University discusses diversity plans at open forum

Administrators discussed a two-year action plan to address concerns about diversity at Washington University at the Forum on the Steering Committee for Diversity & Inclusion Report on Friday afternoon.

Approximately 150 WU community members gathered in Hillman Hall to discuss the report with panelists Chancellor Mark Wrighton, Provost Holden Thorp, Vice Provost Adrienne Davis and Chair of the Steering Committee Nancy Staudt.

The discussion centered on the Steering Committee for Diversity & Inclusion and the report it presented to Wrighton and Thorp, which provided 12 recommendations on how to improve diversity at the University and support newly recruited students and faculty.

The forum began with a brief introduction to the formation and development of the committee and the report that committee subsequently produced: Thorp appointed the committee in March 2015, and, according to Staudt, the committee worked throughout the summer to identify areas where the University could improve to compile its final report in August.

Staudt went on to describe her personal experience as chair of the steering committee.

“What the steering committee learned—what I learned—is if we all have humility and we come to these issues without the idea that anyone has all the answers on diversity and inclusion and all of us have the obligation to learn more and do more, we can make some advancements,” Staudt said.

After explaining the origins of the report, the panelists opened the floor to questions from the audience. The first few questions fielded focused on the formation of the Commission on Diversity & Inclusion, and Wrighton addressed concerns of possible stagnation.

“This is not just another study commission,” Wrighton said. “This is a commission that’s going to help implement action that will help us make more rapid progress in this important area of diversity and inclusion.”

As the forum continued, audience questions began to focus the action plan.

Sophomore Maureen Flaherman inquired about the support systems that may or may not accompany any changes the University implements.

“[I’m] really happy that the administration has committed to increasing the diversity of the student body,” Flaherman said. “That said, we’re concerned that the administration will increase the number of students from underrepresented groups but won’t accompany that increase with more support services for those students.”

Flaherman’s presence at the forum highlighted a stark lack of undergraduate representation in the audience.

“I think it’s pretty telling that there were so few undergraduates at the forum,” Flaherman said. “It wasn’t very well-publicized, and I think the administration could do more to involve students in their efforts to increase diversity.”

Despite the lack of undergraduate presence, the audience mostly inquired about the timeline of the implementation of proposed action plans. Davis, who was the first to address such questions, said the committee expected to make recommendations to Thorp by the end of the year or early January.

“We don’t see two years as the outer limit—to come back in two years. We really anticipate two years as the time in which we’re going to be completely done,” Davis said.

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Alex SiegmanComment