Campus Life releases recommendations for building an inclusive community

By Dena J. Smith | March 8, 2013

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A Campus Life ad-hoc committee has released the "Campus Life Compact for Building an Inclusive Community at Emory," a student-driven report that advances the ongoing campus dialogue around issues of social justice.

The report, a collaborative effort between Campus Life and student leadership, consists of a comprehensive list of recommendations that focus on the need to improve inclusion and address issues of diversity within the Emory community.

"The Division of Campus Life is committed to engaging with students, faculty and staff in order to collectively develop and implement the changes necessary to help us achieve our collective vision for a better community," says Ajay Nair, senior vice president and dean of Campus Life.  

The six-page report outlines a social justice framework and a strategic plan that is designed to guide the efforts of students and Campus Life.

Recommended initiatives, which will be discussed with appropriate stakeholders, include:

  • Strengthen Student Government Association (SGA) accountability for student organizations.

  • The Division of Campus Life, in coordination with student leaders, will:
    • Develop a comprehensive approach to social justice education and training for Emory students.

    • Implement various initiatives to help increase community among students of color.

    • Reexamine space needs at Emory to best meet the requirements of a diverse student population.

    • Develop systems that are clear and accessible for students when they experience incidents of bias.

    • Enhance resources to focus on sexual violence prevention.

    • Create a comprehensive strategic plan to guide Campus Life as the division implements social justice and diversity efforts internally.

  • SGA, with the support of Campus Life, will create a set of university-wide principles that can guide future decisions, actions and responses to incidents such as the Dooley Show and Chick-Fil-A.

  • In partnership with student leaders, the Office of the Provost and academic deans will develop academic recommendations, ranging from creating a focused plan to increase the diversity of faculty, to expanding the range and quantity of course offerings specifically related to race relations, racism and ethnicity.

The Emory community is encouraged to provide feedback on the report.

"This is the result of months of feedback from the community and a lot of work by the ad-hoc committee, and includes a real commitment from leadership," says Matt Garrett, director of the Office of Student Leadership and Service. "These students are determined to create an Emory community where everyone feels valued."

In December, students began to organize due to growing concerns about issues of race, gender, privilege and sexual violence on campus. By January, an ad-hoc committee was assembled and helped organize two Emory-wide forums and the recent Rally Against Racism.

Student committee member Davion Colbert was one of the organizers for the Rally Against Racism, which focused on the personal stories and experiences of minority students on campus. Colbert, an Emory College junior who says he has experienced personal incidences of racial insensitivity on campus, says he believes some change will happen for the better.

"I feel the community is coming together," says Colbert. "At this time we have the right people involved to address these issues. In the past we've talked about how to influence the culture at Emory, but at that time things were loosely structured. Now more people are committed to this effort."

Stephanie Llanes, an Emory College senior and ad-hoc committee member, says she is glad to be a part of the process.

"Creating solutions around these complicated issues has been extremely rewarding, although it hasn't always been easy," says Llanes. "I believe the activism is paying off. I'm hopeful we're creating a better Emory."

President Jim Wagner commended the committee's work at a March 6 dinner with the ad-hoc committee members who developed the recommendations.

"I'm proud of our students for their courage and fortitude in leading the way to positive change. Emory will be better for their efforts," says Wagner. "I too hear the call to action and I pledge my support towards fostering a community that is inclusive for all people."

Specifically, Wagner committed to working with student and Campus Life leaders and faculty to develop statements related to community values and principles that can be incorporated into Emory's vision statement, forming the basis for enhancing community building. Wagner and the committee members agreed that, beyond numbers, diversity also encompasses a commitment to social justice.

Committee member Christine Ristaino, a senior lecturer of French and Italian, says, "Although his column has led the Emory community to ask very difficult questions about our university, President Wagner and everyone at the dinner were determined to use this experience as a catalyst for positive change at Emory. I think we have an opportunity here to make our community stronger," says Ristaino, who also serves as co-chair of the University Senate's diversity committee.

"We have the ear of our president and he is looking at himself and our community with the critical eye that leads to change. At the dinner there was a sense that everyone wanted to move forward in a positive, constructive direction and the conversation was authentic and filled with hope for the future."

The Division of Campus Life will host a third student discussion Tuesday, March 26 to discuss the ad-hoc committee report's findings and clarify action items. This question and answer session will be held from 5:30 – 7 p.m. in Eagle's Landing in the Dobbs University Center.