For our fourth meeting, we had a fantastic panel of campus specialists in the areas of campus climate and best practices for racial/gender/sexuality justice. We began with our reflections on our last meeting, which included our individual definitions of diversity; being eager to being our work and move forward with our defined objectives and goals; and feeling that it was important to take time to reflect on our own identities.
The panel was comprised of the following campus specialists:
Ixchel Rosal, Director of Student Diversity Initiatives, Director of the Gender & Sexuality Center (serving women and LGBTQ students), and Interim Director of the Multicultural Engagement Center
Brandelyn Franks Flunder, Program Coordinator at the Multicultural Engagement Center, advises student organizations Afrikan American Affairs and Native American and Indigenous Council
Tony Vo, Program Coordinator at the Multicultural Engagement Center, advises student organizations Asian Desi Pacific Islander American Collective (APAC) and Queer People of Color and Allies (QPOCA)
Rocio Villalobos, Program Coordinator at the Multicultural Engagement Center, advises student organizations Latina/o Leadership Council and Students for Equity and Diversity.
Choquette Hamilton, Associate Director of Development for the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, she has recently done a study of admission rates for African American students and has a history of organizing on campus as a student herself.
Ryan Miller, Associate Director of Campus Diversity and Strategic Initiatives at the DDCE
Ryan began by talking about the recent report from the Campus Climate Response Team (which Ixchel is also on) about the campus climate for historically marginalized students.
He talked about the kinds of spaces where students often encounter bias incidents, such as services, classes, parties, areas of campus such as west mall and explained that though UT-Austin has come a long way, our history still in the present with us. He explained that the CCRT is committed to building and rebuilding trust and providing educational opportunities to educate campus members. He noted that there is a difference between academic freedom/free speech and providing a safe and inclusive campus climate.
He described that when issues of bias are reported, CCRT investigates and then provides an opportunity for those who were reported to undergo a voluntary process of education training. It is voluntary because they are looking for a positive outcome and want to approach these matters in way that will engender open dialogue.
Created in Spring 2011, the DDCE has recently published their first report and have learned much during their first few years. They wrote the report based on data collected over these years to see if folks feel valued, included, respected, and part of a the university community. Ryan noted that they’ve learned that following:
The CCRT has helped to provide validation for those who have been victims of bias and allowed the campus to reach out in a more personal way. By doing so they are able to make a large campus more personal.
It has improved communication across campus because multiple units need to notified when an incident is reported
They have demonstrated that the collection of this kind of data is important to better understanding the needs of the campus community
Choquette spoke about her research in relationship to campus climate for and best practices for serving African Diasporic students. In 2012, she published her dissertation regarding access for black students to UT-Austin. She investigated whether the current admissions policy was enough to help black students matriculate to UT. As she began to gather data, it was evident that the answer is no. People of color are under represented at UT-Austin because the pipeline to UT appears broken — black students are applying, being admitted, and enrolling in vastly smaller numbers than other racial groups.
Choquette provided some history as well and walked us through the data she collected, much of which was obtained through open records requests. In 1999, UT created the Top 10% rule. In 2005 affirmative action was reinstated. The data shows a dip after 2005 which indicates that students think they’ll get in, but Choquette found that very few black students actually apply to UT despite being qualified! Non Top 10% acceptance rates were very low compared to the national average. Of those non-top ten percentage applicants — which is already quite a small number — only 10% of those applicants were black which is equal to about 75 students for an entire incoming class; 20-30 black students are athletes. In 2011 there was a cap on the automatic admissions law.
Ixchel spoke about campus climate and best practices for serving LGBTQ students. She also gave some background about the history of the Multicultural Engagement Center (MEC) and Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC), both of which grew out of a Student Diversity Initiative back in 2004. Both of these centers exist today because of student activism.
The existence of the centers speaks to a need on campus. It provides a place for students who don’t feel safe elsewhere and provides a safe haven “outside” the center where they may experience microagressions. The MEC + GSC make it possible for those students who may have not previously had the support to stay in college, to finish their degree and graduate.
Ixchel reminded us that the student’s prospective of an inclusive campus depends on where they’re coming from. For example, an LGBTQ student from Dallas/Houston may come to Austin and miss their larger queer communities, while those from small towns may feel better supported in Austin.
