By Jacob Turnrose | Opinion Editor

Last Wednesday on March 29, in the Orinda Room of the Soda Center, representatives from the three major spheres of the Saint Mary’s community—faculty, administration, and students—gathered to discuss the future of diversity training at the college.

In the front row, were six students, all but one were wearing matching red shirts. “#EndtheSilence Saint Mary’s” read the front of the shirt, with the text placed above the image of a raised black fist. The back of the shirt read a quote from Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Seated directly behind the students and the bold words on their backs were several rows of faculty and staff members —the exact audience to which the Desmond Tutu quote was referring to. 

The Orinda Room was packed beyond capacity for this much anticipated Academic Senate meeting. Some faculty members stood alongside the back wall, as there were no seats left to accommodate them.

During this meeting, the Academic Senate voted to pass an amended resolution which calls for a Faculty Inclusive Training (FIT) Task Force to be established. “The FIT Task Force shall investigate the efficacy of current diversity training workshops for faculty and staff, and make specific recommendations to the Academic Senate as to how enhance efficacy,” read the resolution.

The task force is to be established by the end of the 2017 spring semester “with at least six faculty members from different disciplines, including at least three with expertise in bias pedagogy or other comparable education.” The task force is mandated to report on the efficacy of the mandatory workshops by May of 2018.

This resolution stems directly from a petition that circulated amongst tenured faculty, which, itself stems back to the Academic Senate resolution passed on Feb. 16. This February resolution reiterated that attending GUIDE (Gaels Uniting for Inclusion and Diversity through Education ) diversity training was required of all faculty members, but also stated that eligibility for faculty development funds, research grants, faculty awards, and sabbatical leave would now be contingent upon attending GUIDE every three years.

The meeting started at 1:00 p.m., but the resolution, not including the section on sanctions, was voted on close to 3:00 p.m., nearly a half hour over the allotted time given to an average Academic Senate meeting. What filled that near two hour lapse of time was tense and, at some points, heated dialogue.

There were several times when insults and verbal jabs were thrown. The meeting as whole was perceived as tense and disorienting by many in attendance.

After the meeting, Zoe Loos ‘17, a member of End the Silence stated, “We wanted to really hear what they had to say, to understand more, because before we were very confused as a group [as to what] was going on, the whole purpose of us [End the Silence members] going is trying to hear [faculty members] but there was just so much anger, and a lot of us got lost [in the conversation].”

Anger was directed between faculty members, between the faculty and staff members, and between the faculty and the students. In regards to the latter, towards the end of the meeting, English and Creative Writing Professor Rosemary Graham appeared outraged that students were filming her addressing the audience.

Barbara McGraw, Professor of Social Ethics, Law, and Public Life, stated to the Collegian, “Here we had students who want faculty to be mandated with sanctions to take training that the students believe will create a more respectful community, but who themselves showed no respect for faculty by using videotaping as a bullying tactic.” End the Silence members insisted that recording the meeting was not meant to be a bullying tactic, but rather to relay to other students who couldn’t attend the meeting what was being said. Videos were originally posted to social media by End the Silence members but have since been taken down.   

While conversation lasted for close to two hours, students only spoke a total of four times since most of the dialogue was dominated by the faculty and the staff. One of few students who had the opportunity to speak was Maria Fatima ’17, another member of  End the Silence, who asked if the FIT task force was going to include staff and students. The resolution, however, passed without this inclusion and with little discussion on the matter.

There was a section in the new Academic Senate resolution that would have halted the sanctions imposed by the February resolution, until the need for such sanctions could be further deliberated. This section of the resolution, however, was not voted on and will be decided at the next Academic Senate meeting.

The implementation of sanctions is critical to End the Silence. This was reiterated in a separate interview by the Collegian with several members of End the Silence. “We hope that [the senators] will side with the best side of judgement and see why it’s important,” said Ines Sosa ’17. Fatima added that we should “think about the Lasallian core principles and the Mission of Saint Mary’s, if they truly believe in that…Then they’ll know what to decide.”

At the Academic Senate meeting Sosa stated, “We’re having conversations as to why professors aren’t going to these [diversity] trainings, I’ll just tell you right now, it’s because there are no sanctions…Yes they’re mandatory, but there’s nothing to hold them accountable.”

Throughout the meeting, faculty gave a variety of explanations as to why diversity training meetings have had and continue to have low attendance. One faculty member stated that some of her colleagues don’t end up going to the current training because they felt uncomfortable at the old Campus of Difference (COD) diversity training.

This faculty member addressed themselves as “one of the four” faculty members who had both signed the petition and have taken the GUIDE diversity training.

“If the purpose of this [resolution] is to build inclusivity then I think that voice…needs to be heard,” the faculty member said and continued, “There have been enough faculty who have experienced the workshop [as being] unsafe, that it needs to be addressed, despite [the fact that] faculty were in creation of [GUIDE].”

Another faculty member stated that the diversity training was being offered on days that faculty could not attend. “It greatly concerns me that upwards of 500 people need to attend this [GUIDE training] and there will be sanctions against them, but the [trainings] are being offered when faculty can’t attend,” she  said.

Several faculty members expressed concerns that past diversity training has been hurtful to those who have attended, especially faculty of color.

In this regard, Senator Martin Rokeach stated, “One of the biggest complaints about the GUIDE activities as they were was the use of role playing, it makes people very uncomfortable. The creators of GUIDE have taken that [component] away.”

Rokeach argued that the current GUIDE curriculum is malleable in itself, and if changes need to be made they can be made by the curriculum designers of GUIDE.

He insinuated that changes could even be made quicker within GUIDE than through the task force, the Academic Senate, and the “timeline of academia” it follows. He therefore voted against the resolution and the creation of a task force.

The resolution ended up passing with 6-3 vote; the resolution voted on is not in effect yet institutionally. The vast majority of Academic Senate decisions are simply recommendations for the administration to either adopt, deny, or amend and then adopt. The next Academic Senate meeting will be on Wednesday, April 19 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Orinda Room, where the future of diversity training at Saint Mary’s College will continue to be discussed and debated.

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