Syracuse University faculty call for more courses on diversity

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Nearly 150 Syracuse University faculty members are asking the administration to invest in more diversity courses after at least 15 acts of racism or anti-Semitism since November.

148 faculty members signed a letter asking the administration to invest in a university-wide liberal arts core curriculum.

One of the co-authors, Professor Biko Gray, tells NewsChannel 9’s Nicole Sommavilla they hope a curriculum centered upon the humanities, arts, and social sciences would reinforce critical thinking, creativity, and ethical sensibilities that would encourage students to be more thoughtful and responsible.

“I think a lot of us were concerned that the SEM 100 course was not working,” said Margaret Susan Thompson, a history professor who signed the letter.

Currently Syracuse University has a single-course diversity requirement fulfilled through SEM 100, which is a first-year seminar. Thompson feels it introduces students to complex issues affecting our country, community, and the campus, but does not give them the tools they need to handle them.

On Thursday, the Board of Trustees Chair Kathy Walters sent a letter to the Syracuse University community, announcing it will have an Independent Advisory Panel review the current framework for diversity and inclusion.

The full statement reads:

Dear Members of the Syracuse University Community:

In recent weeks, I have heard from many students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents from our Syracuse University community. I am saddened by the pain and fear that individuals have experienced on our campus due to hateful and racist acts. And I am deeply committed to ensuring Syracuse University is a place where all individuals are and feel safe, valued and respected.


My fellow trustees and I have been deliberate in our consideration of how the Board can best support the University community. That is why I am reaching out today to announce the formation of an Independent Advisory Panel that will work in conjunction with a newly formed Board of Trustees Special Committee on University Climate, Diversity and Inclusion to assess and provide recommendations regarding programs, policies and initiatives designed to foster and strengthen diversity and inclusion at Syracuse University.


Comprised of nationally prominent experts, the advisory panel, in collaboration with the special committee and University leadership, will be charged with reviewing the existing framework for diversity and inclusion and making recommendations. The advisory panel and special committee will directly engage with students, faculty, staff and alumni, including through in-person meetings, surveys and other ways of gathering information. All of this input will be taken into consideration in developing recommendations to build a stronger institutional framework.


I hope you’ll take a moment to read the full announcement. I look forward to working with you on this important step toward building an Orange community of which we can all be proud.


Sincerely,
Kathy Walters ’73

“I don’t think it’s enough. I think it’s a response, I don’t think it’s the response,” said Thompson.

Gray feels the board’s announcement is “the kind of ineffective response that refuses to address the specific concerns of students and faculty.”

Speaking about the core curriculum the 148 faculty members are pushing for, Gray said, “This won’t end discrimination, but no student can feign ignorance if they’re required to take courses in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.”

The University cannot confirm if the Independent Advisory Panel is a direct response to the letter, but a spokesperson said the decision came after numerous student and faculty requests.

After calls for his resignation, Chancellor Kent Syverud responded Wednesday.

“The most common thing I’ve been told by everyone I’ve talked to in the last three weeks is a common resolve to make this a world-class university that models inclusion for all people,” Syverud said. “I just want to say that’s hard to do in the current environment, and I don’t intend to walk away from that responsibility.”

Associate Vice President of University Communications, Sarah Scalese also released a statement.

“There’s no intention for any member of the Syracuse University administration to resign. There is important work ahead and they’re resolved to fulfill the commitments made to our campus and community,” said Scalese.

For more local news follow Nicole Sommavilla on Twitter/NeSommavilla.

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