On a Friday morning in late November, a group of Gonzaga students walked out of classrooms and filled the Hemmingson Rotunda, demanding a meeting with the president’s cabinet.
They had three demands: more transparency, shared governance and the reconstruction of the Council of Equity, Inclusion and Intercultural Awareness.
Associate Academic Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Raymond Reyes said he wasn’t surprised by the demonstration.
“My initial reaction as I stood in the Hemmingson Rotunda, giving witness to the walkout and protest rally was that I was seeing what a Jesuit education looks like, sounds like, feels like,” Reyes said. “The students [during the Nov. 30 protest] were asking accountability questions to the university and challenging assumptions and expectations around those elements of our mission statement that address inclusion, equity and the educational value of diversity.”
After about an hour, Reyes and interim Provost Beth Martin addressed the crowd and confirmed a meeting between the students and the cabinet that Sunday.
“It was an opportunity to talk with the cabinet members face-to-face about the reason why we did the walk out and everything that was leading up to it and also our personal experiences [as well as] our suggestions and demands that we had in terms of increasing transparency and shared governance,” GSBA President Athena Sok said.
“[I found] my head nodding in agreement with some of the issues raised that address the thematic categories the demands define,” Reyes said. “However, there were elements in the demands that need further conversation to assure that all parties concerned are on the same page or operating from a common base of facts and information.”
Both Reyes and Sok said that there would be a follow up meeting tentatively set for Feb. 3 to discuss the students’ demands further and work toward a solution.
“Moving forward to some extent means staying the course on many of the things, without sounding defensive or rationalizing, we either currently are doing or in the process of implementing [many things],” Reyes said.
This list included:
•Establishing a central diversity office with two new positions.
•Optimizing and expanding the use of the Intercultural Development Inventory.
•The Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) Program Development Steering Committee is working on a series for faculty development programs on culturally inclusive instruction.
•A complete reexamination of the council’s purpose, mission, membership, structure and way of proceeding and a deepening and expansion of diversity related knowledge.
•Skill development in the workforce through training programs.
“I believe we need to stay [on] the course [of] things we have been doing but we need to improve how we communicate what is going on to our community,” Reyes said. “[We need to] assure greater accountability and transparency regarding what we are doing and how we are doing in the area of inclusion and equity.”
Sok said some students were frustrated by some perceived push back on certain demands.
“But, overall, we felt that it was a success because, one, they were willing to meet with us, and two, they had a lot of follow up recommendations and requests as well,” Sok said. “But, there is still so much work to be done so I feel like that’s where a lot of us students are.”
Additionally, the demonstration could change communication between the two groups.
“Let’s define, create and sustain a relationship between administrators and students that addresses issues before they reach a boiling point that motivates the need to make demands,” Reyes said.
Riley Utley is a news editor. Follow her on Twitter: @rileyutley.