As many Central Connecticut State University students headed to class and prepared for finals, Dina Merone and Zoe Pless took time out of their schedules to lead a rally for change on campus.
Along with members of the Black Student Union, African Student Organization, and Women Involved Now, Merone and Pless walked the campus to advocate for more resources, better academic counseling for African-American students. and other students of color, especially those studying in STEM fields. .
Merone said the concerns are that the current course design for STEM majors is forcing students of color out of those fields and majors, and that there is administrative neglect.
Pless, who is also the president of the Black Student Union, said the organization launched a survey, in which they found that more than 80% of students surveyed experienced microaggressions in various subjects.
However, she said that when it comes to students in the STEM department, they felt like there was no real reason for them to be successful in this degree program.
“So when we were doing our research and reaching out to our members, we found a pattern in the same department. But Dina was really the one who brought the STEM department to our attention…our main goal at CCSU was really to provide those resources and the supports that would stop things like the STEM department from becoming so complex and so discriminatory…from happening” , she said. . “So if we have things like a resource center for black students, a cohesive council, diverse teachers, varied choices of teachers for courses and things of that nature, maybe we could achieve a little more help for STEM students. department and any department that is really having difficulty.
Pless also said they recently had a meeting with the Office of Diversity and Equity about their concerns, but felt discouraged after the meeting.
“I think we were prepared. And we were kind of affected by a lot of what we couldn’t do, what the administration couldn’t do, what they weren’t able to do,” she said. “And it wasn’t really like that, here’s what we can do. Here’s what we’re trying to do. Here is what we are ready to do, what would you like to work on with us, do you want to work on anything? It felt like we couldn’t do that.
Some of the changes sought by Merone, Pless and other students include increasing the number of faculty, providing students with a diverse chair that reflects the racial demographics of Central students, more funding for already existing resources, such as the Africana Center, John Lewis Institute, Women’s Center, and LGBTQ Center, have increased faculty training on implicit bias and racial sensitivity, including faculty variation, and pre-identify the potential for bias faculty, requiring professors to teach certain subjects and not just have office hours, among other things.
However, CCSU President Zulma Toro said she was a bit surprised at the claim that the administration is ignoring students, pointing out that there was an open forum for students recently, where she heard the students voice their concerns for the first time.
“After this open forum, the vice president of student affairs, as well as the vice president of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, sat down with them last week. I listened…to their concerns. And we looked at their concerns,” she said.
While acknowledging that the campus isn’t perfect and will always have things to work on, Toro said he has made progress towards becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus for all students.
Toro also said CCSU has increased the number of black students attending the school, that it has implemented the Equity, Justice, and Inclusion Program designation in fall 2021, which requires that all incoming students include at least one designated EJI course in their curriculum before graduating, with nearly 65 electives, restructured the President’s Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in early 2022 to have five subgroups made up of faculty, staff, administration, and students, one of them dedicated to the needs of CCSU students, and initiated the creation of the John Lewis Institute of Social Justice.
“It’s very interesting because they claim they don’t have tutoring services for biology and chemistry classes. And we have tutoring services in those areas. But as a student, you have to make an appointment and go there,” she said.
Of the demand to hire and retain more diverse faculty and staff, Toro said they’re working on a system to make that possible, but it’s a process that won’t happen overnight.
“We have processes that we have to follow… I can’t say that I’m going to hire you because you’re a black professor. Processes are in place and the initiative is progressing and continuing,” she said.
She also said that curriculum changes are not up to her, but experts in their particular fields.
Toro said she was willing to meet with students to discuss their concerns, but she notes that there are some things that can and cannot be done.
“Are they aware of everything we do? I don’t know,” she said. “Are they aware that if we have to justify certain things, we may not be able to justify them?
Ultimately, Pless said, she and the other students just want to be heard and don’t intend to cause drama.
“We’re not trying to cause trouble. We have identified our needs and are raising awareness,” Pless said. “The issues we’ve identified don’t just affect black students, they affect all students.
“The things we want to see at Central will not only benefit us, but they will benefit all students here and those to come. We are more than athletes, ads and diversity statistics. We are whole students who deserve to be valued and protected by our institutions. Our rallying cries must not be ignored,” she said.