportunities for improvement.
The first segment of the speak-out focused on the question, “where is IUSB lacking in terms of inclusivity and equitability”?
While students shared myriad ideas in both small and large groups, some common themes emerged. Many agreed that more scholarship opportunities and financial aid would help students from a wider variety of backgrounds attend IU South Bend, or lighten the load for the many students who work to support themselves.
Students also mentioned professors tend to gloss over the parts of the syllabus that are repeated across classes, such as information about Title IX, Disability Support Services, the counseling center, and religious observances. Hamad, having finished “syllabus day” in each class of her final semester here, said she had never had a professor read those parts of the syllabus in class.
Students also expressed that, while peers may know they are able to get accommodations if necessary, they may not feel comfortable asking their professors about them. This may be especially true if it is implied that the standard parameters for a test or assignment should be suitable for everyone, or if a student is put in the position of asking for an accommodation in the moment in front of their classmates.
“We need to really put our money where our mouth is,” said Kayla Isenblatter, SGA vice president. This can be done by focusing on actionable steps rather than the appearance of diversity.
Hamad then directed the conversation to the second question: are we doing a good job as a campus to promote and enforce diversity, equity and inclusion?
While the students in attendance agreed that there was room for improvement, many expressed that the campus has a wide variety of resources for students and has made a noticeable effort to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
Kayla Brown, vice president of the Black Student Union, said that the university could do a better job of promoting clubs to encourage students to engage on campus with diverse groups.
“For example, the only people who really know about [the International Student Organization] are international students. Having people come in that aren’t Black, aren’t African-American, aren’t Afro-Latino [to BSU] would be nice. It’s hard not to feel isolated when you only see a few people who look like you,” said Brown.
Brown said that the university should support clubs in their efforts to publicize events and meetings, rather than leaving it entirely to the students.
Finally, students discussed the third question: how can we take action to fix these problems in classrooms, in curricula, and in our campus culture?
“If money wasn’t an issue, if grades weren’t an issue, and you had a magic wand to make anything about your experience at IUSB better, what would it be?” said Monica Porter, vice chancellor for student affairs and diversity.
Hadi Alajmi, SGA chief of staff, spoke up. As an international student, he said he felt that professors assumed he knew many things about everyday life at IU South Bend that were actually unfamiliar. He called back to the first question, noting that reading the fine print on the syllabus and creating a welcoming environment to ask for accommodations is a way to help students from a variety of backgrounds.
Kayla Isenblatter said she thought our classroom environments could be more considerate of “invisible identities.” Recalling professors who had discussed issues like poverty seemingly under the assumption that their students were not living in poverty.
“There are people in the room who have experienced that, or for whom that has touched their lives. We need to not alienate them by assuming that they don’t exist,” said Isenblatter.
Student suggestions opened up, ranging from a DEI module in Canvas to keep students up-to-date on sensitivity and awareness, to paying professors more, to opportunities to learn about history told from marginalized perspectives. Ultimately, DEI is an ongoing initiative, but students agreed that more events at which people who have a stake in campus life can express their thoughts candidly are important.
“Not all the responsibility falls on the students, or the faculty, or the professors. It’s shared,” said Hadi Alajmi.