Photo courtesy of Echo Chen
This article was originally published in Washington Square News
In a four-page response letter addressed to the Student Senators Council, Stern Undergraduate Dean Raghu Sundaram, Vice Dean Elizabeth Morrison, Chief Diversity Officer Lisa Coleman and Associate Vice President Monroe France detailed concrete steps intended to fix the problems that have become the subject of university-wide conversation.
Efforts from students clubs like Islamic Finance Group and Supporting Excellence and Advocating Diversity led to a letter penned by the SSC on April 19, asking Stern officials for direct action in protection of marginalized students of color.
“Upon thoughtful and collective reflection, we have come to embrace the SSC letter as a critical moment to take stock of where we are, how far we have come, and, most importantly, where we want to be as a community,” the letter reads.
“In doing so, it is clear that there is more work to be done to build a genuinely inclusive environment for students of all identities.”
Using demands from the SSC’s letter and sentiments expressed at an open meeting for Stern students to air their grievances on inclusion, the authors of the letter listed short term and long term steps that could help end the climate of discrimination.
“I’m sorry that it had to happen this way,” Stern senior and IFG President Essma Bengabsia said.
“We had to go to WSN to get a prompt response like this. So many people have been talking about these issues for years but it had to be some sort of PR thing to actually get something done.”
Stern has vowed to establish an undergraduate advisory board on inclusion, diversity, belonging and equity, which will include members from International Student Association, IFG, Pride Corp, Supporting Excellence and Advocating Diversity, Undergraduate Latin American Business Association and Undergraduate Stern Women in Business.
“[The advisory board] is my favorite part of the letter,” Bengabsia said.
“I think it’s extremely important because it’s going to be student based. Experiences of students will inform the council, not just administrators. Through this body, more demands can be met.”
The letter also described the administration’s intent to expand diversity conversations outside of just welcome week by implementing material into the College Cohort Program. Bringing in more diverse speakers and making inclusion a discussion point on weekly club agendas will also be priorities.
In addition, administrators have pledged $300,000 over three years to diversity initiatives and said that they will ensure students know the Stern code of conduct procedure for reporting incidents of bias on campus.
While Bengabsia feels the letter and the action administration is promising is a step in the right direction, she said it doesn’t fully address all the problems the SSC letter pointed out.
“I’m very appreciative of the letter and the fact that they responded,” she said. “They were supportive and validated a lot of our emotions. I just don’t think it’s enough. They only [address] a handful of the eight demands — they addressed student microaggressions and ways to shift student culture but there was nothing for admins or faculty.”
The letter had one line addressing faculty education and doesn’t make any promises of mandatory trainings or workshops.
Bengabsia said that specific action needs to be taken to make sure bias within faculty is eliminated, but she is hopeful the the advisory board can take steps to make that a reality.
“I hope through the task force we’ll never have to have issues like this again,” Bengabsia said.
Sakshi Venkatraman is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]