Students, faculty and staff hopped on Webex this past Thursday to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion within higher education institutions as part of the annual "Welcome Back Reception for People Of Color & Allies." The event featured guest speaker Taran McZee, Associate Vice-President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion from Bluegrass Community & Technical College.
“Is there going to be an emotional support group ready once that final decision is made in November?” McZee asked the administration. “Will an email be ready by upper administrators in case of racial tension that may rise on campus?” These are only a few of the questions he proposed.
The timely event, hosted by the Office of Equity-Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance (EDIC) in partnership with The Minority Faculty Staff Association, facilitated important conversations about social justice with an emphasis on how the administration will handle student responses after the 2020 presidential election.
With the spike in youth activism since President Trump’s win in 2016–from the Women’s March to protests for Breonna Taylor–Americans are anticipating some form of protests to take place in November, no matter which candidate wins. McZee stresses that the most important thing Ramapo’s faculty and staff can do for students is “just listen and acknowledge their fears, their distresses and their anxiety that they’re going through” and to “be visible for students, especially students of color.”
During the open discussion portion of the virtual reception, Judy Green, Director of the Center for Health & Counseling Services, shared that the center is working with the provost to create a support group for students after receiving feedback through a student survey about concerns over the political climate.
Some of the steps that McZee has taken at his own institution, Bluegrass Community & Technical College, include creating policies and procedures for students and community members regarding protests on campus. He emphasizes that the only way to build trust between students and administration is to work with them and not against them.
In the anticipation of political tension among students on campus, McZee acknowledges the scarcity of minority students at liberal arts colleges, but he delivers to them a powerful message about how they should partake in these upcoming conversations.
“Take pride in being the vessel of knowledge that you are. No one knows you and your heritage better than you. No one. Share your knowledge with others. You are sharing one of the greatest subjects people can learn from, and that’s you as a person.”
As a way to amplify minority student voices, Chief Equity and Diversity Officer Nicole Morgan Agard shared that based on student feedback from a previous “Let’s Talk About It” event, her office is going to initiate a discussion form for only students to discuss racial justice in and outside of Ramapo.
When speaking directly to the allies on the call, McZee challenged them to “fight with us but to understand what you’re fighting for.” He said if you do not understand it now, that’s okay, but you should start educating yourself.
One step students can take to “push their institutions to change the dominant culture” is to get involved in the Student Government Association, for they are the most powerful student organization on campus that can initiate change. McZee asks all students to remember that the work they do now will impact all future students.
As his speech concluded, McZee left listeners with his favorite quote from the poet Rumi: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”