Continuing the Conversation

Since March, students, faculty, and staff have been taking steps to facilitate talking about race on campus.

By Jay Vicente

In recent months, America has seen a surge in racist behaviors and racially charged incidents that have shaken this nation to the core. Racism happens everywhere, and as Hendrix students saw at the Cookies and Concerns meeting last semester, can take many forms. Recently, the Student Senate and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion have created new policies to combat racism and encourage diversity at Hendrix; their efforts only increased after the MDC Cookies and Concerns forum. According to Kesha Baoua, Hendrix’s Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, “MDC compiled a list of themes and concerns expressed during the forum and distributed [the list] to … the Senior Leadership team”. Since then, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, the Diversity and Dialogue Committee, and MDC have been working to address those concerns. Baoua also disclosed that there will be a “campus-wide update on these issues in the near future.”

Amy Cabrera, the Multicultural Development Chair, and Gifty Agana, Senate President, also shared their knowledge of Hendrix’s direction and response to racism on campus, specifically on the newest bill that Student Senate passed regarding this topic. 

On Communication and Aspects of Racism Found on Campus

Racism on campus comes in many forms. Ms. Baoua says that “systemic racism exists at Hendrix as it exists in other institutions across our country.” Unfortunately, that means that every department at Hendrix is affected by racism, but “there are areas that have been the focus of discussions.”. The use of derogatory language in the classroom and stereotyping are some of those areas, but there are plenty more that have yet to be brought to light. Those conversations are hard, but Hendrix is working in multiple ways to start and continue them for the betterment of students. Several departments and organizations on campus regularly discuss topics of racism in formal in informal settings, but “that work has not always been communicated well” (Baoua). She says that the MDC and Office for Diversity have made progress in “increasing communication among diversity leadership” and are planning to do the same across campus as a whole. 

On the New Senate Bill

The newest Senate bill (Bill 001) focuses primarily on Diversity and Racism across campus. The Senate started working on this bill after MDC’s Cookies and Concerns and wanted to “do something permanent, specific, and long-lasting” (Gifty Agana). For this particular bill, the Senate focused on “aspects of student interactions from the classroom to [Public Safety].” Issues concerning curriculum were tabled for a later date. The issues covered and discussed in this bill are all based on those “brought up by members” (Amy Cabrera). Cabrera described the bill as a general guideline as to what is considered racist and how to avoid doing or saying those things. As far as the bill’s language goes, considerable thought was put into the drafts from beginning to end. The bill “started out as a small resolution that grew into three separate task forces” (Agana) before becoming an actual bill. It took months and a lot of trial and error to “[present] ideas correctly while being adequately worded for the public” (Cabrera). 

On New Directions and Next Steps

The Cookies and Concerns Forum was “actually the final of a series of diversity discussions last year,” and was “the most well-attended,” according to Ms. Baoua. In the wake of that event, the Student Senate, MDC, and other diversity offices and departments are working hard to keep their momentum going in regards to fighting racism and encouraging diversity. There are plans to begin a Hendrix chapter of the NAACP; information about these plans are being shared with students through email. The NAACP has a history of fighting for civil rights, and seeing as it is a “multi-generational organization, students would benefit from the type of age diversity within the affiliation that is crucial in social justice efforts” (Baoua). As far as the Senate goes, they are “taking a step back” (Agana) to look at the bigger picture and take other issues the student body faces into account when creating new bills. Agana says that there will “most likely be another task force focused on diversity.” Cabrera assured me that “change won’t be fast but will happen little by little” and that the Senate continues to work towards that change. 

On Student Involvement

Ms. Baoua shared with me that there are numerous opportunities to participate in this ongoing conversation, from “participating in a student organization [to] attending campus and community events.” She also pointed out that students can contact Dean Wiltgen and Dr. Allison Vetter if they experience racism. She assured me that “[students] can always receive support and assistance from…counseling services, the Chaplain’s office, and other campus resources.” Students are also encouraged to interact with the conversation outside of the Hendrix community by talking to their family members and challenging racist comments or ideologies when they come across them. If any student has a question about the new Senate bill or anything regarding diversity and racism on campus, they can contact Academic Policy Representative Kavi Modi or any senators, executives, and chairs. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion is also open to questions of any kind. 

Hendrix is moving towards ridding the campus of racism and diversifying the community as a whole, largely thanks to students demanding to be heard and create change. That change is happening, and even though the process is long, students can count on administration and their peers in Senate to make sure the process runs effectively and positively.

For more information about the Hendrix NAACP chapter, contact hendrixnaacp@hendrix.edu. For other concerns, contact the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Dean Wiltgen, or your Student Senator.

This article was featured in the Issues Issue. Check out the Issues Issue in its full glory here.

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