By Jenna Pierson
EmbraceRace @ UMD, a new initiative that was pioneered by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and began at the beginning of this semester, met for their fourth session on Tuesday in the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center.
The initiative meets every other Tuesday and was launched in response to both university and public concern over the increase in hate bias incidents on campus.
“We want to provide a consistent space for a faculty and staff learning community to build and improve skills to challenge racism and improve racial diversity and inclusion,” said Donte McGuire, a founding committee member and PhD student in Student Affairs and International Educational Policy.
Nearly 30 faculty and staff members met to discuss the topic of focus, which varies per session and aims to create a space for constructive dialogue and solution proposition. On Tuesday, it was centered around “Whiteness and Professionalism in the Workplace.”
Popular topics of discussion were recent examples of discrimination and how they pertain to job access and comfort in the workplace for persons of color, which led to actions such as dreadlock lawsuits.
“We are attempting to build a learning community among people with very different, and at times shifting identities, experiences, comfort levels and expectations as it relates to improving racial diversity and inclusion at UMD,” McGuire said. “These differences can create tensions and make the process of building community complicated, so my hope is that this will be productive tension.”
This university is no stranger to hate bias or racial discrimination. These harsh realities were seen in the racially-charged fatal stabbing of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III on campus in May 2017, one of several prominent events in recent years that has facilitated the response of initiatives to promote a safer and more inclusive environment on campus.
In November 2018 alone, more than seven hate bias incidents were reported on campus, varying from anti-LGBTQ language to anti-Semitism, according to The Diamondback.
“I think people are looking to campus leadership to set the tone for race issues on campus through policies and speeches, when in reality it’s everyone’s responsibility to create a welcoming campus climate,” said Kalia Patricio, a founding committee member and the assistant director of human resources, training and development for staff at this university. “I think there are many faculty and staff who feel they do not need to have conversations about race when they are exactly the people who should.”
According to an optional Campus Climate Survey that was conducted by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion on campus in 2018, only 28% of black and African-American students reported having a “sense of belonging” on campus, while nearly 46.8% reported wishing they chose a different school. The numbers were 28.7% and 31.1% for Latinx students and 17.8% and 40.5% for Asian students, respectively.
“We’re always pushing our students to talk about race and grow in their perspectives, but when it comes to having to do it themselves, so many faculty and staff are unwilling to engage and this needs to change,” Patricio said. “How can we expect to help our students grow if we are not willing to engage in the work ourselves?”