Trustees, Bradley discuss multiculturalism on campus

On October 22, the Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a discussion on multiculturalism between members of the Board of Trustees, Senior Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Tashia Bradley, and students. In an official notice email, SGA wrote that the talk would engage students about “multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion in education” and builds on the College’s commitment to “an inclusive community and a desire to engage students with Trustees aWEBcouncil (1)nd the Administration.” The panel was one of the first events of the Board’s October meeting. 

In addition to Bradley, the panel included trustees Karlene Burrell-McRae ’94 and Steven Earle ’79. Burrell-McRae is the Director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and Associate Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, where she “provides programmatic and strategic leadership for and coordination of the work of the Office of Multicultural Students Affairs and CSL diversity and inclusion-related initiatives,” according to the university’s website. Earle works in the Office for Diversity and Access in the New York State Education Department. SGA Multicultural Affairs Chair Ramon Arriaga moderated the discussion.

Arriaga opened the discussion by asking the panelists what inspired them to pursue a career in education, eliciting varied responses. Bradley noted that she “had always wanted to teach middle and high school students, and as time progressed [she] got more excited about that possibility, but also learned that there are other ways to engage in education outside of the classroom experience.” That realization prompted her to explore the field of multicultural affairs and “educational structures create change and engage others.”

Burrell-McRae reiterated some of Bradley’s sentiments when reflecting on her career path: “It chose me, I didn’t choose it. As an immigrant child, I don’t think that I was encouraged to necessarily consider education…because my parents wanted me to pick a career where I could sustain myself, and the American education system doesn’t always afford that.” After finding her own path in the administrations of educational institutions, however, Burrel-McRae now believes that the field “is about paying it back and moving forward.” She said, “I continue to do what I do because I see the growth in both myself and the students I serve through my work.”

Earle began his career in education as a recruiter for the State University of New York, with a focus on recruiting students from New York City who were often minorities. After noting that this was not the path he imagined during his time as an American Studies major on the Hill, Earle described some of the challenges of his field: “When I began to focus on workforce management, I realized that the people making decisions for educational policy were not representative of their constituents, in large part.” Earle has since been working within his department to make sure that his organization is able to connect with all of the communities that it represents, which is incredibly difficult given that New York is the “most individually diverse state in the country,” according to Earle.

In response to Earle’s reflections Arriaga asked the panelists how they thought working towards multiculturalism has changed since they were in college, and how they currently work to effect change.

Burrell-McRae stated that in her 22 years of working towards increased diversity in a professional sense, multiculturalism has moved from the premise that “particular types of students are coming into hostile environments and we need to create spaces particularly and exclusively for them.” While she does not believe that we are in a post-racial or “post-anything” society, Burrell-McRae believes that “all of us have an identity that is disenfranchised and we need folks who have more privileged identities to actually enact change.”

Burrell-McRae further said that she currently fights for multiculturalism by making sure her students “do not spend all of their time in one kind of space” and through encouraging the “privileged to enact change both within themselves and systematically.”

Earle said that one of the successful ways in which his department has begun to diversify is through the realization that the issue “is not about affirmative action or doing what is right, it is actually about succession planning. People need to learn to link back to state demographics, and understand that whether or not you actively seek diversity, you are going to get it.”

Bradley said she believes that in order to enact change, there needs to be “spaces on college campuses where people are actively thinking through what it means to disrupt particular behaviors, and what it means to envision a different reality.” She noted that the Pugh Center strives to be one of those places.

In response to Bradley’s point about envisioning change, Burrell-McRae, who was one of four students who fought for the invention of the Pugh Center in 1993, said that the Center has “ended up being bigger than we envisioned, or demanded, at the time. It is so much bigger and better and revolutionary.”

Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life Kurt D. Nelson asked the panelists what they think the College should aspire to, and how, as long-term members of this community, people can effect change.

Bradley responded that community members should consider the opportunity to make change structurally, which Earle said he thinks is already underway. He noted that he has “never seen such diversity within the faculty as [he does] now,” and that students are starting to get opportunities to engage in conversations about multiculturalism in spaces all across campus. Burrell-McRae agreed that the “curriculum should be keeping up with our world,” and that “intellectual curiosity and rigor should flow out of the classroom into all parts of life on campus.”

Earle said that former College President William R. Cotter prompted the focus on diversity at the College, and that “it felt transformative at the time.” Earle continued by saying he feels the same sense of excitement with the introduction of current President David A. Greene.

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