By Meredith Jarchow
Part way through the open forum of the St. John’s Senate meeting Monday night Senator Owyn Ferguson approached the podium.
“By a show of hands, please indicate that you are an out-of-state student and this school isn’t as diverse and inclusive as admissions made it seem,” Ferguson said.
The majority of the people in Brother Willie’s pub that night raised their hands.
Following the posting of white supremacy signs around the St. Joseph and St. Cloud communities, the St. Ben’s Senate and St. John’s Senate held open forums on Wednesday, Jan. 24 and Monday, Jan. 29, respectively, to discuss the larger issues of diversity and inclusion on campus. As a result of the forums, the student Senates are beginning to form action plans to address the student concerns.
Both forums lasted over two hours with multiple students addressing the senates with their concerns.
“A lot of things happen on this campus because of ignorance,” senior Tyler Urbanski said during the open forum.
The 43 people, including senators, that spoke during the forum shared personal stories, areas of concern and suggestions for help to alleviate the diversity and inclusivity issues they see on campus. Students expressed their dismay in the low attendance of senators at cultural events on campus, implicit bias and ignorance seen in faculty and staff in the classroom setting and the lack of administration participation in the open forums.
“We’re silent because we’ve been silenced. We’re silenced because we’re all drained… When students here talk about diversity and inclusion, there hasn’t been much done for us,” senior Ramon Angeles said during the open forum. “Today I challenge you all to make our problems top priority.”
Following the statements made during the open forum at St. Ben’s Senate meeting, the St. Ben’s Senate has begun to formulate an action plan to address the issues that students are facing.
“We heard so many issues arising out of a lack of inclusion and to think that we are a part of those structures on campus is incredibly saddening, but true,” President Mary Catherine Steenberge said. “So that is
something we are working on actively right now is making sure that we are engaging in a very real way and in a very sustained way so that we can make progress.”
The action plan that St. Ben’s Senate is working to implement will include different taskforces to advance projects and hold departments within the administration accountable. The taskforces will meet with their respective department once to twice a month to introduce new initiatives and to keep the progress for said projects on track. Taskforces will consult with Admissions, Housing, faculty and staff, first-year orientation, Joint Events Council (JEC) and Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD).
“The action that we are taking right now is reactive to what we have seen on our campus these past few weeks, but our hope is that this will turn into proactive action,” Steenberge said. “So that by reacting to this in a long-term sustained fashion will prevent future incidents.”
St. John’s Senate President Jack Cummings expressed similar sentiments about promoting inclusivity on campus.
“We want to make sure our action plan is as effective as possible and addresses all of the concerns that were brought up at Monday’s meeting. For this reason, the St. John’s Senate will be developing a concrete
action plan this week,” Cummings said via email. “Although I have only a few months left before graduation, I want to invest my most sincere efforts to fixing this problem.”
From the administrative side, the Intercultural Directions Council (IDC) is a group on campus that works on deep organizational change toward a more inclusive community. The group recently received a renewed Mellon grant. The grant, “Becoming Community,” will work to expand on work from the prior grant, according to CSB Vice President of Student Development Mary Geller.
Moving forward, senators and students alike hope that this incident will inspire more inclusivity.
“Right now you’re feeling really drained. This is a heavy topic for every single one of you in this room,” Trustee Representative Nomin Angarag said. “Do not let this drain you. Let it motivate you.”
FEATURE PHOTO COURTESY OF HANNAH SCHWIETZ • [email protected]