On June 15, President Crawford announced the creation of a Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). According to The Miami Student of July 15, fifteen students have now resigned from the task force. Their statement (“We will not work for free”) indicates that they were discouraged by the selection of uninformed participants, use of committee time to bring them up to speed, lack of time for serious discussion, dismissal of student suggestions, and failure to deal in a timely fashion (or at all) with insensitive remarks by some members. Perhaps most disheartening was the “lack of authority … to successfully implement the solutions created.” Clearly, they felt that their time was being wasted.
The institutional response to the exodus of these students has been not only disappointing but sadly characteristic of Miami. The students’ distress was minimized as mere difference of opinion and castigated as “abandoning” a difficult process in the absence of immediate results. This is not only insulting to the students, but also a wasted opportunity. Both students and faculty have repeatedly decried the lack of institutional support for people of color in a university whose whiteness – like it or not – is part of its brand. The Instagram page “Dear Miami U” provides plenty of information about what is troubling these students. Faculty of color, meanwhile, have spoken openly about the pressure to “represent” on committees and task forces like this one. At least as taxing is the overload of emotional work that goes into supporting students and colleagues of color in an often unwelcoming environment.
When fifteen students walk out of a task force on inclusion, this is not petulance, lack of commitment, or an inability to deal with differences of opinion. This is data. For whom was this effort organized if not for the students? If Miami is to become more diverse and inclusive, it will be they who spread the word that this is a place where students of color can flourish. How are we to make the necessary changes if not by listening to our students?
The task force needs to slow down and provide a forum for honest and open discussion of student concerns. The administration, in its turn, can restore students’ faith by being transparent about racism at Miami (sharing anonymized bias report and OEEO complaint data, for instance) and formally pledging not only to receive advice and updates from the task force, but to act on its recommendations.
If the students are unwilling to return to the discussion, the sound of their departing feet tells us all we really need to know.
Steering Committee, Miami AAUP