Community gathers to enhance inclusion on campus.

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Hundreds take part in the work session.

April 2016 – For just the start of a conversation about race at Drew University, it was remarkably productive.

President MaryAnn Baenninger urged participants to “listen with the ear of your heart,” and in less than two hours, hundreds of Drew students generated more than 20 ideas for how to improve inclusion on campus. The ideas covered most facets of University life, including the curriculum, student clubs, social spaces, professors, religion and the student body.

Follow through, of course, will be essential to realizing the goal of creating a more integrated and welcoming community. As Student Government President Jared Sutton—one of the organizers of the March 31 meeting at Crawford Hall—put it, “This is just the very beginning. This conversation can’t stop as soon as you walk outside those doors.”

The students worked with professors, deans and administrators in smaller groups of about a dozen each to tackle issues related to race that students identified before the meeting, which was inspired in part by a December letter from President MaryAnn Baenninger. Here are some of the bigger issues and solutions that participants proposed.

ISSUE: Racial remarks and microaggressions occur in classrooms.

University Chaplain Tanya Linn Bennett works with students.
University Chaplain Tanya Linn Bennett works with students.

SUGGESTED SOLUTION: Train professors to become more attuned to these slights and make it easy for students to report them. One suggestion: an anonymous tip line. “We want to create a climate where everybody can speak up,” explained one female student.

ISSUE: Students congregate in dining halls and across campus along racial lines and by nationality.

SUGGESTED SOLUTION: Reach out to those who are different than you, talk to them, listen and find common ground. One group of students suggested an “awkward team” of extroverts to lead the way because “sometimes you have to be awkward and make new friends,” said Kate Ott, assistant professor of Christian social ethics at Drew Theological School. Another suggestion: create a new common space for socializing.

ISSUE: The school’s leaders, its curriculum and the professors who teach it aren’t diverse enough.

SUGGESTED SOLUTION: Recruit professors and administrators who better reflect the spectrum of students on campus and broaden the perspectives of courses to incorporate viewpoints from around the world. Also, offer courses that focus on specific cultures more frequently.

ISSUE: Students lack time for religious observance and generally, there’s a lack of awareness of religious holidays and practice.

SUGGESTED SOLUTION: Post a giant calendar of all religious events in The Commons and expand the time between classes. Also, don’t schedule exams on religious holidays, regardless of whether school is in session.

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President Baenninger: ‘Listen with the ear of your heart.’

ISSUE: There’s tension and limited dialogue between security personnel and students, with some students claiming racial profiling.

SUGGESTED SOLUTION: Provide sensitivity training for security officers and strengthen lines of communication between them and students.

ISSUE: Student clubs are siloed, and cultural clubs alone reflect diversity.

SUGGESTED SOLUTION: Have clubs plan events together or invite each other to their events. One suggestion: a big sit down meal featuring foods of different cultures.