By Katie Peters, Claire Crittendon, and Kaie Quigley – Editors-In- Chief & Features Editor
“It’s really critical that this work isn’t treated as if it’s just an add on,” says Chief Diversity Officer Jesse Tauriac. The work in question is diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at Lasell.
One office dedicated to DEI accountability is The Donahue Institute, which has hosted many events regarding DEI this semester. Tauriac has continued community-wide Real Talk on Race discussions. During the month of February, the Donahue Institute hosted multiple educational and discussion-based events. Dr. Grace Kim was invited in early April to present on Anti-Asian racism. These discussions and presentations aim to educate the community on different perspectives, but the office has a limited staff which means limited capabilities.
“I recognize that resources are tight, and that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that we spend responsibly for the sake of the university and for the sake of our students,” said Tauriac. “Along with that, I do think more resources need to be allocated towards this work.”
Discrepancies between staff and faculty self-evaluation forms, course evaluation forms lacking a place for DEI-related feedback, and having an overworked, understaffed, underfunded office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have become recurring obstacles for the university, according to Tauriac.
With recent reports of racially-motivated harassment being dealt with in an unsatisfactory manner according to Tauriac and an affected student, questions from the community are once again being raised. These concerns include the university’s attention and proactivity when it comes to issues relating to race.
A sophomore, who wished to remain unnamed for privacy reasons, who began this year as a Resident Assistant (RA) in Woodland Hall was the victim of multiple racial bias incidents. In December, during finals week, this RA was walking down the sidewalk outside of Woodland Hall when they heard a student yell a racial slur out of the window. When the incident was brought to Campus Police, it was suggested that the student(s) may have been singing along to a song and that nothing could be done. This was not the first, and would not be the last, incident this student would go through.
In early March, while this RA was on duty, they noticed a fire extinguisher and a pile of traffic cones at the end of one of the hallways outside of their room. This was reported to their Area Coordinator and they were told someone else would take care of it. Before the end of the night, they noticed the fire extinguisher cabinet next to their room was open. The student, with the other RA on duty, took a photo of this as well, reported it, and closed the cabinet. Shortly after, a Campus Police officer arrived at Woodland Hall.
When the officer examined the cabinet, he found a five-inch razor blade next to the fire extinguisher. The RA whose room was next to the blade said that they felt threatened. The officer checked all other extinguisher cabinets, noting theirs was the only one with a blade present, took their statement, and left.
“It would have been different if nothing had happened to me in the past but it’s kind of clear, at least in my head, that there could have been some underlying message,” they said.
Later that night, former Lasell student Jalen Privott took the student to Campus Police to make a statement about the incident. Even after both statements indicated that the student felt unsafe, no action was taken. “I feel like race definitely played a part in it,” they said. They mentioned how as an RA, they’ve seen situations where white students feel threatened and it is handled differently. “The police officer left me alone in my room and he made me feel like I was crazy for say- ing I felt threatened.”
That night, Privott created a petition with the goal of raising awareness of incidents like this on campus.
Currently, this petition has 626 signatures. A portion of the petition reads, “at the end of the day, they come back to her with the same message: ‘you need to do more and educate more people on racial issues, etc. and there isn’t anything we can do.’”
When asked about this, President Michael Alexander said, “I’m not sure that’s what it really said. But let’s say it did say that. The answer is I would disagree with that.” He continued to say, “it is true that we don’t do enough. But I don’t know anybody in the country who’s doing enough.” Alexander said he spent many hours attempting to resolve issues, and did resolve some.
While the President and other university officials may have deemed this situation as solved, the affected parties felt otherwise. “Lasell preaches so much diversity and [has] racial workshops and whatever, nothing is being done when it’s time for those measures to come into play,” said Privott. “They completely missed every shot.”
The affected student feels the same. “I’ve had to drop out of classes, change advisors, move from my residence, and I was expected to advocate for myself as the victim,” they said.
