June 7, 2004

Dialogue report continues campus diversity talks


By Eric Rangus

A group of Emory faculty and staff met with President Jim Wagner April 30 to discuss a report chronicling five diversity dialogues that took place in the spring as well as take another step forward in the campus-wide conversation on community.

Attending the meeting were faculty members Richard Doner (political science), Leslie Harris (history and African American studies), Darryl Neill (psychology) and Beverly Schaffer (economics and violence studies), and staff members Art Linton (violence studies) and Donna Wong (Multicultural Programs and Services).

The 60-page report, delivered to Wagner earlier in the month, contained comments from more than 220 people who attended the meetings. Those comments were grouped into three major categories (symptoms, sources and solutions) related to the high-profile and sometimes-controversial diversity conversation that continued throughout the 2003–04 academic year.

Hard copies of the report are available at the Woodruff Library circulation desk and in the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services. Electronic copies can be downloaded from the violence studies website at www.emory.edu/COLLEGE/

“I think this is a good first step in improving communications between people at Emory at all levels,” said Schaffer, who prepared the report. The dialogues grew out of an effort that began following an Emory College faculty meeting when Schaffer offered to help widen the diversity conversation to include staff and students.

Schaffer and Linton worked with Multicultural Programs and Services to set up the dialogues, held March 6, 16, 26 and April 7 for faculty and staff, and April 15 for students. The March 26 meeting was particularly popular, attracting 120 attendees to the Jones Room.

So everyone could speak freely, participants wrote anonymous comments on index cards and submitted them to facilitator David Hooker, who then led the group discussion. The report reprinted each comment with minimal editing but did not cover the discussions.

The symptoms and their sources centered on four primary concerns: communication, fairness and equity, faculty and staff numbers, and segregation. Schaffer said that from the very first meeting, the majority of concerns gravitated those themes.

The comments were at times disturbing (“feel treated differently from white colleagues”), vague (“education”), optimistic (“don’t be afraid to step out of your element”), ambitious (“if we could somehow switch jobs with each other occasionally”) and thought provoking (“the institution does not compensate you or recognize you for your relations with others of a different race”).

“It was encouraging to see the freedom people felt during the dialogue sessions to be open and honest,” Wagner said. “On the other hand, it was terribly disappointing to learn of some past incidents.”

While the comments were almost always passionate, the perceptions behind them weren’t always accurate. One, for instance, claimed that Emory did not have any African Americans in the upper administration. Incoming Provost Earl Lewis and John Ford, vice president for Campus Life, are both African American.

The April 15 meeting was an invitation-only dialogue that included 24 students. The format was similar to the previous dialogues, but the data were organized differently, highlighting a primary student concern (self-segregation, including the prevalence of narrowly defined ethnic, racial and religious groups on campus) and solutions that included addressing freshman orientation and student activities.

Just before Memorial Day, Schaffer was able to upload a copy of the report to the web so the entire community could access it easily. “The dialogue participants wanted the report to be shared with the President, other top administrators and, if possible, the community at large,” she said.

Wagner and Lewis have begun a discussion about whether an upper-administration post to advance diversity and community should be created. Wagner hoped to make a decision within the new provost’s first 90 days on campus.

Wagner also received a letter from the president’s commissions and the Employee Council recommending that progress toward broad community diversity be included in the strategic planning process. He endorsed that recommendation and passed it along to the strategic planning steering committee.

“In building community, as in building any interpersonal relationship, there will always be ‘next steps,’” Wagner said. “It requires constant effort, and we must resist the temptation for complacency.”