by, Jilleen Barrett & Samantha Walla, Asst. A&E Editor & Production Manager
As a result of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been an increase in dialogue between members of the Manhattan College community. An Instagram account, @letstalkaboutitmc, was created to allow students to recount racial discrimination on campus and it even inspired students at other schools to do the same. Petitions were drafted to take former NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s name off the building that houses the multicultural center and to keep the school from having any affiliation with Aramark. Many clubs and organizations, such as the Student Government Association and the Black Student Union, have spoken out in solidarity with people of color.
More recently, a Diversity Council was announced. On June 5, the Manhattan College community received an email from President O’Donnell and some of the council’s steering committee, Sheetal Kale, Dr. Esmilda Abreu-Hornbostel and Dr. Cory Blad which explains the efforts they hope to put into action during the fall semester.
“[The Diversity Council’s] primary purpose is to promote dialogue, seek meaningful change, and build a truly inclusive educational environment at the College.” the email stated.
According to Kale, who is also the Director of Equity and Diversity and the Chief Title IX Coordinator, the council was inspired by the results of a survey from last year that reflected negatively on inclusion on campus.
“Last year our associate provost as well as our AVP for student life [created a survey for students], and as a result of those surveys we learned that many people of color don’t feel they are treated as well as their white counterpart,” Kale said. “They also feel as though there isn’t racial harmony on campus, and so we were planning to start as a baseline kind of a diversity climate survey and doing all the strategizing this summer. Obviously COVID threw a big wrench into that, and then with the killing of George Floyd and the protests surrounding that obvious need to address race … so we decided to speed up the timeline for the formation of this council.”
In addition to the steering committee, there are about 30 to 40 members of the council who meet weekly in subgroups, and their meetings determine the purpose of any future work. David Witzling, the head of the Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies (CRES) minor, is one of these members. He addressed that the Diversity Council was not only put into action because of recent tragedies but that it has been progressing over time.
“There was a strong desire to get this Diversity Council up and going in conjunction with what’s been happening in the world in the last few years,” he said. “So a lot of things have kind of unfolded on somewhat of an ad hoc basis.”
Throughout the last month, students and employees have received several emails from the council related to the inclusion of not only people of color but also the LGBTQ+ community at MC. A recent anonymous message to @letstalkaboutitmc raised a concern that despite these emails, the council was not being communicative enough.
“What we need from MC and the advisory council is transparency, not this facade of putting people’s names up there in hopes that the council steering committee can say that students and faculty have been included on the council,” the anonymous concern stated. “Inclusiveness doesn’t work like that.”
The creators of @letstalkaboutitmc, two students of color at Manhattan College, also feel strongly that all faculty members and students should be held responsible for change.
“Some faculty and administration went through the process of creating a statement
opposing institutional racism at Manhattan College,” they said. “To start, the Diversity Council can address many of the issues on campus through the process and guidelines set up by this statement.”
Additionally, they feel there should be more support for people of color on campus.
“We believe that the council should be focusing on amplifying the voices of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] students and faculty,” they said. “We want intentional policies implemented to offer support and resources to marginalized populations on campus.”
“We believe that the Diversity Council should be engaging all of Manhattan College’s population in the dialogue and focus on being more transparent with the student body.”
Witzling wants to remind students that even though the council might seem like they aren’t doing much, there is more going on than some may think.
“I think that people who are worried that the Diversity Council won’t be effective have
good reason to be worried because often in the past, it seems that when people announce something like this, the real commitment to doing the work isn’t there,” he said. “I know that a lot of the people who are most committed to make the community a better place for not just students of color but faculty and staff members of color as well as people who are really interested in doing that work are involved in the Diversity Council so I have high hopes to some degree of pessimism.”
Priya Varanasi, a former undergraduate student, thinks that a Diversity Council is exactly what Manhattan College needs, but only if they make a legitimate effort to create a better experience for people of color in our community.
“I know that the intentions are good and that having a Diversity Council is extremely important. It is what we need,” Varanasi said. “But my first question is will the work be put in, over time, throughout the life of this Diversity Council, to ensure that students are always included, to ensure that students’ perspectives as new students come in are really included in this council?”
Kale and Blad addressed this concern, saying they hope to involve the Student Government Association and the Black Student Union in their efforts, as well as students who wish to participate. Additionally, there are many members of the council who were not mentioned in the email but are just as faithful to the cause.
While the council believes it is extremely important that people of color are heard, Blad is encouraging the whole community to put forth an effort to spark change. This means everyone will be having difficult conversations and educating themselves and others on race-related topics.
“I think that the topic of education is a multifaceted one and a difficult one,” Kale said. “Because obviously we want to gain insight from people of color but at the same time we don’t want the entire burden of educating others on them.”
Blad further emphasized this point.
“Everybody is a part of this process because everybody is part of this community.”
Kale has hopes that the council will address problems that stretch beyond racism. Her goal is to put these plans into action so every student can feel safe at MC.
“My thought is that the advisory committee will head up various subcommittees focusing on different topics such as campus climate– which is obviously a huge issue– admissions, hiring, grants, commuter students specifically, LGBTQ students, particularly those of color intersectionality,,” she explained. “So a variety of topics that need to be addressed, as well as action steps. We don’t want to just talk about things–
we want to actually do them.”