Diversity office assembles Bias Response Team

By Garrett Cecere
Managing Editor

Since last semester’s racial incident at Wolfe Hall, the College has taken several measures to combat future occurrences of bias.

A large step came on Jan. 2 when College President Kathryn Foster announced to the campus via email that Ivonne Cruz would serve as the Acting Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

The office holds campus-wide workshops to promote diversity (Miguel Gonzalez / Photo Editor).

In a March 1 campus-wide email, Cruz delivered an update on actions that have or are scheduled to occur within the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

“Over the past eight weeks, our priorities have been to organize the office, build a mechanism for reporting and responding to bias incidents on our campus and to begin developing meaningful opportunities to build the diverse, inclusive and equitable community TCNJ inspires to be,” Cruz said in the email.

Foster also said that Cruz would work to develop a Bias Response Team with Chief Diversity Officer Kerri Thompson Tillett and Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion Don Trahan. Cruz announced the members involved in this team in her recent email.

The new team includes Cruz, Tillett, Trahan, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Dispute Resolution Elizabeth Gallus, Director of Campus Police Tim Grant, Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs William Keep, Student Government Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Eashwayne Haughton and other faculty, staff or student advocates, according to Cruz’s email.

“The Diversity Advocates program was actually initiated last semester by Dr. Don Trahan,” she said. “The campus community (faculty, staff, and students) were invited to volunteer for the program. I believe we currently have 86 Diversity Advocates.”

Cruz also announced that the Office of Disability Support Services will include the new position of disability specialist, whose responsibilities will include ensuring accommodations in classrooms, residences and dining areas, as well as developing programs, workshops and panels on topics pertaining to disabled students’ experiences and sharing the information with the campus.

Megan Sellett, director of DSS, is coordinating the search for a disability specialist, according to Cruz.

An online “bias incident” form is also in development. According to Cruz, a draft of the form has been developed but is still being tested. She hopes the form will be finalized by next week and sent to the campus after spring break. Until the form is available, students can report incidents of bias to the Office of Student Conduct.

Some students expressed how they felt the development of a team represented a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s good … to diminish that feeling of hatred,” said Debra Schafer, a freshman journalism and professional writing major.

Xuanyi Zhao, a senior physics major, thought that the team’s presence shows commitment to countering racial incidents.

“I think it’s always good to have people dedicated … they want to improve the situation,” Zhao said.

In addition, OIDEI has developed the Diversity Education Series, which includes workshops pertaining to inclusion and diversity, in an effort to further the office’s principles.

The next workshop titled, “It’s Not Just Personal: Examining Institutional and Systemic Inequalities,” is scheduled for March 26 at noon in the Brower Student Center Room 216.

In addition to the series, the second annual Diversity Summit is scheduled for April 10 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Student Center.

“The Keynote Speaker will be Sonia Aranza, who will address the topic of Cultural Competence for a Complex World,” Cruz announced in her email.

Cruz said that more details will be communicated to the campus as OIDEI continues to expand.

“We are committed to advancing a cultural shift that creates an environment where all members of our community feel safe, heard, and valued,” her email read. “Having diversity of thought is important, but making sure we can all engage in respectful dialogue and shared values is the key foundational element to this process.”

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