In the University’s records, Abiola Agoro contributed to a student-administrator committee that brainstormed how to implement the first-ever mandatory diversity and inclusion training for incoming students.
But in reality, Agoro, a former student and last year’s president of GW’s NAACP chapter, said she didn’t even know her name was included in an administrative report listing members of the committee until a peer brought it to her attention after it was posted. The report was released 45 days after a racist Snapchat post rocked campus in February and officials vowed to include student voices in a series of new diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Agoro said she was likely listed after publicly calling on officials to enact major campus climate reforms and institute a zero-tolerance policy for racism in the days following the incident. But she said she never actually attended a committee meeting and didn’t receive information from officials about when the meetings would be held.
“The University plays a very good game up front, but when it comes to actually implementing student feedback, they do what they want,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s whatever they think is best even if that’s not the case for students.”
Agoro is one of four individuals who were listed on the committee to develop diversity training for incoming students and said they had little to no input in the first installation of the training at freshman orientation this summer. In total, the report listed 11 students as members of the committee, which was tasked with designing skits and online and in-person discussions.
Nine staffers were also listed on the committee, for a total of 20 members – the largest group of all seven named in the report.
Of the remaining seven students, three said they provided input for the committee, two did not return multiple requests for comment and two declined to comment.
Members of the committee said the group met three times in total and dissolved in March, though administrators emailed the committee April 11 saying the teams would continue to meet.
“We will continue to take your suggestions under consideration as we strive to create a more diverse and inclusive campus,” the email, which was obtained by The Hatchet, states.
Students involved in the committee said that after the group stopped meeting in March, administrators never followed up to set up a date for a fourth meeting. Some members of the committee were emailed in May to pilot an online training tool administrators planned to use during the summer diversity training – the final communication about the committee, they said.
Two members of the committee, including Agoro, said they were never notified about meeting dates or times even though they were listed on the report. One member added that she knew when the meetings were held but couldn’t attend any of them because of scheduling conflicts.
Another member, junior James Harnett, said he met with the group three times in Rice Hall for about one hour each with roughly five students and five faculty. He said the meetings were too short and infrequent for students to provide any meaningful feedback.
Though officials said the committees would continue meeting, Harnett said he received no communication with officials about meetings during the summer or fall.
“We didn’t have a lot of insight to what was happening,” Harnett said. “There were staff there to report what was happening up the food chain and it was up to them to report on what would get advanced.”
Angel Jones, a second-year doctoral student, said she was listed on the report as a member of the committee but never received notice that she was accepted. Before she was listed in the report, Jones said she emailed officials at the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement about the application process for the committees but never heard back.
“The part of me that wants to give people the benefit of the doubt was like, ‘oh, maybe it was a list of everyone who showed interested in the committee,’” Jones said. “But the other side of me was like ‘oh, are they trying to make it look like there were more students involved than there actually was?’”
But Student Association President Ashley Le, who also served on the committee, said that while few students attended the meetings, members were able to share their personal experiences on campus and discuss potential solutions to racial tensions after the Snapchat post. She said she was able to talk about her perspective on diversity training for students of multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Le said she assumed the committees stopped meeting after March because the team had accomplished its goal: to provide recommendations to administrators as they developed the training. The committees haven’t met since their last meeting in March and haven’t been told by officials when their next meeting would be held, she said.
“My input was definitely heard in a lot of ways,” she said.
Helping shape policies
Caroline LaGuerre-Brown, the vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement, said the committees were meant to “help shape” initiatives included in the diversity and inclusion report. All committees met at least once and organized future meetings in their respective teams, she said.
“They then organized their own structure for future meetings and communications tailored to the needs of the issues they were considering,” she said in an email.
She said the training committee is continuing to meet and met twice over the summer, but multiple students, including Harnett and Le, said they haven’t been contacted about the meetings.
LaGuerre-Brown said officials will evaluate initiatives included in the diversity and inclusion plan “on an ongoing basis.” To track the effectiveness of diversity training for incoming students, officials will conduct an evaluation after a “full cycle” of the pilot program and solicit feedback through surveys and in-person discussions, she said.
“Student feedback is an integral part of assessing the progress we’re making,” she said. “We will continue to seek student feedback from those who participated in last year’s meetings and from all students who wish to provide input.”
Since the committees launched, officials also announced that they hired a diversity and inclusion training director, created a website for bias-incident reporting and developed diversity and inclusion training for staff.
Higher education experts said that if the University wants to fully commit to promoting diversity and inclusion, officials need longstanding systems – including committees – that can track their goals over time.
Darnell Cole, an associate professor of education at the University of Southern California, said officials must have a follow-up process to track the committees’ long-term progress with feedback from students and officials.
He said that by declining to involve students affected by issues of diversity and inclusion in the project teams, “you’re really not addressing the problem, you’re addressing the appearance of the problem.”
“If you don’t have critical stakeholders who have been involved and particularly those least served by the institution on these issues, there’s a fundamental flaw,” he said.
Sandra Messick, the communications director at the Division of Equity and Inclusion at the University of California Berkeley, said diversity and inclusion initiatives need to be a joint effort between students, faculty and administrators because each group can contribute its own perspectives.
“It’s not just about taking, ‘OK, you students go do this, OK faculty you go do that,’ but it is about increasing the numbers because then everyone is in the dialogue,” she said.