By Naniyah McClain
Member of Social Media Team and Staff Writer
“This country is at a tipping point where there’s no turning back,” President Christopher Capuano said at the beginning of the Tuesday, June 30, virtual “Student Forum on Diversity and Inclusion at FDU.”
“I want everyone to know that FDU stands united with the students, staff, and alumni of color, and we have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to racism and any form of discrimination,” Capuano said.
With racial injustices causing a major upset in the U.S., 255 students and faculty members of FDU signed up for the forum to comment on university plans for inclusion.
The assistant director of development and alumni relations, Jeniffer Troxell, facilitated the forum. The university provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, Gillian Small, answered additional questions.
Through the typical Zoom technical difficulties with muting and unmuting, many students were able to get their points across to the speakers. Students made suggestions about Puerta al Futuro, a program that enables Spanish-speaking adults to learn English and earn a college degree through progressive all-Spanish to all-English coursework. Students also made suggestions concerning racial bias training for public safety and faculty members.
Graduate student Marisol Suarez, who studies administrative science, said she is concerned about the university being sufficiently prepared to move forward with the Puerta al Futuro program after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There will be more bilingual faculty for the university and the program will be more promoted,” Small said.
President Capuano said that FDU is currently creating a Hispanic center that will increase the chances of inclusivity within the Latino community on campus.
The forum felt a bit hostile when some of the students of Puerta al Futuro started to question Small about the alleged dismissal of faculty members of the program. Students of Puerta al Futuro said they might drop out of classes if professors were in jeopardy of being dismissed.
“Professors have not been fired,” Small said. “The titles of positions have been changed.”
Plans are currently in the works to integrate Puerta al Futuro with other academic programs on campus.
Audra Gordon, a graduate student who is going for her master’s degree in public administration, suggested creating a program to address cultural barriers within the FDU community by teaching students about different cultures. Capuano agreed.
“Once we realize that people who are different from us are not bad people, we can make progress,” Capuano said.
Is There Discrimination on Campus?
Alexandra Dixon, a student at Silberman College of Business, said that she and other classmates have experienced racial discrimination from FDU’s public safety officers.
“Will there be a process in place for [alleged discrimination] incidents like this?” Dixon said.
She recommended sensitivity training and gathering groups of students to raise awareness about unacceptable behavior on the part of public safety.
“We [FDU] need to do a better job at processing the rules. In 2012, there were 40 complaints concerning race and gender. Resist [the] fear of retribution and actually report to the Dean of Students,” Capuano recommended.
He also told everyone to report these experiences to human resources if they want to remain anonymous when filing a report on racial discrimination on campus.
After describing similar experiences with public safety officers of FDU, Nadiyah Lee, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, said she would encourage bias training.
Capuano said, “FDU should provide training for racial and conscious bias for public safety and faculty members. All of us, including me, can use this training.”
He said that most people racially discriminate against people without even knowing it, hence the need for conscious bias training.
Expect More Dialogue in the Future
The lack of diversity and inclusion is a problem that extends beyond FDU.
The forum was a small step to show that with everything that is happening in the world today, institutions can still take action against social injustices.
Even though some of the plans that were discussed are not set in stone, the university has listened to suggestions and concerns made by students.
“Be patient, there will be changes to make things better,” Capuano said.
He said he plans for more dialogue with the FDU community about diversity.
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Students stand together at diversity forum.