Staffing changes within Butler’s Efroymson Diversity Center. Collegian file photo.
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As the fall 2021 semester begins, Butler University’s Efroymson Diversity Center is in flux. At the end of the 2020-2021 school year, Gina Forrest, director of diversity, equity and inclusion resigned.
The search for new Diversity Center staff members is on-going. In the meantime, Marcos Navarro-Garcia, senior critical communication and media studies major, has effectively taken over Diversity Center responsibilities as the center’s associate.
Over the summer, Navarro-Garcia began prepping for the upcoming school year, planning for Dawg Days, the pre-orientation program for students of marginalized backgrounds. Supporting him was Caroline Huck-Watson, executive director of student involvement and leadership. The Dawg Days program ran from Aug. 16 to Aug. 21.
“Students of color come and can feel isolated and alone and find themselves unable to connect in a lot of ways, and LGBTQ students sometimes tend to express those same frustrations,” Navarro-Garcia said. “Our program is designed to introduce them to one another, introduce them to a community here on campus.”
Although the Diversity Center has remained operational amidst this summer of transition, the loss of Forrest has been felt. Annie Ventura, senior international studies and criminology double major, said she misses Forrest’s personality most.
“I don’t know if you knew her very well but her personality is just so big and bright,” Ventura said. “She was just so great, like she was just so easy to talk to. In a more personal sense it’s just different not having her big personality around the DC.”
After a summer of hard work, Navarro-Garcia is excited to receive additional staff support in the Diversity Center: soon they will hire two new student employees to join the office of one. Additionally, the Diversity Center will gain a faculty fellow, a current member of Butler University’s faculty who will support them in their programming efforts.
Other Butler staff support will come from Irvington House, where a faculty in residence, FIR, will partner with the Diversity Center to promote their services to first year students, plan events for first years and support first years of diverse backgrounds.
The Diversity Center was not the only area that shifted at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Board of the Student Government Association has now become the Diversity Program Council. Ventura, who will be the president of the Diversity Program Council, said the new formation is an entirely separate entity from SGA and from the Diversity Center.
“It’s really no secret that Butler’s a [primarily white institution],” Ventura said. “It’s really no secret that, you know, there’s just majority white people at Butler … I’m hoping that DPC will be able to live up to our vision of creating this more inclusive space and just having these really great events where more people will get involved. I’m really hopeful that we’ll be able to live up to that, especially now that we do have so much more freedom.”
Now that the organization is not required to register or market events through SGA, the Diversity Program Council hopes to bring programming and speakers to campus more easily. Ventura is also hopeful that the new director of the Diversity Center, when hired, will serve as the advisor for DPC.
Both Navarro-Garcia and Ventura said they are looking forward to the semester. Last year, the Diversity Center struggled to bring students into the space, on account of the restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Diversity Center has already seen increased foot traffic and more first-year students are making their home in the space.
Looking forward, the Diversity Center hopes to expand their peer mentoring program throughout the semester. Even if a student did not do the Dawg Days program, the Diversity Center wants to connect them with a peer mentor so they can receive the support they may need. Moreover, the Diversity Center will continue their work with the four cohorts of Morton-Finney scholars, and build stronger relationships with the seven student organizations hosted there.
“I think the future is bright for the diversity center,” Navarro-Garcia said. “I’m optimistic about where we’ll go and where we’ll be even 90 days from now in terms of staffing, in terms of capacity to serve our students, expand our services, to reach farther into the margins of our student population. Hopefully we’re really able to welcome in some students who maybe even right now still feel unseen, unheard and unsupported. I’m optimistic.”
Students can get in contact with the Diversity Center by following them on Instagram and Twitter at @butlerdiversity and signing up for their newsletter. Students can direct any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or stop in Atherton 004.