SIUE’s Anti-Racism Task Force has been around for just under a month, but they plan to make SIUE a more inclusive and accepting campus. The specifics of their plans are not yet set, but meetings have begun as the task force aims to act with a “Fierce Urgency of Now,” as stated in messages from the group.
Chief Diversity Officer Venessa Brown, a member of the task force’s core council, said the task force was created by Chancellor Randy Pembrook because he wanted SIUE to respond to recent national events.
“The Anti-Racism Task Force came from a conversation with the chancellor ... In a meeting he said that we should have a task force for this, and it was developed out of that. The George Floyd situation leads to a need for an institutional position as an anti-racist campus,” Brown said. “My job is to make sure we live up to those values, and all of those things have a critical part in us being an institution that does that. We need to do more than just say we are against racism; we need to act.”
Director of the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion Lindy Wagner is also a core member of the task force. She said her position as the director of the center made it essential for her to have a seat on the task force.
“As the director of the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, it is important I have a seat at this table because that position is about educating people about race and diversity, and that’s what much of the task force’s work revolves around,” Wagner said. “I’ve only been director since March 2, but when I got the job, I understood that the center is a location on campus that is very much about learning cultural identity, and becoming aware of others, and being purposeful in that pursuit, so it was definitely important for me to be on the task force.”
Brown said the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion has had some events that she believes are great examples of how to promote anti-racism. She said she believes SIUE has the attention of many people in the area, so any changes made here will definitely have an impact.
“The Center for [Student] Diversity and Inclusion has been having some great listening sessions for students and staff to talk about what‘s happening in this country and how it impacts us as a higher education institute. As difficult as the conversations are, it’s important to have those conversations,” Brown said. “I feel SIUE is the model of the region, so this is one of the reasons we should embrace change and be that example and model for southern Illinois.”
The actual structure of the Anti-Racism Task Force is based around four subcommittees, all of which have two co-chairs. There is also the core council of members. The subcommittees create official plans of action, and the core council makes sure those changes go into effect.
Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Courtney Boddie said although there are not specific changes that the task force plans to enact currently, there should be a list ready by the start of the next semester.
“Our goals are to have two action items to implement by fall from each subcommittee. Some will be about training, some about curriculum, some about faculty,” Boddie said. “I acknowledge people’s skepticism to any type of institutional change, but we are trying to make structural change to be anti-racist.”
Boddie said he has been ready for something like the Anti-Racism Task Force for a long time, and he is happy to be a member of it.
“I think that this type of work is a long, long time coming. There have been people with great intentions behind making higher ed more accessible. But, what we’re finally seeing is a reckoning. We are going to get to a place where everything is illuminated,” Boddie said. “More people need to understand that racism is more than just a man in white cloth, burning a cross and shouting racial epithets.”