Diversity and Inclusion at Lynchburg

Dr. Robert Canida, Retrieved from lynchburg.edu/news.

Grace Cavanaugh ~ Editor in Chief

     In the wake of certain events of last year that sparked a campus walkout, and the events of this past summer’s protests, the school has taken several steps to make itself more diverse and inclusive.

     Davion Washington, President of the SGA, said, “Following racial insensitive events that took place last school year and the walkout, then President, Dr. Kenneth Garren launched the President’s Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which consists of faculty, staff, students and more.”

 Dr. Robert Canida, II, Vice President for Inclusive Excellence, said, “When I came in Dec. of 2019, I was charged with leading the president’s task force on diversity, equality, and inclusion. That task force consisted of three separate committees; one was the Diversity Committee, one was the Policies Committee, and the third one was On Boarding/Orientation Committee.”

     Washington explained more about what the committees do individually, saying, “One of the committees that is a  part of this task force is the Policy Committee, which is charged with addressing and adding policies that will specifically prevent incidents like this from happening and creating specific disciplinary actions if they do. The onboarding committee is charged with preemptive education of racial issues and more within orientation settings.”

  Dr. Canida expanded on what each of the committees has been doing, saying, “[The Policy Committee] were working on policies as related to harassment and discrimination on the side of the employees. […] But in addition to them starting to create something for faculty and staff, they are also in the process of creating terminology, a language around harassment, discrimination, that they are still planning to have posted to the Dean of Students website, as well as the OED website. […] Part of the employee’s handbook talks about the university not tolerating and prohibiting the use of derogatory symbols and images such as the Confederate flag, Nazi swastikas, nooses, anything that speaks to hate.”

  He continued, “The On Boarding/Orientation Committee is responsible for creating guidelines on how to draw new employees coming into the university and new students, as well as how to better become acclimated to the campus culture. They are in the process of working on some things in that regard.”

  There were several diversity and inclusion trainings as well, with both faculty and staff. Dr. Canida said, “We had over two hundred students, which comprised athletes as well as non-athletes, in the ballroom to come and engage in a workshop with the CIC. That was part of the diversity committee for the president’s task force for DEI, that was one of their initiatives.”

  He continued, “We had some mixed reviews or evaluations from the one for the students, everything ranging from, ‘A great workshop’ […] to ‘It was a waste of my time.’ […] We take that information and we work with it, figure out how we can better engage students in the future.”

     Washington also spoke of such training, saying, “Over the summer the Student Government Association fully funded diversity modules that will be delivered through the Office of Equity and Inclusion for all Students, Faculty and Staff to complete sometime this year. […] We will push the diversity modules from OEI, which will be highly recommended for students to complete and required for faculty and staff, I believe. We are currently brainstorming ways to support and push the “Hornets have Respect” initiative, so that we are holding true to the initiative and holding the student body accountable for showing respect, rather than it simply being something that we just say.”

     Students not on the diversity task force are also making a change through SGA. According to Washington, “So, interestingly enough, SGA made an amendment last year after multiple meetings with the [Student Diversity Council] chair, which made SDC an ad hoc committee of SGA, which ultimately does not alter any of SDC’s functioning and jurisdiction, but it allows any member of SDC to write SGA legislation to be brought before the Senate, giving SDC much more tangible power and change.”

     Washington continued, “Our previous Senator and SDC member, Jazzmin Chestnut, wrote legislation last year along with SDC and former SGA Vice President, Darian Geddis, proposing that there be no classes on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and there will be a campus wide day of service. This will begin in 2022 most likely. We also have a standing seat for SDC within our student senate, meaning there is a guaranteed seat for an SDC representative in the SGA Senate.”

  As for more representation on campus, Washington said, “We need more minority faculty members, particularly black faculty, and that effort actually does need to be a sprint at this very moment. Over the course of many following years, I have expressed my desire to increase our minority student population to around 35 to 40 percent, which is reasonable and attainable.”

  Dr. Canida said, “A company called TMI Consulting Company  [is going to] come in and do an institutional audit of UL, and basically what that means is that they will for a very thorough, deep dive, deep analysis of the institution as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. […] It will look at things that we as an institution are doing great as it relates to DEI or inclusive excellence, but it will also look at things that we need to improve upon.”

  He continued, “One thing that is obvious is the need to increase the number of faculty of color. […] Particularly the leadership know that if we are going to be serious about this, then we need to put our money where our mouth is and to do that we can hire more faculty of color.”

     There is also the problem of retention, which Dr. Canida explained, “President Morrison-Shetlar again, as a way of showing her commitment to inclusive excellence, has formed a retention and recruitment task force, which will look at how we recruit and retain faculty, staff, and students of color, as well as historically marginalized and underrepresented students. It is not how many more Black [people], but how many more Black, Indigenous, persons of color can we bring to our campus family to actually honestly say that we are diverse in nature, that we are inclusive, that we are respectful.”

     Washington said, “I often remind myself that this effort for change is a marathon, not a sprint. In my many conversations with Dr. Aaron Smith, Dean of Students, as a triple Alum, he often explains how vast change has been here since his time arriving as an undergraduate student. I am also reminded that the scope of Higher Education, at its very foundation, is inherently white. Statistically, until the scope is altered and more opportunities are created to disparate, black and brown minds on college campuses, those voices will unfortunately be drowned out, as they have been in the past. The institution is giving a good effort, but it can always be better.”

  Dr. Canida said, “When anyone tells me that they feel voiceless on our campus, then that is going to put even more fire under me to push the university to be the best that it can be. So they is going to be my main goal is to sometimes make people feel uncomfortable but respectfully uncomfortable, to challenge behaviors that do not march the university’s values of respect for diversity, all types of diversity, not just race. So I may not be the most popular person on campus, but I think it is necessary for us to really stand by the decision, to support President Morrison-Shetlar’s commitment to DEI, but also keep in mind that it takes all of us […] to build an institution of inclusive excellence, to build an institution that is respected, and to build an institution where everyone knows, without a doubt, that they belong.”

  Washington finished by saying, “I believe that contrary to popular belief, the University of Lynchburg has done an amazing job addressing diversity and inclusion concerns, and when I say “amazing”, I do not mean “perfect”. Frankly, I have seen many members of our community do all that they can to address concerns and make swift change. […] [T]here has been a great deal of talk surrounding our values and what we stand for as an institution in Lynchburg. No one but the University of Lynchburg dictates our values; no one. I argue that we show and prove our values each and every day through our actions and through the many lives that we have changed.

Dr. Canida’s favorite quotes is by Audre Lorde is fitting for the current national climate, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” He said, “We have to stop allowing our differences to bind us, to keep us separated from each other based off of what we see on the outside. […] We need to recognize, accept, and celebrate those difference and realize that once we have those meaningful conversations with others that we see as different, that there is more similarities to all of us than we ever imagined.”

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