JCA cancels class to talk about diversity

JCA holds a discussion about improving diversity and inclusion on campus. Collegian File Photo. 

SOPHIE CIOKAJLO | STAFF REPORTER | sciokajl@butler.edu

Every student of every major in Jordan College of the Arts gathered in Shelton Auditorium for a talk on diversity and inclusion on Jan. 24. The event began with a lecture from Gina Forrest, the executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and continued with smaller discussion groups comprised of both students and faculty.  

Dean of JCA Lisa Brooks was inspired to create the event following the campus-wide impact of “white power” being written on a whiteboard in a room next to the Diversity Center in Spring 2019. She sat down with students from each major within JCA to gather their opinions. Brooks promptly created a JCA Social Justice and Diversity, or SJD, taskforce. 

“So we created this task force and we started talking about how do we not just talk about this, how do we do something?” Brooks said.

Wendy Meaden, the associate dean of JCA, suggested that classes be cancelled so the whole college could convene together.

“So she said can we just cancel classes and deal with it?” Brooks said. “And I said ‘Really?’ I mean I’m okay with cancelling classes, but I’m not the one who’s giving up rehearsal time.”

Mixed reactions were felt among students and faculty alike. Sophomore dance major Chyna Clark said she was anxious about the outcome. 

“I was nervous if people would show up, I was nervous that people wouldn’t respond positively,” Clark said. “And then another aspect of me was kind of like, ‘Is this going to do anything?’”

Brooks said she witnessed mixed reactions from the JCA faculty, especially since she planned to split the students up into discussion groups that included faculty members.

“Anything from great enthusiasm to great skepticism,” Brooks said. “Not so much ‘why?’ but, ‘how is this going to work?’” 

Brooks has been adamant that her door is always open for students who wish to share their opinions about what she can do. Students seem to all agree on one thing: Butler needs more non-white students on campus.

In the Fall 2019 semester, Butler’s undergraduate student population was 81.9% white with only 15.7% of the student body comprised of minorities, according to the Butler University Fact Book. 

Kolin Edrington, a junior music composition major, attended the diversity workshop.

“In our small groups on the day of the event, my professor who was leading it said that JCA has tried doing that but whenever non-white students come they’ll see the representation of our campus and they get turned away from it,” Edrington said. “It’s not that they didn’t like their experience, it’s just that they didn’t feel like it was a community they could thrive in.” 

Clark agreed, citing the retention of minorities in JCA as an issue — one that she’s experienced firsthand as a student of color herself.

“I think that’s one thing I’ve struggled with the most,” Clark said. “I feel like an outsider in every aspect at this college, so how do you expect me to stay when I don’t feel welcome, when I don’t feel included in things.”

Clark said she can see JCA becoming more diverse and inclusive.

Brooks expressed that one of the downfalls of the event was one student who took over their group discussion with sentiments of racism and discrimination, including a mention of swastikas. 

In the aftermath of the event, some JCA students are wondering if any other college will take such an initiative to improve inclusion. 

“I think it’s definitely useful,” Clark said. “But I’m not sure it’s a possibility because the amount of people on this campus who just refuse to do things like this or they just don’t want to hear it, they don’t care about it. And I understand, but how do you get people to listen? How do you get people to just take a second, get rid of their biases and actually listen?”

Brooks expressed that she has tried to discuss these initiatives with other deans on campus, but that it never goes as she hopes.

“I said we did this thing and the response was kind of like ‘Hmm, thanks for leaning in.’ And I was like, ‘Leaning in?’” Brooks said. “I think that students in this college are frustrated because, I mean, it wasn’t easy for us to do that on Friday, but if something is important enough you do it. I don’t think that the other colleges share that.”

There was some optimism leaving the event, however, with a new focus on actionable steps moving forward.

“I felt good leaving the event, maybe a little guilty that I don’t do more about it,” Edrington said.  “I think a lot of other people were in a similar boat.” 

Despite the challenges and uncertainties, Brooks is committed to moving forward with making JCA a more inclusive home for minorities.

“We’re not looking for accolades, we’re hoping there’ll be some synergy somewhere, but we’ll just go about our business and try to make it better over here,” said Brooks.

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