Thursday, Oct. 28 was the fourth meeting of the year for the faculty diversity committee, but the first to include the four student members. Their inclusion brings the membership to twelve, making it the largest faculty committee.
The foremost topic of discussion was the September meeting of the ACM Committee on Minority Concerns, which Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Peter Schartzman and Director of Multicultural Student Advisement Tianna Cervantez attended.
In this particular meeting, Schwartzman said, “The committee was asked to do a self-study to justify itself and think about the future.”
Cervantez agreed with the timing of the study saying, “It’s that time to reflect on students of color, issues in recruiting and retaining.”
On those issues, Cervantez said, “Knox tends to be one of the higher level schools when it comes to recruiting and retaining students of color.” She partially attributes Knox’s success in this respect to pre-orientation for multicultural students, which she learned from the ACM committee is almost unique to Knox, “I thought this was a given–it’s not.”
The other major issues addressed at the conference were “town and gown” boundaries, the low number of multicultural students concentrating in the sciences, low retention for multicultural faculty, and “standing in the gap.”
Schartzman elaborated on the last point: “For example, a student has a full ride, but no money for books,” he said.
According to Cervantez, Grinnell College science departments were able to “change the physical being to make it more welcoming and people oriented.”
The diversity committee noted that if Knox had an endowment comparable to Grinnell’s, making the Science-Mathematics Center more inviting would be desirable. While this option is currently out of reach, Schwartzman noted other avenues to explore in attracting multicultural students to the sciences. “The demographics are changing, are the curriculums changing? … Is science changing fast enough to encourage students of color to pursue scholarship in these areas?” he asked.
The meeting ended with Cervantez and Schwartzman revisiting the importance of the ACM committee. Schwartzman noted that the conferences’ costs are extremely low compared to the “invaluable exchanges” that they provide. “On some level, the colleges are competing with each other, but here is an opportunity where we can collaborate,” he said.
Cervantez said, “The committee is relevant, but has been lacking in articulating in what ways.”
Agreeing with Cervantez’s point, Schwartzman said that, “the people at the meeting are not communicating properly with the people paying for it. We need to be more deliberate.” He also hopes to reach out to other institutions outside of the format of the conference, proposing a “more concerted effort to look across lines to address issues.”
The diversity committee meets Thursdays at 4 p.m. in the Science Library conference room.