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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

What’s Western doing to address discrimination and inclusion issues?

By Hailey Jostmeyer

Western is attempting to address discrimination and a lack of inclusivity reported by people who identify as women, non-binary, LGBTQ, people of color and those with disabilities on campus.

President Sabah Randhawa sent an email to campus on Dec. 6 announcing the creation of two new committees to address the concerns marginalized groups have about Western’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

In the email, Randhawa discussed combatting recent discriminatory incidents on campus, including Islamophobic flyers found around the university in the fall.

He also cited reports that show 73.1 percent of Western faculty of color and 65.7 percent of LGBTQ faculty felt they had to do more work than their colleagues to be perceived as legitimate scholars.

The Commission on Gender Equity and the Council for Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice were created to find areas where Western can improve and make the campus a welcoming environment. Both groups will be working with the Equal Opportunity Office, the Faculty Senate Social Justice Committee and other existing offices created to promote diversity and inclusion.

They will make recommendations to the president on policies they feel will make campus more diverse and inclusive.

Discrimination on Campus

Fatuma Musa, the lead officer of the Muslim Students’ Association, said it wasn’t until they met with faculty in the EOO that Western officially addressed the discriminatory flyers posted in Haggard Hall.

“There’s only so much the university can do,” Musa said. “But there is also a lot it can do, like spread awareness and shed a light on the problems at Western.”

Musa said Western’s delay in responding to the flyers led to parents and loved ones of students to hear about them from the media. After The AS Review reported on the flyers, other news outlets like The Bellingham Herald and KOMO News reported on the incident.

After they met with the EOO and university police, Musa said it was unanimous that something needed to be done and that everyone on campus should be notified about the flyers that were posted by potentially dangerous individuals.

“We need to bring awareness around hate,” Musa said. “Hate is not just a Muslim issue. Our struggle is unique, but everyone’s commonality is hate.”

In his email to campus, Randhawa said Western must do more to address harassment and discrimination.

“That our Muslim students and colleagues deserve an environment free from harassment and discrimination should go without saying,” Randhawa said in his message to campus. “The fact that fear of such harassment is a common companion for them, and for other diverse members of our community, confirms that we must be more effective as an institution and as a community in improving our climate.”

Students have said incidents like this are not just a one-time thing.

Recently the Oceanic Student Association called for Western to be more inclusive and have better training surrounding cultural awareness after the Athletic Department asked students to bring their “best beach wear” to a “Hawaiian themed” men’s basketball game.

The OSA said in a statement that this incident was part of a larger lack of inclusion at Western.

According to the Office of Institutional Research, 4,078 students out of the 15,915, or 25.6 percent of students who enrolled in fall of 2017 were from “ethnic minority groups.”

In the 2017 Higher Education Research Institute Summary Report, Western found that students from marginalized groups reported feeling a weaker connection to campus compared to a majority of responses from men, white students, straight students and those without disabilities.

“While the student response rate was quite low—7.5 percent, which does not permit generalizing findings to the entire student body—we nevertheless take this feedback as significant, and as a call for immediate improvement,” Randhawa said in the email.

Commission on Gender Equity

The Commission on Gender Equity is co-chaired by Raine Dozier, professor of health and community studies in Woodring College of Education, and Stephanie Bowers, vice president for University Advancement.

Members on the commission are in charge of giving advice and recommendations related to promoting gender equity, parity and inclusivity. The commission was told to monitor areas on campus associated with hiring, professional advancement, leadership development, salary equity and student success.

Kristi Lemm, a psychology professor, is one of 10 members currently on the commission.

Lemm said the president’s office wanted a broad representation of all areas of the university. She said her previous research background on stereotyping and prejudice specifically on gender identity is relevant to the goals of the commission.

“Right now we are learning what to look for and what we can do to fix it,” Lemm said. “I see myself contributing as an advocate for students, staff and faculty to try and make this a great place to work and learn.”

Stephanie Bowers, co-chair on the commission, said she believes she was selected because she is the longest-serving woman in an administrative leadership position at Western.

“I have been here for 17 years and served as vice president for at least a dozen of those,” Bowers said. “He wanted to have a vice president as co-chair because we already report to him and in our roles we can help facilitate the needed changes.”

Bowers said the president is having the commission serve for one calendar year so they can continue their work through the fall.

“We can’t get everything done in one year, but what we can do is look for the issues,” Bowers said. “We are in the process of looking at reports and seeing what next steps need to be done. We’ll be doing a lot of information-collecting the first few months of this first year.”

President Randhawa said in his email that the commission will identify ways to foster a more diverse, safe and welcoming campus environment that recognizes the contributions and challenges faced by Western’s female population, and by people with gender identities outside the gender binary.

In 2012, Dozier compiled a report about the experiences of LGBTQ faculty at Western and made recommendations about policy changes that address the issues made by faculty she interviewed.

One of Dozier’s recommendations was that Western should allow faculty the ability to easily change their gender marker and preferred name without having to provide legal documentation. She said it would help reduce stress for LGBTQ faculty because it can allow the employees to feel visible and affirmed by their peers.  

Bowers said the commission will look at the pathways and barriers there are for Western’s women faculty to obtain a leadership position, what the average pay is between male and female faculty in leadership positions and what inequities may exist.

Council for Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice

The Council for Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice will be co-chaired by Debra Salazar, professor of political science, and Melynda Huskey, vice president for enrollment and student services.

The council is charged with recommending changes to improve campus climate and inclusion.

The council has only met once so far since its creation late last quarter, Salazar said in an email.

“The president made the council and named the members,” Salazar said. “The future of the council is up to him.”

Salazar has published various articles and journals addressing the relation between social justice and environment. She recently co-authored an article about redistributive environmental justice politics across the United States in the Review of Policy Research journal.

Melynda Huskey’s publications specialize on cultural proficiency and LGBTQ issues. She was  the founding director of Washington State University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Allies Program.

In addition to the co-chairs, there are 10 members made of staff, faculty and students who are on this council.

Randhawa said the council will build off the work of its predecessor, the Task Force on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity.

Created by former President Bruce Shepard, the task force was in charge of reviewing campus climate, recruitment and retention, curriculum and community outreach efforts in order to recommend policies that will increase equity, inclusion and diversity, according to Western Today.

The task force produced the LGBTQ Center Director Proposal and was behind the creation of the Campus Equity and Inclusion Training, designed to educate employees on cultural awareness and eliminating subtle discrimination.

While efforts have been made to promote diversity and inclusivity on campus, a 2017 Western report found 66.2 percent of all respondents agreed that faculty currently lack the preparation to manage diversity-related conflicts in the classroom.

If you have experienced discrimination, harassment, bias or a hate crime call the Equal Opportunity Office at (360) 650-3307. Emergency situations should be reported to the University Police at (360) 650-3911 or 911.

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