Black Rutgers Community Forum discusses accountability of students, diversity in faculty
Rutgers United Black Council (UBC), the umbrella organization of all African, African American and Afro-Caribbean student organizations, held an event on the College Avenue campus on Monday night titled the “Black Rutgers Community Forum” to connect students and inform them about student organizations, financial aid and more.
The program used panel discussion to disseminate information, raise concerns and address different issues. The panel consisted of two current students and two administrative representatives.
Representing students was Chyanne Rhodes, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and president of the Douglass Black Students' Congress. She was joined by Dominique Little, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and University Affairs chair for Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA).
Representing Rutgers’ administration was Anne Newman, the associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs and dean of students, who was joined by James H. Whitney III, assistant vice chancellor for Undergraduate Academic Affairs.
The overarching theme of the discussion was accountability between students and faculty. Regarding falling attendance at traditionally popular events such as Caribbean Day and Unity Day, Rhodes and Little both expressed concern with the overlap and miscommunication between different UBC groups on campus. Rhodes said there was a lack in leadership in organizations that aren’t explicitly for African, African American and Afro-Caribbean students, pointing out that RUSA could use more representation from these communities.
One of the most pressing issues discussed during the forum was diversity in faculty, a topic met with marked interest from panel participants and audience members alike. Whitney said that students need to hold the administration accountable for diversity in faculty, and provided strategies on how to effectively petition for change.
While still approving of going to the highest levels of administration, Whitney said that the change would have to come from students applying pressure on individual departments and fields of study.
“We’ve been talking about this issue for 20 years,” Whitney said.
The time range he expressed is closely mirrored by reporting from the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT). “For instance, among tenured and tenure track professors, the percentage of African American faculty declined from 5.4 percent in 1997 to 4.2 percent in 2017 and that of Latino/a faculty rose only modestly from 2.4 percent in 1997 to 3.9 percent in 2017,” according to a report issued by the AAUP-AFT. The United States Census Bureau reported that in 2015, New Jersey was 15 percent Black or African American.
Rhodes also commented on her experience as a political science major, noting that she did not have a Black professor in her major until junior year.
“I was motivated to go to office hours and try to get to know my professors, but I realized that none of them could connect with me being a Black woman, being first generation and just the different aspect of how political science influences my personal racial group,” she said.
In a piece written for Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Walton Johnson, a professor in Africana Studies, notes the drastic shift in hiring over time.
“In 1976 there were 175 African Americans on the faculty. We aggressively recruited and retained faculty of color by giving rewards to departments that hired them, trying to short-circuit the ‘old boy networks,’ appointing a powerful officer to oversee hiring and by mentoring young faculty,” he said in the article.
Rutgers, despite substantial growth, currently has 93 tenure track faculty who are Black. Johnson said the faculty level in the 70s was due to a 1974 federal consent decree that required Rutgers to seek out more diverse faculty in order to continue to receive federal subsidies. Once the requirement left, so did the cultivation of Black faculty.
“In the 1980s, however, after Ronald Reagan rescinded the government’s stringent EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) requirements, our leaders methodically dismantled the effective policies and reverted to practices that impede Latinx and African Americans to this day,” Johnson said in the article.
Other issues raised were a recent drop in the enrollment of Black students and diversity in staff roles outside of the classroom. Newman mentioned the recent improvements in programs like Center for Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) and Residence Life. She also urged students to attend an upcoming RUSA meeting with Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy to voice concerns and critiques.
Another portion of the conversation was around reporting incidents of bias on campus. Newman informed students about the online bias reporting system used to file bias incident report forms. She also said that she had seen “certain groups” become more “empowered” since late 2016, and that Black students should remain vigilant.
After the panel discussion ended, a question and answer session commenced where students from Rutgers Black Lives Matter, West Indian Student Organization and Black Student Union raised concerns and critiqued the administration and each other.
As the event closed Little shared what she hoped the forum will accomplish.
“What I hope is that it brings the issues in the Black community up to the forefront, especially with administrators. A lot of times our voices aren’t heard and we don’t get a seat at the table. As Shirley Chisholm said, ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,'” she said.
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