Rutgers task force on inclusion prepares to submit campus report
Simmering racial tensions across college campuses have forced many university administrations to enact reforms to address them. Rutgers University is no exception.
Towards the end of last semester, University Chancellor Richard L. Edwards established the Task Force On Inclusion and Community Values. Made up of faculty, staff and students, the group is responsible for “exploring inclusivity” across the University and promoting “conversations about race, bias and identity,” Edwards said in a statement released February.
The announcement came shortly after race-related protests overwhelmed academic institutions like Yale University, Ithaca College and the University of Missouri, where University President Timothy Wolfe was forced to resign.
“The idea of the task force started … because the administration realized that there was a growing concern on campus regarding racial tensions and tensions between communities,” said Yasmin Ramadan, a member of the task force representing the University’s Muslim community. “Some students were feeling marginalized.”
Members of the task force — who were chosen as representatives of various ethnic, religious and intellectual communities at Rutgers — began meeting in February to gather information on the racial climate around campus and to analyze possible areas of improvement.
Ramadan, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the group will compose a preliminary report of recommendations based on their findings that will be sent to the Chancellor’s office before the end of the semester.
Brianna Battle, vice president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, was nominated by Edwards to co-chair the task force. As a black woman, issues of diversity are very important to her, she said.
“I can tell you that there are students and demographics of this institution that sometimes feel as though their voices are not being heard,” the School of Arts and Sciences senior said. “What this task force aims to do is to amplify those voices.”
One of the proposals that the student members of the task force are hoping to include in the report is an amendment to the School of Arts and Sciences’ core curriculum, specifically, to bring back the Diversity and Global Awareness requirements that were removed under the curriculum’s 2012 revision, Battle said.
If the measure is implemented, the amount of credits required for every student will not increase, she said. The requirements will simply be brought back at the expense of one of the two 21st Century Challenges requirements and one of the two Arts and Humanities requirements.
“We would be bringing (the requirements) back so that the education part of Rutgers University reflects our demographics as an institution,” she said.
Battle believes student input is vital for the success of group’s work.
“The task force is not by any means a group of faculty and staff making the decisions on their own,” she said. “This is primarily for the students.”
To accomplish this outreach, the task force will be organizing various focus groups and hosting a town hall for students on April 19.
“We are having (the town hall) so that students can have their voices heard in regards to diversity and inclusion on campus,” Battle said. “We want to know where they deem Rutgers University is at currently and ways we can improve our community.”
Fellow co-chair and associate professor in the Africana Studies Department Edward Ramsamy believes the fairly recent ardent discussions on race and identity on college campuses are just an extension of the uneasy race relations nation-wide.
Many thought that President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 would spur a new chapter of “racial harmony” in the country, but issues like police brutality have contributed to an even more tense atmosphere, he said.
“American society is going through a rather challenging period with respects to race and cultural relations,” he said. “Universities are not immune from this general crisis that society is facing.”
The student body and faculty at Rutgers will only get more diverse over the years, so Battle said it is important that students and members of the University start having these discussions now.
“It up to us as students to utilize this timeframe that we have right now to make sure that the administration knows what we desire as students to feel like we belong here,” she said. “These are changes that if they are not going to be here for us, they will be for the next generation of students.”
For Ramsamy, one of the principal responsibilities of academic institutions is to engage its members in uncomfortable debates around cultural and racial differences.
“In a world that is being torn apart by racial, ethnic and religious strife, one of the tasks of education is to enable us to understand … how to build a more just and equitable society in which we can live in peace with each other,” he said.
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.