By The Gatepost Editorial Board
Statistics compiled by outside reviewer Ibis Consulting Group for FSU’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, or CDI, show that a startling number of minority students don’t think FSU is a welcoming place for them. In a survey, an astounding 82 percent of students who self-identified as African American/ black disagreed with the statement, “FSU is comfortable for people from my identity group.” About a third of Asian Americans and students with disabilities, and about a fifth of foreign-born, LGBTQ and ESL students also disagreed.
The results could not be more clear: especially for black students, FSU is not doing enough to promote diversity and support a culture of inclusion. The CDI’s findings need to be a call to action for the administration to make the changes needed in order to ensure FSU is a more welcoming place for students from diverse backgrounds.
At last week’s meeting to discuss the CDI’s findings, and in the report published in February, the committee called for constructing an on-campus multicultural center, bringing in more diverse faculty members and hiring an administrator at the VP level whose sole responsibility would be overseeing diversity initiatives.
President Timothy Flanagan has said his administration supports the construction of the proposed multicultural center, a much-needed addition to the campus for which The Gatepost has been advocating since 2006. Students need to have a safe space provided by the school to meet with one another, discuss diversity issues and plan for events and on-campus initiatives, and the administration’s apparent willingness to accommodate this necessity is promising. The community needs the assurance, though, that a multicultural center will be available soon, and that it will not be a far-off goal to be addressed at an unspecified, distant time.
And President Flanagan has not yet made a clear commitment to the hiring of a new diversity VP, citing concerns that a new hire from outside the campus would not be well enough acquainted with Framingham State to make a difference. But whether a candidate for a new chief diversity officer position is a member of the FSU community should not be cause for concern. In truth, it was due, in part, to the work of an outside reviewer that the CDI was able to illuminate some diversity deficits on campus. Saying that a potential new administrator cannot be an outsider serves only to put another roadblock in front of the initiative and to make the prospect of fresh new leadership all the more unlikely.
If the school is to attract and retain a diverse student body, administrators need to show they are committed to changing what is now so clearly a cultural problem on campus. They need to show that they can and will divert resources toward advancing the school’s diversity goals in a big way and that they can do so quickly. How an institution chooses to utilize its resources and spend its money says a lot about what it is and what issues it takes seriously.
Administrators need to hire a new VP, from within this campus or from outside it, and commit to fulfilling the goals outlined by the CDI with help from the top. The committee, co-chaired by Sociology Professor Sue Dargan and student Keyona Bell, has stated that the school is faced with “the urgent necessity for coherent and comprehensive leadership for systemic change.” In order to bring that change about, they say, unequivocally, that a new administrator is required in order to oversee the far-reaching initiatives for which they’ve called.
Over the years, many student groups such as the Pride Alliance and the Culture Club have worked to represent the diversity of the school’s student body and to make the campus more welcoming for people from a range of backgrounds. The Black Student Union is one of the most visible student groups on campus, and their annual Culture how, scheduled for Friday night, is one of FSU’s most popular events. But students can’t do it alone. Too many still feel uncomfortable on campus, and administrators need to act now to change that.