By Ashton Leber
The Advisory Commission on Social Justice: Race and Educational Attainment released its final report and recommendations approved by the College’s President R. Barbara Gitenstein on Sept. 5.
The report released five recommendations that the College should act on. Each recommendation was narrowed down to short-range, intermediate and long-range goals that are expected to be completed within the next five years.
Eliminating instances of social injustice and implementing recommendations could only be done by understanding the challenges of race relations.
The commission, appointed by Gitenstein in February, “is charged with the responsibility of examining The College of New Jersey’s history within the State of New Jersey with regard to race relations and social justice,” according to the commission’s website.
After several debates and open fora with faculty, students and stakeholders throughout the previous academic school year, it was evident that many members of the campus community felt social justice needed to be redefined and measures needed to be set forth by the College.
“TCNJ values inclusivity and diversity, but these words cannot stand alone and must be accompanied by profound action to have meaning,” Gitenstein said in a statement.
The debate sparked after students uncovered the story behind the namesake of the College’s admissions building, Paul Loser. Loser held the rank of superintendent for the Trenton public schools and served as a prominent figure in enforcing the district’s policy of segregation.
After students presented intensive research on Loser’s past to Gitenstein, the president appointed the commission to provide a resolution on the matters regarding race and race relations at the College.
On May 24, Paul Loser Hall was officially renamed Trenton Hall. Gitenstein views this change as a step forward in achieving inclusivity and diversity with the Trenton community, coinciding with the College’s values.
“Renaming the building confirmed the College’s acknowledgement of the significance of the uncovered history of Dr. Loser’s legacy, with regard to integration in Trenton,” Gitenstein told The Signal. “The renaming also acknowledges the thoughtfulness and advocacy of our students.”
The commission’s first recommendation is to incorporate racial inclusivity on campus by expanding the College’s role within the Trenton and Ewing public schools.
The College plans to work with students from Trenton and Ewing to ensure that current high school students who are ready for college in the neighboring communities will have the opportunity to attend and graduate from the College.
Christopher Fisher, an associate professor of history and co-chair of the commission, said there are several ways the College can build stronger ties with the Trenton and Ewing community, and knowing there are resolutions is the first step in achieving change.
The next step involves “finding ways to collaborate where (the College’s) mission and their interests meet. TCNJ has some of New Jersey’s best resources for education training and health sciences,” according to Fisher.
The second recommendation is to engage undergraduate students at the College with Ewing and Trenton to build “a deeper sense of community, history and institutional identity,” according to the report.
According to the report, the Office of Student Affairs is encouraged to work with neighboring communities to incorporate inclusion amongst residents and students at the College.
“An institution of higher education should be both a steward of place and a steward of democracy,” Gitenstein said. “In that dual role, the College should embrace our history in the Trenton area, our responsibility in enhancing the place in which we live, and our shared opportunities to learn from community members about the meaning of community and democracy.”
Within the next three years, the College hopes to bring history from Trenton into the academic curriculum of its undergraduate students, according to the report.
Pat Remboski, a senior health and exercise science major, feels that incorporating Trenton’s history into academics is the right decision.
“It’s definitely important to know the area you’re going to school in, and it’s the school’s right to teach their history to the students who are going there,” Remboski said.
Although he agrees with the College’s strategy, Remboski doesn’t feel students would be as interested or enjoy the values of Trenton as much if it were a mandatory course.
The third recommendation will promote inclusivity within the campus community — starting with staff, faculty and administration.
The report says that achieving open dialogue regarding professional development between staff, Campus Police, Sodexo employees and other faculty is an immediate project to be completed.
Fisher further explained the importance of faculty support during this process.
“Students follow the faculty lead, and if faculty and departments shrink from the goals of diversity and inclusion on campus and an increased awareness of, and presence in, Trenton and Ewing, there is a strong probability change will not happen,” he said.
The fourth recommendation involves creating a designated office to “oversee the implementation of all accepted recommendations,” according to the report.
Gitenstein then assembled the Steering Committee, comprised of herself and the two co-chairs of the commission — Fisher and Vice President for College Advancement John Donohue.
The committee has already met this year and established the Implementation Task Force. The task force is responsible for ensuring the five actions initiated by the committee are enforced. The full task force is expected to meet in early October, according to Gitenstein.
The fifth recommendation involves renaming Paul Loser Hall to Trenton Hall, which has already been completed.
Although two of these five recommendations are marked off the checklist, determining an outline on how these solutions would be achieved was not an easy task.
The commission focused on Michigan University’s dialogue on diversity and the response from other institutions such as Georgetown, Yale, Princeton and Brown universities who were facing similar experiences with social injustice, according to Fisher.
“Synthesizing those resources into an outcome that fit TCNJ’s culture, character and history was a challenge, but I think the commission set a concrete foundation that is amenable to enhancement and revision,” Fisher said.
Kerri Tillett, associate vice president and chief diversity officer and a member of the commission, believes that these recommendations will bring new beginnings to the College and its mission to keep the campus diverse.
“Ultimately, the recommendations will help the College accomplish the goals of the TCNJ 2021 Strategic Plan, and help the College to promote and deepen its commitment to inclusiveness,” she said.
Through the recommendations provided by the commission, the College will be able to achieve its plans effectively and focus on making the campus a diverse institution with high standards in its quality of education.