The start of PSU’s Fall Term was no different from years past. We welcomed new students, faculty and staff; launched new academic programs; deepened our community partnerships; and made advances in both research and scholarly efforts. It soon, however, became different—punctuated by a nationwide student of color movement that quickly brought attention to issues of race, ethnicity, identity intersectionality, and feelings of marginalization and isolation leading to a call for action.
Groups and individuals at PSU are engaged in this national conversation. Students are expressing their experiences and perspectives on race, equity and campus climate through meetings, large gatherings, letters, protests, one-on-one conversations, and social media. They organized a day-long event on December 1 in the SMSU with the help of the Vice President of Student Affairs, Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion and the Multicultural Resource Center. President Wiewel was present for the culminating four-hour listening session, along with myself, other members of the President’s Executive Committee, many deans, a number of department chairs, directors and staff, and some faculty.
The event began with poems, dance, prayers, and statements celebrating the diversity of PSU followed by students of color speaking out with expressions of personal experiences, concerns, desires and demands for change. These included curricular and classroom issues; required diversity training for staff, faculty, administration; additional cultural resource centers; support for student success; increases in staff, faculty, and administration who reflect the diversity of our student body; and a comprehensive campus safety plan.
Students demand changes
The students’ statements and expressions of pain, criticism and anger directly related to the classroom environment and our curriculum resonated the most with me. Our curriculum and classroom climate is at the core of what we do and who we are. I wish more faculty had been present to hear first-hand our students’ concerns, dissatisfaction and demands for change.
What students want from faculty
Students of color brought up the lack of course materials and course content that reflect their respective communities. They want faculty members to include these perspectives, histories and contemporary issues in the subject matter covered in classes and assignments. They want training for faculty in how to present and manage classroom discussions that address the spectrum of marginalization, stratification, bias, and oppression underrepresented groups experience and, to present in a positive way in each discipline, the contributions of such peoples. They demand respectful conversations to intentionally occur in real-time class discussions.
Many of these curricular-based demands were directed at President Wiewel, but as faculty know, most curricular and classroom decisions are the purview of faculty, and not decisions a university president or provost have the authority to make. Faculty decide the content of courses, the course materials, the micro-climate in the classroom, and interactions with students.
The changes and accountability students are seeking are a shared responsibility of administrators and staff and faculty, but one where faculty play the critical lead role.
Request to faculty
I call on our entire faculty to examine their courses, content, course materials, and classroom climate. We should ask ourselves what needs to change in our pedagogical approach and how to ensure our course content incorporates histories and contemporary social issues relevant to our student population and the world we live in.
As provost, I am committed to providing leadership to accomplish this work, but it will require faculty-driven processes and decisions for these changes to be made. We will begin that conversation in earnest in the coming months. In the meantime, I welcome your ideas on what each of you can individually do, as well as how we can make this change at a scale that will truly have an impact.