Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: what has changed since Danko’s Juneteenth email?

Butler University is continuing changes following President Danko’s Juneteenth message. Collegian File Photo.

SOPHIA ESTES | STAFF REPORTER | sestes@butler.edu 

Butler president James Danko sent out a campus-wide email on June 19 commemorating Juneteenth, discussing how the holiday highlights the need for change in today’s society and on Butler’s campus. He used the historic date as an opportunity to discuss the larger issue of systemic racism and inequity on Butler’s campus. Since the email was sent out, the question remains: have the university’s promises been fulfilled? 

Juneteenth is a nationally-observed holiday that celebrates the freeing of the last enslaved people in the United States. In his email, Danko called for action among faculty, staff and students at the university while urging divisional and college leaders on campus to take more responsibility. He provided university leaders with a list of actions to implement. The actions spanned four key areas, including education, organization, behavior and procedure.

Terri Jett, a political science professor and faculty director, was recently appointed by president Danko as a senior adviser to the president for the Butler University hub for Black affairs and community engagement. This new role will aim to strengthen administrative connections to on-campus Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. 

Before the discussion over Juneteenth and what Butler can do to improve, Jett was originally in the role of special assistant to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusion. Jett has worked at the university for over 20 years, and became the first Black woman to become a full professor at Butler in 2020. 

In regards to the progress that the university has made, Jett said there have been a number of events that signal a shift in the university’s commitment to creating change. Jett detailed an all-day anti-racism symposium organized by the university for Butler faculty and staff that took place in August, with keynote speaker Ibram X. Kendi.

Jett said that each college on Butler’s campus has specific items they are focusing on pertaining to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. She said the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences already has a task force that focuses on inclusive teaching practices. This task force could serve as a model for future initiatives that the other colleges might implement. 

Jett also detailed how she developed an inclusion advocate program to be used in searches for new faculty members. She said these inclusion advocates will ensure that colleges have a wider range of candidates in their search for new faculty members, and make sure that every candidate is assessed without biases or prejudices. 

“[Inclusion advocates will also work to] get various departments to think differently about what the culture is [in their department] and their curriculum,” Jett said.

In addition to the implementation of new programs, facilitation of trainings and the symposium, one other area Jett emphasized was the added requirement of a social justice and diversity credit in the core course load for all incoming students at the university. Jett noted that the process to create the SJD requirement has been a long one, and to ensure that students receive adequate diversity training, each SJD course will be required to meet three requirements. 

These requirements deal with intersecting dimensions of identity and inequity, identification of privilege, power and oppression, and recognition of current conditions that perpetuate social injustice. 

Jett said the addition of these courses signals a big move forward for the university.

“It’s really a nice way to change the curriculum in a remarkable way, especially as some students might end up taking several SJD courses,” Jett said. “Now it’s a requirement and that means a lot. It makes a difference.” 

Michael Kaltenmark, director of community and government relations, also detailed some noteworthy changes that Butler has implemented since the Juneteenth email was sent out by president Danko.

“There’s the group that president Danko formed to look at BUPD, and BUPD specifically from a diversity, equity and inclusion standpoint and how they are functioning on campus, but also through that functionality, how they are treating BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People Of Color] students,” Kaltenmark said.

Kaltenmark also highlighted The Old National Bank Center for Business Excellence in the Lacy School of Business, an organization that acts as a business consulting hub for small businesses in the Indianapolis area. To support Butler’s diversity, equity and inclusion mission, the partners of the organization are waiving the initial $1,000 fee for underrepresented business owners in Indianapolis and reducing any additional fees for specialized services. 

Kaltenmark said these initiatives came in response to the death of George Floyd and the impact it had across the U.S. He said The Old National Bank Center for Business Excellence took a moment to reflect on these events, and decided that this focused approach would be a contribution they could make to the community. 

Butler is increasing the number of trainings and informational sessions offered to students and faculty. Gina Forrest, the executive director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Butler, will continue to offer these trainings into the school year. 

Forrest offered five classes over Zoom this summer on the foundation of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. These classes focused on DEI and cultural awareness, bias and perception, inclusive language, microaggressions, and power and privilege. All five of these trainings are about an hour long and are contained within Canvas. They can be accessed by anyone with the links provided by Forrest. 

Although the objectives outlined and actions taken above have been a step in the right direction for some, for others, it seems like nothing has really changed at all. Michaela Ivory, a Butler senior and vice president of communications for the Black Student Union, wasn’t as impressed with the Juneteenth email.

“[Danko] is one person, and that doesn’t give an excuse to not be concerned about what’s going on students,” Ivory, an anthropology major, said. “However, maybe if he did more to not structure his support for the Black population at Butler around a pretty national and pretty widely-recognized holiday, and instead directed it more toward the incidents of racial violence that had occurred over the summer, and given clear details as to how he is going to address that, I probably would have felt better about it.” 

Ivory said she feels that any kind of public progress that has been made since this email was sent out has not been very obvious or visible to her. While understanding that some of the change has been occurring behind closed doors, Ivory also said that while she hasn’t seen any significant progress yet, she is hopeful these initiatives will create change over time.

“My hope is that through continued and intentional education for Butler students, faculty and staff members, that we’ll all start to reach a sort of shared understanding as to why it’s important to care about and play an active role in ending racial injustice across the national and around the world,” Ivory said.

Jett said that while the change will be slow, the challenges facing Butler are not things that can be resolved overnight. 

“This is a marathon; this is not a sprint,” Jett said. “And I am not someone that needs instant gratification. I need to see progress happening and recognize that there is at least some sort of intention and a focus, but I don’t need things done immediately.”

Yet, Jett said that there are some things that will need to happen more quickly than others, such as cultural shifts in the classroom. Above all else, she encourages open discussion. 

“I’d like to encourage the students to speak up,” Jett said. “I think that’s a good thing, and to work with one another to address whatever injustices they see. That’s kind of the main thing. Grades won’t be affected by that. This is the moment for students to test it out and let us know.” 

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