By Irish Noel – 1851 Staff
Picture of Jesse Tauriac, second from left, speaking at the most recent Diversity and Inclusion Committee meeting. Photo by Irish Noel.
Jesse Tauriac is a Psychology Professor, Director of the Donahue Institute, as well as Lasell’s very own Diversity and Inclusion Officer. In addition to these roles, he is focused on social justice issues as well as helping Lasell students find their voices when it comes to fighting for the change that they strive to see.
Are you part of any discussions, clubs, or organizations that happen on campus?
Absolutely, a whole bunch. There are a lot of events and discussions, both formal and informal, that I am apart of and am involved with on campus. As for presentations, we bring in many guest presenters each semester. This current semester we are bringing in Dr. Phillippe Copeland, who will be speaking on the topic of mass incarceration. We are bringing in Chris Sweeney, who will be speaking about the role for conservative students and faculty as far as their perspectives and viewpoints being included in the campus environment. So, thinking about how we could make a space for them so that their voices are valued and are considered. In terms of discussions, I hold a monthly informal discussion for all students that talks about issues related to racialized experiences and perspectives called Real Talk on Race. We talk about the ways race plays itself out in the campus environment, but also in our society, and how we can be supportive of members from every community as well as ways to bring change to the broader campus environment. Beyond that, I am also involved in the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and work very closely with the co-chairs of that committee. I also support the Multicultural Student Union, PRIDE, Lasell Says Thank You, and the Naturals.
Why did you make the decision to hold these discussions, formal and informal, regarding race and other topics surrounding the diverse community?
In terms of Real Talk On Race, I think one of the things I noticed was there were a number of students who had experiences on campus that were frustrating for them. I felt as though these discussions would be a good platform for students to speak about them and so they could come up with good action steps in terms of being able to connect with other students of the community, to voice concerns, and to collaborate with others…I think often times in the classroom students may not always be able to talk on the spot about things that are impacting them…My hope was that this forum would give students the opportunity to have a safe space to talk about these issues and to connect with people on campus who care about these issues.
What is the purpose of these discussions, clubs, organizations, and events that happen on campus?
As I think about the purpose of these clubs and events, they address a number of things. I think in many respects we want to make sure the campus environment is one where everyone feels valued and as if their identities are affirmed. That their backgrounds and lived experiences are appreciated and celebrated. I think beyond that; the purpose is to make sure that we are really helping the rest of our community to collaborate effectively with people from a range of backgrounds. Our society is becoming increasingly diverse and college is an incredible period to be able to really connect with others and learn how to be effective with people from different backgrounds. I think because our society is incredibly segregated often times it’s very easy to be in context where we’re almost exclusively around people who are like us…the Boston, Cambridge, and Newton area is the seventh most segregated metropolitan area in the United States. Even though we have a lot of people from diverse backgrounds, they’re often very segregated so we don’t get the chance to really hear from one another and learn from each other. These events are a wonderful opportunity for us to promote cross group perspective taking and cross group empathy so people can really put themselves in others shoes and understand where they’re coming from. Also, so that people can imagine what other people might be feeling within different situations and contexts…the events and discussions also help us to become increasingly socially responsible and raise awareness about the things we can do and the choices we can make in order to become a change agent to bring about positive change.
Have these discussions, organizations, clubs, and events had any positive impact on students on campus?
There was a student who really wanted to be very active on campus in terms of talking more about racial issues and racial dynamics. We had a discussion in the aftermath of the Michael Brown verdict. She was there discussing the issues that had arose. She wanted to get involved and partnered with Sarah Beth Golden, Professor of Social Sciences, to host an event on cultural appropriation and talk about Halloween costumes. In any case, they ended up putting on a forum and it expanded it to multiple classrooms and started many conversations. I think for a lot of folks that was very empowering and a lot of students felt as if their experiences were validated…Lasell Radio then became involved and showed a lot of support for these issues which caused them to bring more awareness as well. They did so by setting parameters for what costumes people were allowed to wear to their annual Halloween party. This then started even more conversations…So, we’re looking at an event that ultimately raised awareness, and event where we started working collaboratively with one of the student’s clubs so that policies could be developed that would really help everyone feel respected, and an event that allowed students to take on key leadership roles in future conversations.
What do you think Lasell needs to work on when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion?
I think we have come a very long way and I think that we really have a ways to go. I think that Lasell is a community that really values respect and strives to be accepting of others. Along with that, I think that as people we all have our blind spots and our biases and we all grow up in communities that may give us access to people from particular social backgrounds but not from different social backgrounds. I think in terms of our areas of growth, we really need to improve on our intercultural competence so that we can partner in fostering an environment where everyone feels included and also where we can really work to develop the skills so that our environment can be as effective as possible in supporting people from a range of backgrounds. I think that the curriculum is designed to help people have a nuanced perspective on people from different backgrounds and cultures. I would like for us to work on that so that every student who graduates can have an educational experience that will position them to work effectively with diverse community members and to be able to deliver culturally confident professional services.
Why would you encourage students to take part in these discussions, events, and organizations?
Honestly, I think that students have so much to offer and so much to contribute so being able to take part in these discussions really enriches those conversations, those events, and those committees. I think that folks have so much to give and often times they don’t realize it. I also think folks really benefit, personally and professionally, from being able to hear the prospective and viewpoints from others. I think that in order to be successful professionally and in order to have a successful educational experience it’s really critical that its grounded in intercultural communication and multiculturalism. Again, our community is much better when we have people from all backgrounds there. It strengthens them because of people from all backgrounds. Along with that, students can really take advantage of that opportunity. As I mentioned before, college gives people many people a period in life where they are going to be around the greatest number of people who are different from them. So, to be able to learn from them, to build meaningful relationships with them, and to share their own viewpoints with them is incredibly valuable.
If students would like their voices to be heard, in regards to concerns or certain issues, what should they do?
I think students certainly should access the resources and the campus leaders who are deeply concerned about them and their wellbeing. Certainly Student Affairs, faculty, Title Nine coordinator, and the Human Resources director. I work in partnership with them so that when problems arise I am happy to speak with students individually or as a group to make sure they are listened to and so that we can develop effective strategies. When concerns are raised and brought to me, I work really hard with the students to make sure they feel that they have a part in how to move forward and how to steer the process so that the people who need to hear about the issues can, all while their confidentiality is being protected. I hope that they feel like they can come talk to me and bring these issues to members of our community. They can certainly talk to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee because it is a space that can be really valuable. All of these provide great outlets.
Do you have anything else you would like to speak on or bring to people’s attention?
We’re a work in progress. We have a ways to go and we need student input and feedback to make sure that we can really be the community that we are striving to be. I think that everyone’s voice needs to be included and whether we think about students from diverse backgrounds, in terms of gender orientation, gender identity, political ideology, race, or culture, or religion, or ability status, any area of difference, we really want to make sure those folks are a part of the conversation. So, that we can keep making progress. Also, my office works to help students get academic credit for social justice projects. So, being able to complete a linked credit or doing a directed study will allow them to get course credit while also doing work that’s meaningful to them. I hope they take this opportunity to talk to me or other faculty about linked credits or about social justice directed studies.