Senate seeks more inclusion

A report released by the Academic Affairs Committee of the Undergraduate Student Senate this week calls for the induction of an office of diversity and inclusion at Carnegie Mellon.

On Thursday, April 21, the Academic Affairs Committee of the Undergraduate Student Senate released a white paper authored by sophomore computer science major and Senate Academic Affairs (AA) Chair Eric Zhu, first-year electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering double major Christina Ou, and first-year Dietrich student Julia Luo. The paper detailed a case for creating an office of diversity and inclusion at Carnegie Mellon University using money from the recent Marvell settlement.

The paper begins by mentioning that there is some version of this office at each of Carnegie Mellon’s 13 peer institutions and that Carnegie Mellon is lagging behind them on this issue.

The paper made the argument that diversity and inclusion were key components of the Strategic Initiative 2025, but the university’s current strategy of a “grassroots approach” was insufficient. The authors wrote that “the University needs to hire individuals skilled in this specific area to be solely dedicated to making sure we are doing the best we can. Without this direction, the development, implementation, and optimization of the recommended practices seem near-impossible.” They argued that directing efforts through a central office would improve the steps taken by the university and the public visibility of those steps, both improving the pursuit of their goals.

Zhu did not completely reject the idea of student-created change; he felt, however, that it was not a sufficient model to bring about meaningful change at the university. “I think students can create some measure of change, as we’re kind of trying to do, but at the end of the day we’re full-time students and only doing anything else part-time. And we leave after four years, which makes anything nearly as long term as change in a university very difficult,” said Zhu in an email interview with The Tartan.

Students were consulted on the initiatives being outlined. Senate reached out to “maybe 12 multicultural and interest groups,” according to Zhu, and received input from the Spanish and Latin Student Association (SALSA), the Korean Student Association (KSA), Colors@CMU, and ALLIES. The groups expressed frustration because the responsibility to publicize the university’s diversity services must fall to them. The authors felt that centralization would improve the ease of accessibility to the options available to students, writing in the white paper “a Google search for ‘Carnegie Mellon diversity resources’ returns a Diversity Resources Guide, the guide is outdated with no resources that would benefit a student. Buried in the second page of results is CMARC’s [Carnegie Mellon Advising Resource Center] website that then requires more searching to locate a ‘Get Involved!’ page. Most students will not go through this trouble.”

Zhu said much of this difficulty to access information is “a product of the decentralized nature of the university, but that’s no excuse. So, many students don’t know what CMARC is (I didn’t until very recently) and they don’t know what resources are available to them.” He argues that an office of diversity and inclusion could go a long way towards remedying this problem.

The paper also suggested Brown University’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan as a potential source for the best practices to implement in order to make sure the office is effective.

The idea to write the paper came from a drive for new initiatives that started over winter break. “I decided, along with my vice chair [and sophomore decision science major], Michael Gormley, to focus AA on policy and long-term solutions that we feel Senate is the best equipped to solve,” said Zhu.

He continued, saying “…the impetus for this really started when I attended the MLK ‘Conversation’ event in January. The student speakers section really, really moved me and got me thinking about the topic ever since. To be completely frank, I didn’t even know about many of the struggles that people all around me have to face.”

The authors also expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of Carnegie Mellon’s diversity efforts. “I’ve always felt like CMU says a lot but doesn’t put much money or action where its mouth is, which really disappoints me,” said Zhu.

Ou perceives that “even within such a diverse campus, people stick to what they are most familiar with. If Carnegie Mellon’s setting were to change so that it would be easier to intermingle more, then that would be a great step towards more diversity and more interactions between students.” Luo agrees, adding that “there are a lot of people who hurt from not being [able] to get the resources they need to succeed.”

Zhu felt that an office of diversity and inclusion would help to publicly shift the university’s priorities. “I think that this is one of the unique opportunities for CMU to really show with money, not just words, its commitment to diversity. It’ll be a signal to future donors that this is a priority of the university,” he said.

The white paper was released after being passed unanimously by Senate on Thursday.