Dean provides lacking response to areas of student need within Woodring College, students say

Woodring students Anne Lee, Sanne de Boer and Gloria Guizar lead a Q&A period for students following presentations by faculty at a second Woodring community assembly on March 1. // Photo by Rachel Alexander

by Laura Place

A month after an initial student-organized community assembly, Woodring College of Education students gathered again on March 1, this time eager to hear faculty’s responses to their concerns about resources and support for students and faculty of color within the college of education.

However, by the end of the four-hour forum, students said they felt more disappointed and frustrated than before, as Woodring Dean Horacio Walker offered what students considered to be unclear solutions with undefined timelines to concerns raised last month.

“My peers and I are very much disappointed by the content shared in the second assembly which was supposed to serve as a response for the demands and needs students shared on Feb. 1 with the dean and faculty and staff,” said Gloria Guizar, student co-chair for the Woodring Equity and Diversity Committee. “However, the disappointment does not mean that we are not thankful to have faculty and staff as well as the dean present and willing to converse with students even when the topics get uncomfortable and emotions start to take over.”

During the initial Feb. 1 forum, students representatives from different groups spoke to failures within the college when it came to support for students within the college as well as preparation of students for the education field. This time, Walker and faculty representatives from different departments within Woodring shared action plans to specifically address areas of student need.

Walker explained plans of action that addressed four main areas of expressed need: curriculum, student support, information, and communication and professional development.

Woodring Dean Horacio Walker explained plans to incorporate more social justice-focused content curriculum in the college. // Photo by Rachel Alexander

“We decided to use the word ‘needs’ instead of ‘demands,’ because if we focus on needs, we were able to think in a long-term basis,” Walker said. “Saying no to a demand doesn’t mean saying no to a need. These were areas of needs students expressed.”

Following faculty presentations, Woodring students were quick to point out gaps in the presented plans.

“Where are the deadlines for changes to happen? Overall, we didn’t see timelines or people attached to a lot of these points,” said Anne Lee, a member of the Human Services Student of Color Union and the Associated Students Vice President for Student Life. “For next time, for human services, we want to see a timeline, who’s going to do it, who will do all the things that you all say you’ll be doing.”

Guizar also expressed disappointment with Walker’s blanket use of the term ‘needs’ rather than the original descriptors used by students.

“We did not appreciate that the dean labeled the ‘demands’ students had to ‘needs’. The dean does not experience Woodring the same way students do, therefore should not downgrade how students feel,” Guizar said. “I believe he could have just explained that some demands were going to take longer than others instead of totally disregarding students’ feelings by removing the labels they originally used.”

In response to the need expressed by students at the initial forum for more social justice-focused curriculum throughout the program, Walker and other faculty continually referred to social justice-centered trainings and workshops. Students and faculty within the Education and Social Justice minor challenged Walker on these plans for more specificity.

Prioritizing the ESJ minor

When asked by students whether he planned to allocate more money toward ESJ minor, which generally funds and puts on social justice-centered workshops and events like those mentioned by faculty, Walker stated that budget issues within the department would not permit more funding for ESJ specifically.

“We don’t have money to increase support of specific programs. At this point we cannot ensure a stable line of funding to additionally support ESJ,” Walker said. “ESJ has the funding that it has.”

Students did not accept this answer, pressing Walker as to why more funding could not be acquired for the minor.

Associate Professor and ESJ Director Verónica Vélez described how the ESJ minor, which spans a variety of departments on campus, is not given a sufficient budget. Vélez also said conversations surrounding increased funding for the ESJ minor are rarely pursued.

“When we address the budget, we’re given the runaround. No one really wants to help when it comes time,” Vélez said. “ESJ is basically funding all kinds of programs on campus and not getting any reciprocity back.”

Multiple ESJ students and faculty agreed the ESJ minor and the Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, or CEED, are frequently co-opted by Woodring as a claim to diversity, without much financial support within the college.

