Town Hall opens critical diversity discussion in Herbert School
After a survey was sent out to students in the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Dean Mark Lukasiewicz, along with students and faculty, gathered on Wednesday, April 17, for a town hall meeting. // Photo courtesy of Adam Flash
In response to concerns raised by the recent diversity and inclusion survey sent to students in Hofstra’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication (LHSC), the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Dean Mark Lukasiewicz, along with students and faculty from LHSC, gathered on Wednesday, April 17, for a town hall meeting to address issues of gender, pronoun misuse, language and politics in the classroom.
“The town hall showed the idea that these issues do not come out of nowhere. They are based on student experience,” said Mario Murillo, vice dean of LHSC and head of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. “Ultimately, our major concern is in addressing the student experience. We feel like the best way to engage with the students is to hear what the students are thinking, hear their own voices on what had happened.”
With a set of guidelines to limit confrontational arguments, students were able to discuss critical topics including insulting encounters with faculty, the lack of diversity in curriculum, club membership and insensitivity toward the preferred name policy.
“Personally, I thought the town hall would be a great way to hear the specific concerns of other students and give people who missed the survey an opportunity to voice their concerns,” said Adeline Davis, a freshman film major and student member of the committee.
Students had the opportunity to submit questions anonymously in advance of the town hall using an online form. The goal of the event was to create action and address the questions raised.
“I think it’s important for the faculty to have open communication with the students. Faculty may not be entirely up to date on societal expectations, so having a discussion allows them to learn from the students and accommodate and change their methods as necessary,” said Brittany McGowan, a junior video/television and film major.
“Soon the media industry will no longer be theirs; it’ll be ours and it’s also important for them to foresee changes in the industry as we begin to work and grow within it.”
Former Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Sofia Pertuz served as the moderator of the event.
“She knows and has a deep awareness of the Hofstra culture,” Murillo said. “The idea is having someone from the outside, who knows the culture [and] could lead the discussion.”
Pertuz currently serves as senior advisor at the Jed Foundation (JED), which is a non-profit organization that aims to protect emotional health and prevent suicide in teens and young adults.
“[Pertuz] was one of the co-moderators of one of the sessions that we did in the fall organized by the Dean’s office and the committee,” Murillo said.
The town hall was not LHSC’s first step toward creating change.
During the fall semester, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee sent out a questionnaire to students asking for their input on issues throughout the University.
Following the survey, a bias workshop for LHSC faculty members was held in December.
“We always knew that there was a lot of different ways of addressing the issues that we were discussing at the town hall,” Murillo said.
“One way is to engage through surveys and outcome assessments on issues of diversity, inclusion, gender, representation, race, etc. Another way is to address it in the classroom with specifically the faculty doing inherent bias workshops and developing skill sets and approaches to making ourselves aware of where we might fall short.”
Murillo explained that the town hall was not an answer, but a next step. “This is an ongoing process,” Murillo said. “My hope is that we immediately meet as a committee and that we also follow up with the new Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Cornell Craig, to see how we could synchronize some of the work that we are doing at the Herbert School with what they are doing University-wide to address these same issues.”
“[The town hall] was pretty effective since everyone who attended had the opportunity to give suggestions on how to correct some of the issues discussed,” Davis said. “The faculty members of the committee took notes during the town hall with their own ideas, so we can definitely expect to see changes in the future.”
Murillo addressed the need for more student engagement. “I hope to get more students involved in the Diversity and Inclusion Committee,” he said. “We can come up with ideas but if it is not really inherently, organically coming from the students, then there is something missing.”