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LHSC develops diversity and inclusion committee

LHSC develops diversity and inclusion committee

Diana Mieles, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry at Hofstra, said she overheard a group of students in Breslin Hall talking about the Latino population negatively on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The students said they hated Mexicans and Latinos should only speak English, and said, “If they speak Spanish, they need to go,” in a light-hearted tone, followed by laughter.

“It was right in my face. I couldn’t ignore it. It made me feel so angry that they were talking this way, and I didn’t know what to say or what to do. I wish I recorded it, but I was alone in Breslin,” Mieles said. “I didn’t want to say anything because I was so small compared to the group of them.”

Such instances sparked an initiative within the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication (LHSC). The diversity and inclusion committee in LHSC sent out a questionnaire to faculty and students within the school in early November in response to growing concern over issues within the University at large.

“When the committee first met last year, we wanted to ensure all students a safe space to thrive where diversity is celebrated. In order to accomplish our goal of fully succeeding as an inclusive environment, we needed a way to address any and all concerns students may have. I suggested an anonymous survey so that [the LHSC] community could speak freely. This survey is a result of several drafts over an 11-month period,” said Nicole Franklin, assistant professor of television production and a member of the school’s diversity and inclusion committee.  

Vice Dean Mario Murillo, head of the committee, has played an integral part in making this a topic of discussion on campus. Murillo made it clear that some entity needed to step up and be at the forefront of the issues to prevent instances similar to Mieles’. “The survey coincides with another initiative that we’re doing, and that’s this Understanding Bias Workshop on Dec. 1 [that’s] open specifically to the faculty of [LHSC]. It’s really for us to begin the dialogue, because this is a process,” Murillo said.

“It is hard to adequately discuss a topic without current data, so this survey provides the committee with a solid starting point and understanding of the climate in which we are operating,” said Victoria Semple, associate professor of public relations and a member of the committee.

“I am a big supporter of the diversity/inclusion initiatives at LHSC,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, LHSC dean.

A student fellow at the Center for “Race,” Culture and Social Justice, Michelle Boo, a junior psychology major, received the questionnaire and immediately recognized the work of the committee. “I have seen some of the questions and that was really interesting. You can tell it was because of Vice Dean Murillo,” Boo said.

For this new program, LHSC is working closely with the Center for “Race,” Culture and Social Justice. The goal of the program is to “foster a more inclusive atmosphere on campus and to work on expanding the discussion on race and social justice,” said Benita Sampedro, professor of Spanish colonial studies and an associate director at the Center. “We do that on many fronts – scholarship, activities, student engagements and faculty engagements ... One program that the Center has is to train faculty on racial sensitivity issues through specific training sessions that the Center will be providing for different schools.”

Although Associate Directors Veronica Lippencott and Sampedro were not aware of the questionnaire, they know that the Center is working with them on a pilot program which is “being started at the school of communication for faculty diversity bias training,” Professor Lippencott said. The sensitivity training is meant to raise awareness of issues on campus by analyzing the questionnaire results.

One early project of the Center is the Annual Faculty Summer Research Grant. In this project, “the commitment of the faculty is to develop, in addition to the lectures, a curriculum on campus related to this subject of race and social justice,” Sampedro said.

Some professors, such as Brian McFadden, a professor of media studies, take their own initiatives to provide an inclusive classroom and curriculum. McFadden said he is very intentional about his wording and the way that he runs his classes in order to be all-inclusive and  avoid being offensive. “I put a lot of thought into what factor my own identity plays in the classroom and how that could make people comfortable or uncomfortable ... That’s why at the beginning of the semester I tell everyone what the chain of command is here [within the school],” McFadden said. “When I’m teaching my classes I acknowledge that the way I see something is coming from the perspective of a 30-something white person, a straight person, a married person or a middle-class person ... Those sociological factors allow me to see things that way and that means I have several blind spots. I try to fill in those blind spots by engaging and talking with people more.”

“According to previous campus climate surveys, students felt that there were issues between students and professors and between other students on campus, so [LHSC] felt that it was enough of an issue that action needed to be taken,” said Sierra L’Altrelli, a senior public relations and political science student who received the questionnaire in her inbox. “I think that level of response speaks for itself.”

When it comes to racial issues on campus, Stephanie Campos, a senior marketing major and  student fellow at the Center said, “A lot of people are not aware ... When students [are] saying something is happening, listen to them.”

Carissa Ramirez, a senior double major in political science and public policy and public service is the student affairs committee chair. She stated in an email sent out to Hofstra’s community, “In my four years at Hofstra, I have seen high levels of student activism and a strong desire to improve the campus we live and learn on. Through protests, club events and everyday interactions, I have seen students initiate and engage in conversations that attempt [to] tackle difficult issues. Your willingness to advocate for yourselves and others continues to inspire me.”

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