November 30, 2020

Delegates’ Agenda addresses diversity in the classroom

Students presented five topics to Webster University’s administration at Delegates’ Agenda on Tuesday, Oct. 2. in the Sunnen Lounge. Only one of the five topics received an immediate response from President Elizabeth Stroble: required diversity training for faculty and staff.

This topic originated after students reported instances of discrimination in class. Carolina Dueñas, a senior advertising and marketing communications major, shared an experience in support of the required training.

“Last semester … I had to do my portfolio review, and English is my second language,” Dueñas said. “I have a learning disability (as well). Last year, a teacher told me I could not pass the portfolio review because of my second language and my learning disability.”

Anthony Thompson, a member of Webster University’s Board of Trustees and the president and CEO of Kwame Building Group, Inc., addresses the topic of diversity training at the Delegates’ Agenda on Tuesday, Oct. 2 in the Sunnen Lounge. Thompson is the uncle of Kayla Thompson, who presented on diversity training at Delegates’ Agenda. PHOTO BY BRITTANY RUESS

Webster students Erin Sappington, Trish Stoverink and Kayla Thompson presented the issue at Delegates’ Agenda. They said 47.6 percent of students they surveyed felt they might have experienced harassment on campus.

“In some areas, we are failing to make an accessible and respectful environment for all of our students,” said Thompson, a senior sociology major. “Some students have reported several instances of discrimination from students, staff and faculty.”

The primary solution the group suggested was to create a new position, chief diversity officer (CDO).  The CDO would be responsible for developing diversity training for faculty and staff as well as workshops for Orientation Leaders, Resident Assistants and other student leaders. With a CDO, Thompson feels Webster would be more accepting of its diverse students.

“Problems such as following a black student around a bookstore will not happen,” Thompson said. “Telling a homosexual student to ‘gay it down’ will not occur. Having a faculty member say to a student that their religion is wrong will not take place if we have a chief diversity officer.”

Stroble said she is familiar with the position and briefly addressed Sappington, Stoverink and Thompson after their presentation. Students presented ideas for the Delegates’ Agenda topics at the Sept. 14 Officers’ Summit. Administration does not typically comment on the Delegates’ Agenda topics until an official administration response two to three weeks later.  This semester’s administration response is scheduled for Oct. 25 at 3 p.m. in the Sunnen Lounge.

Anthony Thompson, a Webster Board of Trustees member, attended the Delegates’ Agenda representing the board, but he also said he came to support Kayla Thompson, his niece. Anthony Thompson said having a CDO could appeal to potential Webster students, leading to an increase in enrollment.“At the University of Akron (Stroble’s previous institution), we created a chief diversity officer while I was there, and it came out of an amazingly similar conversation that we’re in today,” Stroble said. “This is an important first step.”

“Students, particularly minority students, would probably feel a lot more excited about Webster, so that would increase the number (of students enrolled),” Anthony Thompson said. “And a lot of non-minority students who are concerned and sincere about diversity want to come to an institution that embraces diversity. So I just think it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Sappington, Stoverink and Thompson also proposed that the CDO conduct a campus-climate survey. Student Government Association President Michael Grosch said this survey would reveal areas where Webster could improve diversity. The survey would also give Webster a ranking on diversity that the university could compare to other colleges and universities.

Chris Venable, senior secondary education and math major, said the idea for a campus climate survey was first discussed by the Multicultural Studies Committee.

“We can’t make improvements if we don’t know where we stand,” Venable said. “I think a comprehensive assessment of how students feel on this campus … I think that’s something that’s gonna be really important in improving the institutional effectiveness of Webster. Even if we don’t come out of this with a chief diversity officer, that should be an initiative that needs to be looked at.”

Student groups presented four other topics at the Delegates’ Agenda. The topics were class cancellation and class conflict, financial assistance for required examinations — including the Praxis, GRE and GMAT — creation of new budget jobs on campus and a program to connect students with alumni working in their field.

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