On Friday, UR held an all-day Diversity Forum in the Hawkins-Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library. The day’s events included speeches and discussions by a number of scholars and administrators from UR, Rochester Institute of Technology, Cornell University and numerous other institutions. Included were prominent published authors and Cornell professors Shirley Samuels and Salah Hessian.
The topics addressed included how to diversify the University’s faculty, which at present is lacking in both racial and gender diversity. Speakers suggested strategies and programs for attracting multicultural talent to the University from around the nation as well as numerous ideas and opinions for improving diversity among the student population.
The various guest speakers generally called for immediate and pronounced change. Keynote speaker and Cornell University faculty member Grant Farred, author of books such as “What’s My Name?” and general editor of Duke University-based periodical The South Atlantic Quarterly, felt that the best way to move forward was to return to and consider attitudes of the past.
“What has been lost in the intervening period [since the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in 1968] is a sense of the kind of philosophical urgency that universities should provide,” Farred said. “We have to restore to these programs a sense of oppositional and dissensual thinking and a refusal to compromise. The only way to deal with the changing sociopolitical and demographic realities of the U.S. population as an institution is to stop acting in a time lag. The University has to think seriously about how these issues affect it and address the issue as a philosophical challenge.”
Farred also discussed the current lack of diversity in UR tenured faculty. He warned that the issue of diversity is very pertinent.
“By the end of the day it was clear that this process is absolutely necessary to UR,” he said. “The institution can no longer continue in the way it has up to this point.”
RIT Interim Chief Diversity Officer Alfreda Brown, Ph.D. offered a more direct strategy of improving diversity.
“I believe leadership must be engaged; perhaps very direct language from the top that says in a clear, concise message that diversity is a priority and there will be changes or people will be held accountable – performance must be tied directly to success or the lack of success,” Brown said.
Later, Brown criticized some of UR’s recruitment practices.
“Faculty and decision makers who say they cannot locate faculty of color in the STEM areas must adopt an aggressive recruitment approach,” she said. “There are more out there than many are willing to admit.”
Many of the guests expressed acknowledgement and appreciation of the University’s efforts and dedication to improving itself, especially under the leadership of UR President Joel Seligman.
“The very apex of the institution’s managerial and academic personnel is deeply invested and committed to dealing with the issue,” Farred said. “The challenge is to translate our current intellectual discussions into practical and effective implementations, hopefully in the very near future.”
A number of the speakers also expressed gratitude to the organizers of the forum, Professors Stephanie Li and Rachel Haidu, who are both relatively new to UR.
“I think real congratulations should be given to Professors Haidu and Li,” Farred said. “They did a tremendous job. The institution [UR] is committed to addressing how they should be thinking about diversity because it is an institutional problem. The conversation was committed and useful.”
Samuels also showed his appreciation, commenting on the teachers’ dedication.
“It’s hard for such newly-arrived professors to keep teaching and writing when they are also taking the time to invest themselves in the future of the University,” he said. “It’s to their credit. It shows commitment to the future of students and faculty alike. It shows a challenge to the University as well as support for the University.”
After the event, Brown said that she felt the discussion was effective.
“I felt this event was very worthwhile and was much needed in light of the many conversations regarding the challenges experienced by faculty, staff and students,” she said.
Singh is a member of the class of 2008.