After seeing protests against racial injustice spread across the U.S., officials at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College felt the need to respond.
Now, they are working to hire a diversity coordinator by the time the fall semester starts to take the lead on diversity initiatives and policies, said Krista Weber, chief human resources officer.
“I’ve been working on diversity initiatives since I started, and I’ve always had support, but I think that support has gone to a whole new level with everything that’s gone on in the world,” Weber said. “It really just has changed the outlook.”
Leaders at area colleges say they, too, are working on initiatives and reaching out to minority students in light of protests around the nation calling for racial justice following the killing of George Floyd.
“Our guiding principle is the common good,” said Callie Clark, director of engagement and intercultural programs at Clarke University in Dubuque. “Are we truly living our guiding principle of supporting the common good if the good isn’t being shared by all?”
Clarke has been offering virtual meetings for students to process their thoughts on the protests and to share ways they have experienced racial issues in Dubuque and the Clarke community.
“What does that look like, and how can we be better?” Clark said. “What actions can we as individuals take, but how can we impact, then, our campus community?”
Officials at Loras College in Dubuque also have offered times for students to process their feelings about recent events, said Sergio Perez, Loras’ director of inclusion and advocacy.
“I think our students are a reflection of the larger landscape in this country,” Perez said. “Our students, particularly our students of color, are frustrated that they’ve grown up their entire lives seeing a hashtag denoting the violence their specific (race) has to go through.”
Perez said Loras already takes steps to address racial injustice issues but that recent events reinforce the importance of that work.
At University of Dubuque, faculty members from racial minorities worked to create a plan looking at short- and long-term ways they can impact students of color, and particularly Black students.
“We want to make sure that these things are going on, that we want to make sure that we address it and that our students know that we are there for them,” said Ricardo Cunningham, head of the department of business and accounting and director of the master’s degree in management and international Master of Business Administration programs.
Northeast Iowa Community College officials are participating in a series of NAACP dialogues sponsored by the City of Dubuque planned for this month, and officials plan to offer a “Social Justice in the Workplace” workshop to business partners and employees.
Racial and other forms of equity are key to the college’s mission, President Liang Chee Wee said, noting that the college was already working in this area before recent protests and must continue to do so.
“We try to keep it in front, on the table, as much as we can because inclusion and equity issues, that’s an everyday thing that we need to be aware of,” Wee said.
Art Sunleaf, Loras’ vice president for student development, said the school’s diversity and inclusion efforts are key because colleges educate students for a world in which such issues are important.
“A primary purpose of higher education is educating for society, and how we do that in a way that resembles dialogue that meets people where they’re at and is able to move them along?” Sunleaf said.
University of Wisconsin-Platteville leaders have taken steps such as offering events for faculty, students and staff to better understand racism and hosting dialogues that bring people together from different backgrounds.
Angela Miller — UW-P’s chief of staff, assistant chancellor for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer — said it is important to recognize areas of inequity at the school and to address those to lessen any gaps.
“I think it’s absolutely critical that higher education ensures that there’s consistent focus on what access really means and who is able to obtain that and who isn’t in an equitable way,” Miller said.
Jackie Moss, who recently finished her junior year at Clarke, attended one of the virtual discussions her school held.
“I feel like maybe these group conversations can be ways to make it explicitly clear to students that these conversations are OK,” she said.
Moss, who is Black, said she has dealt with microaggressions from students and people in the community because of her race. She said when she brought up her concerns to Clarke faculty and staff, they did their best to help her.
Moss expressed interest in seeing her school offer training to help students have conversations about race and call out racism.
“I feel like some sort of race, ethnicity ally training could show people that they’re allowed to have these discussions and that avoiding discussion all together makes things worse,” Moss said.