Christopher Whitt, vice provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, said that developing an action plan, rolling out training, helping in the Omaha community and understanding its history are all important steps in promoting anti-racism across Creighton.
Whitt was a panelist in the Creighton Students Union virtual town hall held on July 21, during which panelists answered student questions about racial injustice and the campus reopening plan.
National protests following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, have given momentum to the Black Lives Matter movement, which is calling for an end to racial injustice in institutions across the U.S.
The CSU town hall was an opportunity to continue that conversation at Creighton.
Whitt said that he; Becky Nickerson, the director of the Creighton Intercultural Center; and a number of others — a total of about 15 people — attended the Summer Institute on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation held by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, where they developed an action plan for Creighton. Whitt said the plan is currently being reviewed by the AACU.
He emphasized that in order to have a shared understanding of anti-racism at Creighton, faculty, staff and administrators need to be better equipped to hold these kinds of conversations and educate students on racial injustice.
“The first step in working on this is recognizing that we deal with these systems, and then working to get better, as opposed to putting all the weight on the few people of color here, or, particularly, the few Black folks on faculty/staff, or a few Black students,” he said. “It needs to be the work of everyone, and we need to do that collectively.”
Creighton University African American Student Association President Sunny Washington, a sophomore in the Heider College of Business, said that in addition to reporting an incident, students should call out racist statements and microaggressions as they occur.
“We don’t necessarily need authority to take that action,” she said.
Whitt echoed this idea by encouraging students to use what he called their “spheres of influence” in friend groups, study circles, clubs, sororities, fraternities and workplaces to call out racist remarks and introduce conversation.
Nickerson, director of the CIC, said that in addition to providing support for multicultural students and organizations, the center also has programming and training to create a campus-wide dialogue. Its educational training includes: “Wheel of Fortune,” an activity for RSP groups addressing privilege; implicit bias training with Public Safety; training for resident advisors on the culture of humility and the culture of dialogue; and stone catchers training for being an active bystander.
This summer, the CIC held a program called “Talk About it Tuesdays” and started a book club reading “How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi.
In response to a question about racism in Fraternity and Sorority Life, Michele Bogard, associate vice provost for Student Engagement, called on FSL leaders to actively engage their peers. She said all chapters need to hold stone catchers training on how to be an active bystander.
Allison Taylor, executive director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, handles complaints about discrimination and discriminatory harassment and was also on the panel.
She said students should report microaggressions from faculty by talking to the dean, a department head or someone else the student is comfortable with. She said this is a way to start a dialogue with the faculty member about the microaggression used.
She also said the office is working on different ways to address bias and developing “restorative justice” options for people with complaints. When the university handles complaints, they can’t share private information on how the inappropriate conduct was handled, Taylor said. But she said the office is working to develop “more opportunities for people to really talk about how they were impacted by an incident ... and helping to develop a resolution that feels like they have more control over an outcome and they're involved in that process.”
Whitt closed out the discussion by saying that inclusivity on campus must happen first, and diversity will come after.
“When we have a welcoming and inclusive environment where we really take a look at our culture, we look at what we're doing … to make this a destination of choice, a place where people, regardless of their intersecting identities and their backgrounds, they feel like they can be their full and authentic selves and thrive, then you get to the diversity part,” Whitt said. “Then you get to the part where you're able to successfully recruit and retain faculty, students, staff from a wide variety of backgrounds.”
A recording of the racial injustice and COVID-19 town hall has been made available by CSU here.