Black faculty and staff at Indiana State University say the university has “broken” a social contract with them by not addressing ongoing concerns related to hiring, handling of bias complaints, discriminatory practices and other issues.
The Black Faculty and Staff Caucus has provided President Deborah Curtis with a letter listing 29 concerns as well as 26 proposed initiatives to “repair the broken contract.”
Representatives have also met with Curtis and hope to have followup discussions.
The letter to Curtis concludes, “This is how we are beginning the dialogue and taking action to transform broken contracts and oppressive environments. We look forward to your written response and next steps to implement change and a strategic initiative … that will eradicate racism, discrimination, prejudice and bias.”
Mark Alesia, ISU director of communication, provided the following email response on behalf of the university:
“Members of the Black Faculty and Staff Caucus shared their concerns in a three-hour meeting with President Curtis and her chief of staff last week. It was a productive start to sustainable, meaningful action on issues that Dr. Curtis and Indiana State University take very seriously. She will work diligently through the shared governance representatives for students, faculty, and staff for that action.”
Among those raising concerns are Ken Chew, director of the ISU Counseling Center since 2007; Azizi Arrington-Slocum, chair of the Black Faculty and Staff Affinity Group; and Mary Howard-Hamilton, chair of ISU’s Department of Educational Leadership.
• Emphasizing the number of Black students at ISU but not providing adequate faculty, staff or other support services for those students.
• Dismissing or failing to address concerns of bias and prejudice raised by members of the ISU community.
• Disbanding an office that was actively fighting for diversity and inclusion concerns and “rebuilding it in the image that was more comfortable for white people to look at.”
• Allowing bad behaviors to progress into discriminatory practices or repeated patterns of behavior with no real consequence for the people who perpetrate them.
• Not addressing a strong fear among non-tenure track faculty and staff of being retaliated against for raising concerns.
Arrington-Slocum, an associate professor and coordinator of ISU’s interior architecture design program, said the problems identified have been ongoing for many years and yet not addressed.
Chew said he is “not in any way here to speak for everyone ... we all have our own individual experiences.”
But items listed in the letter “are things we’ve heard regularly over the years, things such as people feeling as though they can’t raise bias concerns, because if they do, they are targeted. Things such as, certain groups of students being treated differently than others.”
Other complaints relate to people not being given access to promotions.
Chew also described repeated patterns of certain faculty or staff who display discriminatory behavior toward students, yet when those concerns are raised, “It doesn’t go anywhere.”
“There is a social contract we all have in terms of how we treat each other, in terms of fairness and trying to make sure we all have equal opportunity and access,” Chew said. “In many ways, that contract has been broken or even ripped up and thrown away as it relates to individuals of diverse backgrounds.”
While President Curtis is not directly responsible for those ongoing issues, “She is in position at this point to move things forward and to initiate the dialogue and help us to change what we all identify as systemic racism or systemic problems with the institution,” Chew said.
Systemic racism is “everywhere, including ISU,” Chew said. “But ISU is my community and I have to hold my community to a higher standard. ... If I don’t, how can I in good conscience invite students to come here? How can I invite new Black faculty and staff if I’m not holding it to higher standards so they come here and have a positive experience?”
Some of the higher priority areas, according to Howard-Hamilton, would include hiring of minoritized — particularly Black — faculty and staff, with more staff who are at the mid- to upper-level administrative levels.
She noted several interim positions at ISU, and “hopefully searches will be broad enough and will have the depth and breadth to attract Black candidates.”
She understands the university is facing financial challenges. But Howard-Hamilton believes that “creatively, there are ways to fill these voids.”
Howard-Hamilton also believes the support system for minoritized faculty and staff is weak. When those faculty and staff take their complaints or issues to supervisors, “We often hear those issues fall on deaf ears.”
Chew said the group hopes for some type of follow up, and it can’t stop with the one meeting.
“We’ve had too many of those over the years,” Chew said.
Nationwide, “We’re at a point in our history where things are changing very rapidly,” Chew said. “We need to be mindful of that and understand our students, staff and faculty are at a point where we are trying to hold people accountable.”
Changes need to happen “in this community and this institution as well,” he said.
Proposed initiatives include:
• Creation of a plan that addresses the numerous concerns shared by minoritized faculty, staff and students within the last five years.
• Mandatory training for faculty and staff about cultural awareness and sensitivity.
• Bias reporting mechanism.
• Provide university support of Black faculty and staff.
• Create a recruitment and retention plan.
• Develop programs that focus on inequities.
Howard-Hamilton believes the recommended initiatives need to be incorporated into the strategic plan, and she believes there are ways to accomplish them without significant additional cost to the university.
“We just are very confused, very discouraged and very frustrated with the lack of creativeness behind all this,” she said.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.