Open Forum Addresses Issues of Campus Diversity

On Wednesday, Ramapo College hosted the Strategic Plan Community Forum: Goal 4 “Cultivate and Support Diversity and Inclusiveness,” where a public discussion was had about Ramapo’s strategic plan from 2014 to 2018 for diversity and inclusion on campus.

This particular forum was run in a unique manner. After Kat McGee, the director of Affirmative Action and Workplace Compliance, gave introductory remarks, the forum was split into four mini forums, and each focused on a specific breakout topic.

The questions discussed were: “What knowledge and skill building should we prioritize in diversity training for administrators, faculty and staff?,” “What support do students need on the pathway to a Ramapo College degree?,” “What barriers and institutional obstacles impede student success at Ramapo?,” “How do you define a ‘safe and supportive’ environment for underrepresented and marginalized groups?,” “How can we best assess progress towards a safe and supportive environment?” and “How can we use the Diverse Learning Environment survey to better understand the campus climate for underrepresented and marginalized groups?”

The first mini forum was led by McGee, and touched upon past training of administrators, faculty and staff on diversity and discussed what should be done in the future. Attendees pointed out that the biggest challenge is that many faculty and staff are still skeptical about diversity and the value of it. Moreover, such individuals will only go through training because oftentimes it is required.

The forum stressed the importance of understanding everyone’s differences, perceptions and perspectives. The forum also highlighted how oftentimes, people do not notice the subtleties in language that could be discriminatory.

Grace Maute, a sophomore, stated, “One thing really cool that [Diversity Action Committee] does every year is an event called Touchy Subjects, and it’s a really effective way, in my opinion, of teaching the campus, and especially maybe teaching faculty what students have gone through on campus. I feel it makes it very real.”

The second mini forum was run by Joseph Connell, the director of Student Success, which touched upon how students feel like they do not belong on campus, how to handle conflict, First-Year Seminar instructors and reasons why students transfer out of Ramapo.

Attendees reported that students from certain settings such as urban communities feel isolated on campus. Isolation was noted to be one of the biggest barriers students face at Ramapo, threatening their success at Ramapo.

The forum discussed students' desires to feel more wanted on campus in ways that are not currently offered, such as rooming assignments amongst students of color.

Attendees pointed out that certain students from distinct settings, such as urban communities, go through a culture shock once on campus, and need support in order to remain at the College, instead of transferring out. Although the Registrar attempts to survey the reason students transfer out, it is not easy, as most students indicate that it is because of financial difficulties, which oftentimes is not the case, but it is hard to follow up and reach out to the students and ask them to stay at Ramapo.

The third mini forum was centered on how to encourage participation in diversity surveys and how the Women’s Center should not bear the responsibility of providing the majority of diversity programming on campus.

The fourth mini forum was led by Tamika Quick, the assistant director for Equity and Diversity Programs, and was about what a safe and supportive environment at Ramapo looks like, as well as the National Survey of Student Engagement, also known as NSSE, survey that students complete annually. The forum also discussed how NSSE defines "safe and supportive," and how it is different from how Ramapo students define it.

The forum also touched upon how Ramapo may want to work with students to get a better definition of a "safe and supportive environment."

Moreover, the forum discussed what are some ways, inside the classroom, students can feel safe, as well as outside of the classroom. In regards to building a safe classroom community, the forum discussed diversity training and development for faculty members, what that looks like and how Ramapo may be able to work with faculty to get them trained in these areas.

In regards to building a safe environment outside the classroom, the forum discussed specific areas designated for groups of different marginalized students, and a more diverse faculty, overall.

All in all, the forum touched upon the past, present and future potential efforts to support diversity and build a safe environment for all students from all different backgrounds.