Tauriac weighed in, saying, “In terms of [the student’s] situation, people did not respond in the way that they have been trained to respond … I think there are multiple offices where there were members or employees from multiple offices that did not respond to that situation the way that they have been trained to do so.”
According to Tauriac, the university has updated protocol to streamline follow up communication between Campus Police, Student Affairs, The Donahue Institute, and other offices after reports of bias have been made. “We don’t ever want a student to be uninformed about the response the University has taken or left feeling that the University has not done anything in response to their reports,” said Tauriac.
On March 23, 12 days after the incident in Woodland Hall, President Alexander released a video titled “A Message from the President.” This three minute video was a statement detailing the current state of racism on campus. On the same day, a transcript of the video was posted to the Instagram page @lasell_u, stating the video was linked in the account’s bio. As of April 24, the video is no longer in @lasell_u’s LinkTree.
This video, filmed by hand without a stabilizer, felt insufficient, according to senior Ariana Perez De Alderete.
Perez De Alderete said, “I think that you shouldn’t have to be part of a club to be talking about race, we should be talking about constantly. I also think that Michael Alexander is very clearly uncomfortable talking about race.”
In the fall, Perez De Alderete put up a multitude of stickers all over campus in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a result, she was placed on community probation for vandalism. “I wasn’t being sneaky about it. I [put them up] in broad daylight,” said Perez De Alderete. “I realized I spent four years at a school that doesn’t protest for what’s right.”
Perez De Alderete’s concerns are seemingly not unique.
“Look, as an institution, we talk a lot about DEI. We need to follow up on that with the amount of resources we invest in that area, whether that’s staffing, whether that’s funding for professional development, whether that is time that is specifically allotted to doing that work, it’s critical,” said Tauriac. “There needs to be a shift in policies and practices to ensure that moving forward, that no longer happens.”
One group working to shift these policies is The Student Government Association (SGA). It is currently advocating for a DEI section to be added to course evaluations. They have hosted a meeting on the topic, and currently have a student officer sitting on the course evaluations committee.
At the end of each academic year, staff and faculty are required to fill out self-evaluation forms. Anyone in a staff or faculty supervisor position must also fill out an evaluation of the person/people they supervise.
While the staff evaluation form does include a DEI section, the same cannot be said for the faculty form.
The Donahue Institute has attempted to increase DEI accountability for employees through advocating for changes in these evaluation forms.
“I think that there are some employees who are asked about that in greater detail. And right now, our administration is looking at ensuring that there is consistency in this across all employee groups,” said Tauriac.
Students and faculty alike are quite familiar with end-of-semester course evaluations forms. Typically sent out two weeks prior to the commencement of a semester, these forms include questions about professors’ teaching style, preparedness, etc. What these forms don’t include is a section for DEI-centric feedback.
President Alexander blames this on a “long-standing oversight” and says it cannot be changed until the Faculty Handbook is updated, which, according to the President, “is not so easy to amend.” President Alexander did not comment on how long this change would take, but said that “faculty and the deans of the schools are working on it. So it will happen. It’s just a laborious process.”
SGA President senior Olivia Tata said, “I really hope that this or just course evaluations in general are taken a bit more seriously.” She continued to say, “being a senior, I’ve definitely [written] my fair share of course evaluations and had to write about personal situations that I’ve had with the professors and being told by professors sometimes that they don’t really care, they don’t really read them.”
Tata’s main objective for the proposed revisions is accountability.
While students currently have the option to write anything in the blank space provided at the end of the form, this can easily sacrifice a students’ anonymity and set them up for possible backlash in the future.
With faculty self and supervisory forms, and course evaluations forms for faculty all currently lacking a DEI section, accountability is harder to achieve.
Speaking on what he would like to see going forward, Tauriac said, “I think that we would really benefit from more staffing. I think that we would benefit from more investment in professional development. I think that there are a lot of people who are working incredibly hard, and are stretched incredibly thin.” He continued, “I wish that there was more time built into their schedule so that they could devote energy and time to really grow and learn.”