“Is it fair to continue to name ESJ and CEED as college resources if you’re not providing the money for them?” fourth-year human services and ESJ student Cindy Marquina-Negrete asked Walker.

According to ESJ Administrative Assistant Elaine Mehary, one of the most effective forms of professional development organized by ESJ was the Justice Speaks Series, which featured different speakers who focused on topics of diversity and social justice. According to Mehary, due to lack of funding and capacity to continue these events, the series didn’t happen this year, despite a decent attendance rate in past years.

“We have had to back off from that because we don’t have support financially,” Mehary said.

Walker repeated that while funds for ESJ have been requested, they cannot be guaranteed.  

“I do have conversations with the provost about strengthening funding for ESJ, about hiring new faculty for ESJ, that’s an ongoing conversation that I have with the provost, that I have with [Vélez],” Walker said. “We are aware of that need. But that’s not to say that because we request additional funding that we are going to get it.”

Multiple students said classes within the ESJ minor are where they’ve had their most valuable learning experiences within Woodring, despite the fact that the minor does not receive full recognition or funding as an actual Woodring program.

“For me, ESJ is my connection to Woodring,” ESJ student Elena Dan said.

Support for Woodring faculty of color

Walker and other Woodring faculty also stated their recognition for the need for more diversity within the college and stated their commitment to hiring more diverse faculty. Students pressed faculty for more details regarding this commitment, specifically what they meant by “diverse.”

“What do you mean by diversifying faculty, and how will they be supported when they get here? Because we know this institution does not support faculty of color or faculty of marginalized identities,” Lee said.

According to 2018 data from Western’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness, 117 out of the college’s 154 faculty members are white. Minority identities such as Hispanic/Latino, Black and Asian make up 24 percent of the college, according to the data.

Within Woodring college specifically, students referenced Diversity Recruitment and Retention Specialist Nat Reilly as an example of a minority faculty member in need of more departmental support and recognition. Walker said Western’s 2019-2021 Operating Budget includes requests for funding for more support in Reilly’s department.

Diversity Recruitment and Retention Specialist Nat Reilly shared plans for Woodring with students at the March 1 forum. // Photo by Rachel Alexander

“We have submitted a budget proposal to support Nat’s work, but again, we hope we will get it. I cannot guarantee that we will,” Walker said.

Reilly addressed the room and apologized to students for the lack of support currently offered to marginalized identities within the college, apologizing for what she called a failure in that regard. Emotional statements of support arose from students for Reilly.

“You haven’t failed us,” students echoed across the room.

Following the forum, Guizar spoke to the importance of Reilly’s role and the need for either higher pay or more personnel to assist her in her role.

“Nat is valued greatly by students as well as respected for always going over and beyond when serving students. Without her Woodring would not be where it is right now, especially when it come to the diversity of the college,” Guizar said. “Nat Reilly as one is doing the work of multiple individuals and that is something that numerous individuals have noticed.”

According to Walker, he has decided to designate professional development resources toward CEED and ESJ. However, Vélez said there is still more discussion to be had before she can co-sign on the decision for the minor to take on these responsibilities.

“Until we sit down and determine what compensation will look like, I have made it very clear to Horacio that I can’t sign on to something,” Vélez said. “At the end of the day, one of the things that is complicated is that ESJ is a minor, and we need more staff and faculty that are rooted in our program.”

Moving forward

Following faculty presentations, Guizar expressed her disappointment with the solutions offered by faculty, but acknowledged that more work needs to be done by both sides to pursue better solutions.

“You told us how you are gonna do it, and even though we don’t agree, we are here to work with you,” Guizar said.

Raine Dozier, head of the health and community studies department in Woodring, acknowledged the ways in which students of marginalized identities have had to do extra work as not only students, but educators of white peers in their classes. Dozier said Woodring faculty need to continue revising curriculum that incorporates topics of diversity.

“You are not getting the education you deserve in this moment. I don’t think white students are getting the education they deserve either,” Dozier said to students in the room.

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