University accelerates creation of Center for Diversity and Inclusion

With the Bias Report and Support System (BRSS) now in place, the Mosaic Project is looking toward the completion of a fully functioning Center for Diversity and Inclusion before 2015.

After recent events of perceived bias that rippled through Washington University community over the last year, the center is intended to be a hub for both the ongoing diversity and inclusion initiative and the BRSS.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Students Rob Wild and his committee toured other institutions that already have such a center in operation to see the kind of impact it has on a college community.

“We are behind in this aspect of culture,” Wild said. “These other institutions already have these centers in operation, and we went to go get ideas from them.”

While an independent report highlighted student concern that the center’s success might be compromised by the reactionary call for its creation, the report also noted that many campuses form similar centers in moments of “campus or community crisis.”

Washington University is continuing to press the project as a major priority, its most immediate priority being finding a director and location.

Among the spaces the report suggested considering were Mallinckrodt Center, Olin Library, the Women’s Building, South 40 or the Northside Residential Community, and the Academy Building.

The University hired Dr. Lori Patton Davis of Indiana University as a consultant to assess the general climate of diversity and inclusion on campus, as well as to assess the need for a potential multicultural center.

Davis’ report found that students and administrators want the center and suggested it would have an “immediate, positive effect” on the University, particularly “enhancing current programs and strengthening others.”

The report added that the center should be centrally located in a central, accessible space on the Danforth Campus and have a director who reports directly to the vice chancellor for students. They hope to have a director identified by mid-spring.

The center will have four core objectives: support, education, collaboration and advocacy, with the BRSS falling under the latter.

In line with the center’s support objective, staff will work to assist individuals from underrepresented communities, but at this point, the committee has chosen not to define what an underrepresented community is for fear of leaving out or marginalizing certain groups.

The center will hold workshops and trainings related to the diversity and inclusion initiative, as well as host speakers and programs. Its goal is to serve as a place where students can come together to collaborate on how to make the University more diverse.

“It’s important that it be accessible 24 hours,” Wild said. “It also will be somewhere centrally located, not ducked off in some corner of campus but somewhere where it will have a substantial presence to have the desired influence and impact.”

While the center is chiefly intended for student use, organizers want it to be accessible as a resource for the greater St. Louis community.

“The [director] will have experience dealing with diversity and multicultural issues,” Wild said. “They will not be timid about keeping the conversation going around race. Washington University has not been a perfect university when it comes to inclusion, but we are getting better.”

Senior Ashley Shannon hopes the center will be more than just a visual presence on campus and will actively promote mixing culture through open dialogue and student events.

“I envision a diversity center that not only supports other cultures but gives a platform to different views on life. Here at [the University], we celebrate the customs of cultures, but rarely do we celebrate the voices,” she said. “Maybe the diversity center should have a debate or conference space where different voices that aren’t usually heard can speak.”

“I think such a center would eliminate stereotypes of people from certain backgrounds or certain ethnicities. It will help the…community become more open-minded,” 2013 graduate Henry Hu said. “There should be a knowledge bar where people can ask questions about how to respect cultures they know nothing about.”

With reporting by Talal Ahmad, Emily Schienvar and Michael Tabb.

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