Subcommittee brings revision to faculty code of ethics; students still dismayed

Screen capture from the Faculty Senate on Nov. 4, 2019.

By Kiaya Wilson

This story was updated with more information on Nov. 5, 2019.

After passing a motion to create an ad hoc committee to work on the revision of Section II in the Faculty Code of Ethics on Oct. 7, the faculty senate unanimously passed a motion to include the revision in the Faculty Code of Ethics on Monday, Nov. 4.

The new revision states, “the faculty recognize that the university community (faculty, staff and students) is predominantly white. Moreover, the university is the product of a social system born in and shaped by institutional white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and class inequality… Faculty members are encouraged to consider student diversity and sensitivity and how best to present material so that the audience can absorb it, reflect upon it and be edified.” 

Faculty senate members agreed to revise Section II of the Code of Ethics after three informal reports were made at the Equal Opportunity Office about an anthropology professor using the n-word in class, according to a previous Western Front article.

The subcommittee consisted of three students and three faculty members and was tasked with creating an actionable and legal document that reflects the spirit of the revision voted on in June 2019. The original revision stated “the faculty are to avoid and condemn racism … In particular, faculty condemn verbal use of the n-word racial slur in learning environments.” 

Faculty senate members voted to approve the original revision, but it could not be added to the Code of Ethics because it wasn’t legally enforceable. There is no legal definition of racism, and banning the use of a word violates the First Amendment, Rich Brown, president of the United Faculty of Western Washington, said in a previous faculty senate meeting.

Student committee members Abdul-Malik Ford, LaShaiah Dickerson and Lydia Ashenfie read a statement at the faculty senate meeting on Nov. 4 after the latest revision was approved. 

“After much reflection and discussion, we have concluded that [creating an actionable and legal document] is not possible, that the master’s tools are still inadequate for dismantling the master’s house,” the statement read. “It has become clear to us that our choice is to either write an unenforceable rule that could be abused or to write yet another vague, vanilla statement of support for diversity and inclusion.”

Faculty senate members sit beneath latest Section 2 revision // Photo by Kiaya Wilson

Faculty senate members said they were aware that the Code of Ethics couldn’t specifically include banning the n-word.

“I agree that we could never have banned a word,” said Jeff Young, faculty senate president. “But we can charge faculty to better support students.”

Several students at the faculty senate meeting on Nov. 4 expressed disappointment with the process.

“We’re telling you why we’re hurt, and you’re telling us why we shouldn’t be,” said Olivia Ford, a first-year student at the meeting. “We’re asking you to move that stone because we’re already underneath it.”

Student committee members agreed.

“This outcome is extremely disappointing,” Dickerson said.

Four faculty senate members said their departments are participating in diversity trainings and discussing ways to better accommodate students of color.

Health and human development professor Jasmine Goodnow, Wilder Distinguished Professor of Business and Sustainability Craig Dunn, biology professor Jose Serrano-Moreno and communication studies professor Rae Lynn Schwartz-DuPre all said their departments are working on diversity training and student programs to support students of color.

Students at the meeting agreed these programs and discussions are good, but the university needs to be more open with their work.

“Why are we not more transparent with our students?” said Gloria Guizar, a student at the meeting.

Several students and faculty senate members agreed that the university needs to be more transparent with their work and include students in the process.

“We need face-to-face conversations,” Serrano-Moreno said. “We are not dealing with items, we are dealing with humans.”

Olivia Ford said this discussion between students and faculty senate members is similar to discussions that took place in her predominantly white high school.

“I was a poster child for my high school because there were four [people of color] in a class of 200,” Olivia Ford said. “Your campus is predominantly white, so they won’t even understand. It feels like such a huge waste of time to be around people who don’t get it.”

University President Sabah Randhawa said during the meeting that it is his goal and the goal of his administrators to continue working with students of color to better understand what it is like to be a student of color on a predominantly white campus.

“I am personally committed to continue working with black students and other students of color,” Randhawa said.

The work students are putting in to help the university needs to be compensated, although that is not always a driving factor, they said.

“I don’t think our time was well spent,” Abdul-Malik Ford said. “Y’all paid us to waste our time.” 

Abdul-Malik Ford added that if he was given the choice now, he would decide not to be on the committee, despite being compensated. 

After much discussion on the latest Section II revision, faculty senate members unanimously passed a motion to create a faculty referendum where all faculty members will vote on whether to agree to the revision. The referendum will be sent out to faculty members on Friday, Nov. 8, and will be completed on Nov. 15.

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