Seattle University Hopes Task Force Will Promote Change

Three weeks ago, students received an email from President Fr. Stephen Sundborg, S.J., concerning the development of a new task force on diversity. While the email didn’t contain particulars about the task force itself, the president wrote that the initiative was in response to current campus activity that “brought to the surface some issues that need to be addressed” in regards to the campus’ goals on diversity. Most, however, aren’t particularly clear on the efforts of this task force, or why it’s suddenly necessary to do further review of diversity on campus.

The new task force will review the previous effort by the administration to analyze diversity on campus: the “Engaging our Diversity Task Force Report” (EODTF) from 2008.

A quick scan of the old report reveals a document that is expansive and academic in its intentions, but equally weighed down by the scope of its recommendations. The report, which is available online, was a continuation of another task force that occurred in September of 1991. It was a joint faculty-undergraduate endeavor headed by Rob Kelley, the Vice President for Student Development at the time, and current Associate Director of Faculty Professional Development Jacquelyn Miller in the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

The intentions of the report are lofty and all-encompassing. Throughout 2007, the EODTF convened to review “all programs, services, and initiatives on campus, both curricular and co-curricular, that faculty, staff, students, and administrators believed engaged diversity,” as well as assess the “issues of campus climate around diversity.”

To do so, the EODTF created a framework encompassing everything from the organizational structure of the school down to the social climate in order to make general recommendations on how to improve the university’s campus diversity. The recommendations themselves, which are further broken down into more specific initiatives, include some weighty proposals, like creating a book series on campus about diversity or formally acknowledging “LGBTQ students, faculty and staff by the president and E-team.”

For every specific recommendation, however, there are also a slew of more general suggestions that, while admirable, don’t specifically explain how the school could administer the proposals. One recommendation, for example, suggests that the administration look at student evaluations of “women, LGBTQ faculty and faculty of color to determine whether there is evidence of bias.” Because they are only recommendations, the contents of the report only provide information to the administration, which is then tasked with deciding whether or not to make any changes.

Moreover, most of the recommendations on the list haven’t been implemented, which leaves many students feeling as though the new task force will be equally ineffective. To some, it seems gratuitous for the administration to seek more recommendations when the previous ones haven’t been fulfilled.

Others, however, see the task force as evidence of the administration’s sustained efforts to improve diversity on campus. Monica Nixon, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, remains hopeful that the task force can be beneficial to the university.

“I think that there’s potential for this task force to recommend a structure that will allow for continued and sustainable attention, “ she said. “I think it’s easy to have our attention on something spike and then wane as we go about our usual business, so hopefully the diversity task force will be able to recommend a structure that can allow us to sustain a level of attention over the long haul.”

And as for the possibility of the task force resulting in tangible change on campus, Nixon points to the Committee to Improve Trans Inclusion (CITI) Implementation Team, which has produced an extremely specific list, including the financial weight of each proposal, of recommendations for the school to “allow transgender, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming students, faculty, and staff to experience equity, safety, inclusion and care.”

For Nixon, the value of the task force isn’t necessarily in implementing new policies, but rather in keeping the administration informed about where it can improve.

“Task forces can work effectively to document and name concerns,” she said. “The effectiveness of their work depends on sustaining focus on the issues through existing or new structures.”

So while the task force may not lead to dramatic changes on campus, its existence allows the administration to continually review the progress it’s made towards its diversity goals. While some will see the task force as a mere repetition of the last report’s recommendations, individuals like Nixon see it as an opportunity to “consider what we’ve learned in the past five years, which I hope provides opportunities to move ahead with critical diversity-related initiatives.”

The editor may be reached at news@su-spectator.com

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