Student committee members Emily Mitzak (left) and Ella Sarder (right)
We are undergraduate members on the ad hoc Inclusive Culture Committee, a group formed to create a council to coordinate justice, equity, diversity and inclusion efforts within the college to foster systematic, intentional and integrative JEDI planning and formalize equitable and inclusive practices with established metrics. The proposed council will work closely with the college’s representatives from the IDEA Council to ensure alignment with the university’s equity, diversity and inclusion goals.
Ella is a junior computer science major with a minor in Creative Technology and Design, identifying as white, female and queer. Emily is a junior majoring in aerospace engineering with a minor in applied math, identifying as female, white and Hispanic.
The ad hoc committee recently published its proposal and asked for feedback from students, faculty and staff. Many students shared feedback about the formation of this council and its goals. We wrote this article to address some of the questions and concerns undergraduate and graduate students expressed in their feedback. Some of the questions have been edited for clarity and/or length.
Why are we focusing on the identities or races of our students, instead of focusing on the character of our students? Why not use funds or time that would go to the ICC to create workshops, hire tutors or buy technology to help ALL students learn?
The engineering college experience is not the same for all our students. Racism, sexism, queerphobia and other forms of hatred based on identities are present in our halls, evidenced by personal stories and statistics. Two individuals of the same “character” but of different races have vastly different experiences in our halls. Without first addressing these inequalities, any actions we take to evenly share resources and opportunities in the college will go disproportionately to those students who are unequitably positioned to receive those resources more easily. By recognizing the realities of racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice and their power to restrict access to resources and opportunities and to isolate members of our community, we can work toward a community that does recognize individuals for the value of their character and welcome them in celebration of their race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and other personal identities.
There are also many resources available to all students, regardless of personal identities. Though the BOLD Center is dedicated to empowering students from historically underrepresented backgrounds in STEM, it offers resources like tutoring and scholarships for all students. Student groups at the BOLD Center like CUWIC (CU Women in Computing) offer workshops, interview training and resume sessions that are open to all students. The university at large also offers many resources, like student emergency funds and food resources.
What is JEDI/DEIJ?
The ad hoc committee’s definitions of equity, diversity and inclusion align with the definitions found in the IDEA plan for the University of Colorado Boulder. Currently, the IDEA plan has no formalized definition for justice. We have provided an approximate definition for justice in this context.
The website for the final proposal for the ICC will include definitions or links to definitions for all of these terms. Below we have provided a quick summary of the definitions of diversity, equity and inclusion outlined in the IDEA Plan as well as the approximate definition for justice:
Diversity: includes, but is not limited to, cultural differences, race and ethnicity, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, (dis)ability, creed, religious or spiritual beliefs, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, class, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation and political philosophy.
Equity: underlies all efforts to be inclusive. We must identify and eliminate the barriers that have prevented historically and presently marginalized and underserved people from fully accessing the opportunities and resources they need to succeed. Along with this, we must take concrete steps toward dismantling barriers in our policies, teaching, and hiring and promotion practices, and act affirmatively to support all of our communities.
Inclusion: The array of faculty, students and staff who constitute the diversity of the institution must be guaranteed opportunities for access, advancement and academic success.
Justice: directly dismantling barriers to resources and opportunities in society so that all individuals in communities can live a full and dignified life. (Source: The What and Why of JEDI - American Trails)
The responsibilities and proposed actions for this council seem vague. How is the council going to evaluate and measure JEDI progress in the university? Will it do anything?
The ad hoc committee has purposefully not included the Inclusive Culture Council’s responsibilities and actions, as the ad hoc committee’s responsibility is only to create the proposed language for the College Rules. There is no guarantee that those serving on the ad hoc committee will eventually serve on the formalized Inclusive Culture Council if it passes the college vote. To ensure that we are setting future council members up with the flexibility to find and pursue the most influential and beneficial plans of action, we have been focusing on creating general guidelines and goals. The measurements of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion are still being discussed by the ad hoc ICC, again, to allow flexibility in the formalized ICC. Possible forms of measurement being discussed include: number of people involved in DEI training, first-year retention rates, perceptual measurements of the campus climate (through campus survey), and number of DEI-themed activities.
This council seems extremely political. What if this just creates a greater echo chamber and punishes those who have different opinions?
The ICC is founded on the idea that a more diverse community of students and faculty in which all members feel welcome, respected and valued improves the experiences of all students and faculty at the college. If you agree with that idea (momentarily putting aside how we create that community), then you agree with the base tenet of the ICC. Certainly we may disagree about how to go about doing these things: What constitutes “diverse”? How can we equitably distribute the
resources we have? Those questions will be part of the ongoing conversation that the ICC engages in, with feedback from students, faculty, and staff representatives.
Our hope is that the ICC welcomes those with different opinions, so long as they agree with this core tenet of the ICC. If you disagree with that idea, that a more diverse community benefits all its members, here’s some evidence to the contrary: Why Workplace Diversity Is So Important, And Why It's So Hard To Achieve (Forbes.com)
Will the budget for this council come at greater expense to students? Would it be more beneficial to forego this council and reduce the cost of education, as that is a major barrier for historically underrepresented students in college?
We have been assured by the administration that this council would not impose any additional costs upon students.
This council should be more focused on faculty and staff. Students self-govern inclusive culture.
This council is intended to directly support faculty and staff, with less focus on students. From our own personal experiences and accounts we’ve heard from friends and peers, we don’t believe that students can self-govern inclusive culture. Both of us have been in many situations with peers where they made us feel alienated and devalued. Many times, they don’t even realize the way their actions or words are making us feel. All of us attend college to learn - from our professors, our advisors, our peers - and learning how to create inclusive communities is a key but often overlooked skill we should be taught in college.
What will student representation look like on this council? Will student concerns be considered? Have you considered having representatives from different student demographic groups, like international students?
This is something we’re working with the ad hoc committee to define. A couple of structures have been considered, including creating two separate undergraduate and graduate sub-councils with representatives that report to general ICC meetings. We are intent on ensuring the voices of students from the diverse community of our college are heard and respected on the ICC. Our hope is that the ICC values diversity of all shades, including diversity of thought.
There seems to be little mention or representation for people with disabilities in this proposal or this council. Will this be improved?
This was brought up in other comments on the proposal. While the definition of “diversity” used by the ICC and the IDEA Council includes people with disabilities, members in the ad hoc committee have noted that people with disabilities are often left out of inclusivity plans and have called for language in the proposal that specifically addresses disabilities. In addition, there has been a push to include representatives in the established ICC that identify as people with disabilities to ensure that inclusive action plans address the needs of people with disabilities. As of writing this, the ad hoc committee has yet to write the second draft of the proposal in response to the comments, but based on the meetings we have had to discuss the comments, we are hoping for explicit references to the needs of our students, faculty and staff with disabilities.
As always, we welcome and appreciate any feedback you may have! Please feel free to share your comments at the upcoming AMA with interim Dean Keith Molenaar on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 at 5:30 p.m., where Ella along with other student leaders will be in attendance and available to answer or discuss any questions or concerns. RSVP for the in-person meeting or join on Zoom.