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Race, Culture and Diversity Community Lunch with Ernest Washington

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Race, Culture and Diversity Community Lunch with Ernest Washington

Consultant Ernie Washington of Massachusetts University at Amherst hosted a Town Hall Meeting for the Teachers College community on November 2. Washington, who is paving the way for the incoming Assistant Vice President for Diversity Janice Robinson, related information gleaned from his discussions with members of the unions. Issues he covered in his comments included the need for better and more widespread communication, reviving the family-friendly atmosphere that was once pervasive at the College, and general matters of civility-respect, recognition and acknowledgment-among the members of the community.

The Dean's office invited the TC community to talk about race, culture and diversity over lunch with Dr. Ernst Washington, Professor of the School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst in mid October. About 40 women and men gathered in a classroom in Grace Dodge Hall to listen and voice their opinions on many different issues.

Interim Dean Gordon introduced Washington as a dear friend and colleague who works with a group of women of color who are dealing with racism issues at the University of Massachusetts. Gordon said that he asked Washington to come when it was brought to his attention that attitudes of racism may exist here at TC and we, as a community, may need to better understand each other.

Gordon said that this discussion is a broader discussion of many biased attitudes on campus and not limited to African American women.

While the group ate their lunches, Washington talked casually about his experiences at his University. He said that he got involved with diversity issues when three women of color in three different departments needed advice on how to handle difficult situations. After a series of debates about the issue, the school decided to have a series of lunches for women of color to attend.

Washington emphasized the necessity of creating a "paper trail of concerns" when issues of racism or treatment on campus crop up. At his University, there was no set of procedures and no records of the resolutions that were achieved in the past.

He said that the "power transition" that is going on between generations is also an important consideration in diversity issues. Workshops and mentor programs are a great way to help new faculty members bond with current members and get advice on issues such as evaluation and tenure. "Everyone doesn't have the same problems," said Washington. " It's not one-size fits all."

Barbara Wallace agreed with Washington that all problems are the same. "TC needs to get diversity in the door before it can manage it," she said. "This not perceived as a welcoming environment-how do we begin to attract diverse candidates for faculty positions?"

Other questions were raised about diversity issues at the lunch. Susanne Nanka-Bruce, Director of Student Life, said that almost every day students come to her with questions about what they should do in these types of situations. In most cases, she would send the student to a contact person to discuss the issue. She said, "People are now more articulate with their concerns."

Another way that issues of diversity and community will be addressed is through a new position established at TC. President Levine recently announced to the TC Community that new Assistant and Special Counsel to the President for Diversity and Community, Janice Robinson, would start in December. Her position "was created as part of the College's diversity initiative, based upon the recommendations of the Diversity Task Force."

There will be a series of forums happening within the next several weeks. Interim Dean Gordon said, "We are committed to actively addressing the intergroup concerns of the TC community. In an effort to do so, we conducted a Town Hall meeting with Dr. Washington and President Levine, to hear and discuss the concerns of members of the TC community (see sidebar).

In addition, Professor Washington will be making several visits to our campus to continue individual and group discussions. If you would like to schedule an individual meeting with Dr. Washington, please contact the Dean's office to make an appointment or for more information at x3050.

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