TGS students press University on relief plans for marginalized communities in Coalition NU town hall

Interim Provost Kathleen Hagerty. Doctoral candidate Schnaude Dorizan suggested the University publish a website that posts monthly updates on the University’s action to provide equitable support.

Interim Provost Kathleen Hagerty. Doctoral candidate Schnaude Dorizan suggested the University publish a website that posts monthly updates on the University’s action to provide equitable support.

Yunkyo Kim, Assistant Campus Editor

Members of Coalition NU discussed equity planning in response to the pandemic at a Thursday town hall. They probed Interim Provost Kathleen Hagerty to provide answers on the state of The Graduate School students of marginalized identities, among other questions. 

Coalition NU’s organizers reiterated their 11 demands, co-authored by Weinberg doctoral candidate Sarah Peko-Spicer and graduate affinity groups. Peko-Spicer and SESP doctoral candidate Nikki McDaid-Morgan also moderated the town hall, followed by a statement from University officials and a question-and-answer session. 

Hagerty told Coalition NU that a good “starting place” to address diversity and inclusion during the pandemic is hiring a replacement for Jabbar Bennett, the former associate provost for diversity and inclusion, as well as other chief diversity officer positions. He announced he was departing in January. 

The administration also plans to “rethink” diversity and inclusion as a whole at the university level, she said. Part of that plan, she said, is including TGS students and students of underserved and underrepresented communities in the selection process for higher administrative positions like TGS dean. The University also seeks to gather input. 

“Now is a really great time to step back and see whether or not we’re really organized in a way to really make it effective,” Hagerty said. “I don’t think the current organization really serves us.” 

Hagerty also assured attendees that students will not be required to come to science labs if they have safety or coronavirus-related concerns. If students feel pressured, she said they can consult a University hotline.  

She also acknowledged that the academic job market is a “disaster.” While she said the University will discuss how to help navigate the job market, she did not provide an answer on whether the University will approve a universal additional year of funding. However, she mentioned the potential rollout of funding opportunities for people in their sixth or seventh years. The reason behind the lack of concrete answers in general, she said, is that graduate students’ situations are “disparate.” 

“There’s a lot to consider, but I was wondering if you had anyone in leadership who is available (to) help leadership understand those needs of (marginalized students) pre-COVID who are more affected now,” doctoral candidate Letonia Copeland-Hardin asked. 

Hagerty replied that some departments such as SESP have conducted surveys on marginalized students’ experiences. She added the University has also sent out surveys to students, and that the University is open to systematic methods to record student experiences. 

Students emphasized that they were looking for concrete answers, including on questions of childcare funding and services for the 2020-2021 year. Hagerty replied the University was actively working on it, but there is “no simple answer.”  

When asked how TGS and the University can increase support for Indigenous students’ concerns, Hagerty replied that she does not know enough about the issue. She referred to Damon Williams, TGS assistant dean for diversity and inclusion, and Sekile Nzinga, interim chief diversity officer and associate provost for diversity and inclusion, to answer some of those concerns. 

“This is not a topic that is going blind at The Graduate School,” Williams said. “It’s something that is very important to me (that) we will continue under new leadership.” 

Williams told the attendees that the advisory council at TGS and the University has been partnering on recruitment and retention with the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research. He added that the University has also committed over $10,000 to participate in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s conference in the last five years 

As for whether she has educated herself on issues such as racism, colonization, disability, Indigenous rights and more, Hagerty answered that she has not done so over the last two months, as she has been “as busy as (she has) ever been.” She has made efforts to have discussions and become educated on inclusion and equity issues in her previous positions, she said, and recognizes such knowledge is important to be able to serve all students. 

“What have I done in the last two months? Basically nothing,” she said. “I am being honest, but I don’t want to answer that in the sense that it is not important.” 

Feinberg doctoral student Schnaude Dorizan said that TGS during the pandemic is complicated, and inadequate response particularly harms marginalized communities. Case-by-case approaches may amplify inequities that always exist, and all TGS students are impacted.

Dorizan suggested the University publish a website that posts monthly updates on the University’s action to center marginalized students. 

The University, Hagerty answered, is about to announce new support programs. The University needs to consider how to communicate better, she acknowledged.  

“We have thousands of graduate students on campus and adjusting all of their needs on a case-by-case basis is inefficient and unrealistic,” Dorizan said. “We understand that you are dedicated to helping us, getting us the support that we need, but we need a tangible plan, we need some transparency and we need a timeline.” 

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