She also noted that the quality of life in Austin depends on your identity. For example, the mortality rates for African American people in Austin in higher than for any other group.
Brandelyn spoke about her role in helping to represent students of color as the advisor for the following student organizations: Afrikan American Affairs and Native American and Indigenous Council. Brandelyn came to the MEC as a student after the bias incident where someone egged the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. statue. She continued to return because of the community she found in the space. In her role she’s able to meet students at a moment when they’re experiencing a disconnection with how they perceived the world, and she is excited about heightening the positive experience for other and new students.
Rocío poke about her role in helping to represent students of color as the advisor for the following student organizations: Latina/o Leadership Council and Students for Equity and Diversity. She advises student organizes on how to respond to culturally insensitive (to put it lightly) incidents, such as the Young Conservatives of Texas “Catch an Immigrant” rally.
She works with student leadership to bring new students into the MEC and feels strongly that the space helps students build relationships with one another. She noted that the MEC helps students to understand how the programming, events, and conversations that take place in the MEC could potentially be a part of the job they have in the future and helps prepare them to be agents of racial and social justice after they graduate. She also organizes events to help students understand what the implications of things like Abigail Fisher vs. UT-Austin are upon their lives. She sees the library as an opportunity to create conversations and connect with people in the community
Tony spoke about his role advising the following student organizations: Asian Desi Pacific Islander American Collective (APAC) and Queer People of Color and Allies (QPOCA). In response to DASIG’s mention of our goal to put forth a definition of diversity, Tony asked us to think about whether we are defining the individual or the environment. He recommended that the UT Libraries work with Ethnic Studies Centers on campus and experience coming to the MEC. He noted that the Libraries should have more staff that reflect the population of the campus and asked us to consider how students would perceive a white person that is the Black Studies liaison. He asked the libraries to consider the services that are currently being provided at the Ethnic Studies Centers and how the it can be integrated into the Libraries, too. He asked if we had considered the kinds of microagressions that can occur when people might enter a space, such as the Libraries and he recommended we provide displays such as new books that are about and/or by People of Color.
We then had a great discussion regarding how:
to make collections of, by, and about queer and people of color more visible
we currently reach out and make more comfortable international students
we can connect the MEC and GEC lending libraries with the UT Libraries collections
we can work with library development to devise a wish list for donors
library staff can engage our new director in the importance of diversity for the Libraries
Ixchel noted that the demographics of the campus are changing; we are becoming/have become a majority minority campus but our campus culture is still incredibly white; what is necessary in our space to send a message to students, new faculty, new staff that you’re welcome?
Choquette mentioned that could focus on student workers and engage our student workers of color to ask them for their input; these ideas may become institutional.
Ryan offered that there were plenty of educational opportunities for student staff and that DDCE could support us in this.
Tony asked if the subject librarians for ethnic studies are part of the DASIG group.
Ixchel noted that DDC hosted a social justice conversation series in order to change interactions, climate, culture, and that lasted for 3 years because that’s how long it took. Changing our culture is a long term investment.
Jee asked our panelists to help us get information about what our users needs might be.
Ixchel noted that there were 4-5 councilors outside of CMHC offices to embed around campus; she wondered if there was a librarian that could come to the MEC on a regular basis.
We all wondered how to keep the momentum going and install these values when students graduate every four years. Tony noted that engagement differs year by year and Brandelyn noted that we can wait to build the model by building our capacity
Ryan posed to us how diversity becomes part of our standard operating procedure. We all thought the following to ways were a good beginning:
Build it in; create new transitions; ask who is accountable for this work? Could a new position be a Chief Diversity Office of the Libraries? This can’t just depend on a few volunteers.
Build a wish list for integrating new traditions, such as staff trainings, books, videos, retreats, and speakers.
Ixchel asked us how to brand or rebrand the library such that diversity is seen as part of the identity of the Libraries; how do we get in front of first year students to pitch brand?
Brandelyn offered that we can start small; we have to be okay with things that seem superficial; such as pictures in the lobby. Ixchel agreed, saying that we can start with simple cues that it’s a safe space, such as an ally card, a representation of a person of color, or language that is welcoming. Ann noted that our learning commons planning should involve MEC and DDCE.