DePauw University to cancel classes for an inclusiveness discussion day

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GRAPHIC BY NICOLE DECRISCIO / THE DEPAUW

It’s not often that DePauw University cancels classes, especially if there is not inclement weather. But this academic year, DePauw is doing just that. 

Faculty voted to cancel classes for a day next semester to have a campus-wide discussion about inclusiveness after a special faculty meeting held Wednesday during lunch. 145 faculty members attended, exceeding quorum.

Chair of the Faculty Bridget Gourley called the meeting in light of the open forum that University President Brian Casey held on Nov. 9.

Gourley opened the meeting by reminding the faculty what their by-laws state of the procedure, as well as reminding them that they would be following Robert’s Rules of Order, which provides a guide for parliamentary procedure. Parliamentary procedure is the process and rules by which meetings and votes are conducted.

 “I was so heartened by the turn out,” said Renee Madison, senior advisor to the president for diversity and compliance. “I think sometimes we lose sight of how much people care here.”

Ten members of the faculty spoke in support of canceling classes for a day. No one spoke against it.

“I think trust is broken down, and we need to talk to one another,” Pedar Foss, professor of classical studies, said.

The only voiced concerns were centered on the logistics for the day of discussion. The faculty voted by secret ballot with 125 voting yes, 13 voting no and two abstaining from voting. The motion passed, which gave way to the second aspect of business: who should plan this day of discussion and when it should occur.

The next vote tasked Christopher Wells, vice president for student affairs, Renee Madison, senior advisor to the president for diversity and compliance and Title IX coordinator and Carrie Klaus, dean of the faculty and chair of the diversity and equity committee, with planning the conversation for early in the spring semester. The motion included an expectation that students and faculty would be involved in the planning of the discussion.

“I do not think that it needs to fall solely on the administration,” said Courtney Cosby, vice president of DePauw Student Government. “There needs to be faculty on that planning committee, and there needs to be students on there as well.”

Bob Hershberger, professor of Spanish and modern languages department chair, agrees.

“This is something that has to include the entire community,” Hershberger said.

Alicia Suarez, professor of sociology, urged the faculty to avoid looking at this on an individual level.

“This isn’t just about students,” Suarez said. “This is systemic.”

David Newman, professor of sociology, raised concerns about planning such a discussion day too soon. He worried that trying to have the conversation this semester might lead to a less effective conversation.

“I don’t want to see us blow this opportunity by planning it quickly,” Newman said. “I want this to be inclusive and a strong program. I hope that we do this right and well.”

After the votes, the faculty began what will be a continued discussion as to whether DePauw needs a multicultural, or M, distribution requirement and what that might entail. 

But discussions centering around multicultural inclusiveness and the possibility of a multicultural requirement have occurred since at least the 2007-2008 academic year, according to a letter by DePauw Student Government President Cody Watson.

Watson’s letter, which was placed on the chairs with the meeting’s minutes, cited “a couple of specific examples of the institutional failure on multicultural initiatives at DePauw University.”

Watson first cited a lack of follow through after recommendations from the 2007-2008 Campus Climate Task Forces for Faculty, Staff and Students of Color. The task force made a series of recommendations. These included the creation of a vice president for diversity and community that would report to the president, a position similar to Madison’s, and the addition of an M requirement. The Task Force also recommended several other added resources specifically for the Office of Admission, the Office of Human Resources and the Office of Student Life.

Only some of the recommendations have been addressed.

The letter also cited an email to President Brian Casey by the 2011-2012 student body president asking for an update on the Diversity and Equity Committee. The Student Government president received no response. 

The letter cited one final charge against the faculty and administration: ignoring legislation from student government, namely a white paper on April 22, 2012 and a resolution on April 27, 2014.

The 2012 white paper dealt with the idea of a multicultural requirement. It cited a study by Penn State, which has a multicultural requirement, that stated that less than 1 percent of their students strongly opposed the requirement.

“Similarly, surveyed DePauw students have expressed interest in the implementation of a multicultural requirement,” the white paper reads.

In April, DePauw Student Government passed a white paper stating that the student body values the importance of developing a multicultural competency and that students are included in the process of creating such a competency. Then-juniors Ryan Pranger and Cody Watson and last year’s seniors Sandy Tran, Olivia Flores and Walker Chance authored the white paper.

Student Government also passed a resolution requesting required diversity sensitivity training for faculty, staff and administrators as well as a white paper concerning first-year diversity programming.

“From the minimal response received, records indicate that while discussions on these reports have initially started in CAPP and SLAAC, they were quickly halted in order to handle matters that were perceived to be more pressing,” Watson’s letter read.

CAPP stands for the Committee on Academic Policy and Planning. SLAAC stands for Student Life and Academic Atmosphere Committee. 

“The lack of accountability, the lack of follow through, has concerned many students in that it’s an institutional failure and not a failure of a specific division of students, administration or faculty,” Watson said in an interview after the meeting.

Watson believes the meeting was a success and the first step in the right direction.

 “It was very monumental for this campus to have voted to take this day away from the class schedules to have these discussions,” Watson said.

Madison believes these conversations will continue long after the day of discussion.

“This is not a one time commitment from the administration,” Madison said. “This is ongoing.”