This month, Lesley President Janet L. Steinmayer and Associate Diversity Officer/Chair of President’s Diversity Advisory Committee Maritsa Barros announced a long-term strategy — and some immediate, tangible steps — toward building a more anti-racist university community.
A joint letter from Steinmayer and Barros reads that true change “will come through the practice of co-creation in building a better Lesley that is reflective and inclusive of all its community members,” especially students, a number of whom are members of a newly formed Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Student Committee. This committee will work in concert with the new President’s Diversity Advisory Committee to further develop diversity, equity and inclusion at the university and launch a plan to bring transformational change in matters of justice and equity, search for a vice president to replace former Chief Diversity Officer Amarildo “Lilu” Barbosa (who accepted a position at Harvard University) and develop priorities for that individual.
"When we were asked if we would like to serve on the President's DEI Student Committee, I immediately jumped at the opportunity,” said undergraduate student Gihanah Seb-Di Dio, who majors in secondary education and English. “It is very rare that students are given the opportunity to work closely with faculty, staff and the president, so we used every chance we had to push for necessary change."
The advisory committee was designed to sunset on July 10, and has already made reportable progress:
- The university has committed to a phased investment in inclusive excellence so that, within the next 3-5 years, it totals $1 million in annual support.
- The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to increase the restricted fund for scholarships for the Urban Scholars Initiative by $1 million.
- Initial cultural competency and anti-bias training will take place with the board over the summer and with President Steinmayer’s Cabinet, Lesley’s deans, core and adjunct faculty and staff in August. This training will also be provided to new university employees as part of their orientation. A second round of training will occur prior to the start of the spring semester.
- The university is posting the positions of Equal Opportunity/Title IX Coordinator and a Director of Multicultural Recruitment and Student Inclusion. The Office of DEI will also begin its review process to fill three positions to be filled by graduate assistants to support the work of the office in areas of Multicultural Affairs, LGBTQIA+ and Equal Opportunity.
The activities are just the latest steps the university has undertaken, aligned with our social-justice mission, to address systemic racism and a number of specific concerns raised by students, staff, faculty and especially Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in the President’s Advisory Committee. The community-wide accountability forum — hosted on Zoom and attended by nearly 400 people — and letters sent to the administration from BIPOC students and other campus constituents served as a guide to the President’s Diversity Advisory Committee in identifying these latest action items. An update on further actions to be taken following the sunsetting of this committee will be shared by the president and committee chair in coming days.
The letter from the BIPOC students to administration signed by 553 people, delineates 15 demands, including tripling the percentage of Black students (from 6 to 18 percent, which would fall between the Black population of the United States overall and the city of Boston), deliberate recruitment of faculty of color, increased anti-racism training and curriculum, designated “safer space” for Black students, and more.
“We do not feel it is fair to constantly bear the burden of playing the role of ambassador for our race and/or ethnicity in order to educate our white counterparts,” reads the letter of demands by students of color. “It perpetuates a harmful and traumatizing dynamic for students of color that pay to receive an education in a space that is already uncomfortable for BIPOC as Lesley is a (predominantly) white institution.”