The Spring Diversity and Inclusion Summit, hosted on the University of Colorado Boulder, included several sessions aimed at addressing issues faced by minority students at CU.
The all-day event, which took place on Tuesday, Feb. 12, is held every semester. The sessions ranged from collaborative workshops to presentations from CU faculty, all of which focused on the university’s attempts to create a more diverse and inclusive campus.
A “hands-on” approach for raising student awareness to oppression
An early session titled “Campus Cultural Climate: Creating a Community That Embodies ‘Making Excellence Exclusive’” adopted a hands-on approach for tackling such issues.
Presented by Dyonne Bergeron, assistant vice chancellor for Inclusion and Student Achievement, the session discussed the loss of community through oppression in universities across the country.
Individuals need to be empowered in order to make change, Bergeron said. She started the workshop by handing out stick figures and having everyone write a name or value on its body. Participants were asked to explain to the person next to them why they chose the specific word. As the workshop continued, participants were asked to rip off a limb of the figure if they have ever been in various situations mentioned. These included accidentally participating in microaggressions or being marginalized. By the end, very few people had all the limbs still on their stick figure.
Various audience members mentioned that they have experienced people leave campus because of the lack of inclusive diversity.
“You should look at it as a community issue,” Bergeron said. “To make good things happen in a community, it starts with us.”
The workshop went on to look at different types of privilege found at universities. Clips were shown featuring students at the University of Missouri protesting racial inequality in 2015.
Activism on campuses across the country has sparked the question of how colleges should respond. Bergeron showed multiple ways to point out microaggressions and types of oppression that limit inclusivity.
Different trends in how diversity is handled in higher education, such as “one size fits all models”, were brought to the attention of the audience. Bergeron noted how these models do not provide full inclusivity.
“Our policies are not meeting students where they are,” Bergeron said. “A community should already be there when a student walks in on their first day, rather than them having to build it themselves.”
Addressing DACA and the importance of a connective community
With the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients unconfirmed, Edelina Burciaga, professor at the University of Colorado Denver, brought to light some of the emotional effects this uncertainty has brought to DACA students.
Burciaga’s session, titled “DACA Research Study: Perspectives from across Colorado” revealed DACA students feeling less confident since the Trump administration’s announcement to end the program. With around 15,000 DACA recipients in Colorado, student statuses remain undecided.
This is why Burciaga says it is “so important for higher institutions of education to create a culture of safety and trust.”
While Colorado is ahead of many states in terms of immigrant support with the Asset Bill, which allows DACA recipients to receive in-state tuition, there is still no policy for financial aid. This constraint can often act as a barrier to having the traditional college experience. Many students can’t take opportunities like unpaid internships or memberships in clubs due to the need to work full time.
Blanca Trejo Aguilera, a graduate student at CU Boulder, said she came to the session specifically to learn how to support immigrant students. Aguilera has worked for immigrant student rights since 2015 and voiced an interest in supporting undocumented students in the state of Colorado.
She highlighted the importance of having summits like this one to connect the four campuses and the sharing of resources.
“Being able to share those resources across campus is really important,” Aguilera said. “This conference is providing those unique opportunities that don’t often happen where you have these across-campus resources.”
As a graduate student at CU, Aguilera doesn’t find herself calling herself a “lynx” — the official mascot of UCD — despite that all four campuses are supposed to be part of the same system.
Criticisms raised against CU’s social climate reports
While most sessions involved positive feedback from attendees, some did not feel that CU is doing enough to improve diversity and inclusion.
During one of the final sessions of the summit, Robert Stubbs, director of institutional research, and Mark Werner, data analyst for the Office of Information Technology, discussed the results of multiple campus surveys which dealt with CU’s social climate.
Throughout the presentation “Survey Results on Campus Climate”, Stubbs and Werner assured audience members that changes were in progress to improve CU’s lack of diversity and feeling of inclusion amongst different student demographics.
Stubbs focused on the results of one question in the 2014 Student Social Climate Survey which asked if students felt welcomed at CU. Of the 4,445 students surveyed, 69 percent of white students reported that they felt welcomed while only 38 percent of African-American students felt welcomed.
Stubbs said these results were important for maintaining retention rates of students who feel unwelcome at CU.
The survey also reveals a widely-held belief among students that CU is not diverse; 48 percent of African-Americans survey respondents disagree with the notion that CU is a diverse campus. 24 percent of Hispanic respondents and 25 percent of Native American respondents also disagreed with the statement.
Lupita Montoya, assistant professor in the College of Engineering, questioned what actions are being taken by CU to improve diversity. Stubbs would not give specifics beyond saying that individuals need to feel that they belong at the university, which is what “higher-ed institutions are all about.”
For Montoya, solving the issue of diversity is not “rocket science.”
“[Students] need people like themselves here,” Montoya said. “That’s a simple recommendation … a no brainer recommendation.”
Stubbs agreed that CU needs faculty that will attract different demographics of students, a problem which Montoya says is prevalent at the university.
Montoya spoke to the CU Independent following the session, saying that CU has “actively tried not to bring diversity.” Montoya, who identifies as Latino, said that she is the only underrepresented minority woman in the college.
Montoya believes CU has not tried to recruit more people of color and that this is the biggest reason for why CU does not attract diversity.
“We have young people that need to be served better,” Montoya said.
Contact CU Independent Senior News Editor Robert Tann at email@example.com.
Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Tory Lysik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
News Staff Writer Veniece Miller contributed reporting to this article.