Race and sex discussion focuses on president-elect, diversity

The Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity hosted a "Race and Sex on College Campuses" forum to foster a conversation about marginalized groups on college campuses. ORACLE FILE PHOTO.

“Contributions being minimized” and “actions being misinterpreted” are among some of the words Professor Brenda Walker used during the "Race and Sex on College Campuses" forum Tuesday afternoon.

The Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity (DIEO) hosted the event to foster a conversation about marginalized groups on college campuses. Walker spoke alongside Success and Wellness Coach Shaun Richardson and Assistant Director of Title IX Maggie Denrey.

According to the DIEO website, the Title IX amendment protects people from sexual violence, sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

DIEO Vice President and Title IX Administrator Haywood Brown moderated the forum and shared his hope for inclusivity when President-elect Steven Currall takes office July 1.

The three panelists spoke about the university presidential search that concluded last week. Walker said she believed Wanda Blanchett, the only black and female candidate, was selected to fulfill a race/gender requirement.

“We took pictures with Dr. Blanchett because we knew we would never see her again,” Walker said. “I hate to say this but she was satisfying the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). I see it too often on our faculty search committees where we make sure we have this ‘diverse pool.’ So, how can we move beyond the rhetoric of EEOC?”  

Brown responded by speaking about the thin line where underrepresented people are either selected based on their skill sets or simply to “check the minority box.”

Denrey said she hopes Currall will uphold his statement concerning his commitment to diversity when he succeeds President Judy Genshaft.

“We need a president who can ‘walk the walk’ and create a culture change instead of just talking about it,” Denrey said.  

Brown agreed with Denrey and said the university has to understand what it means to be a diverse workforce and what it means to be inclusive.

The panelist shared compelling anecdotes about their experiences surrounding prejudice.

Walker said she her career consistently involves “navigating through the margins.” She continued by speaking about how stereotypes about black women being “too proud” or “too loud” made her feel powerless.

“I have never really felt totally included,” Walker said. “People in power on campus will put committees together and every single person is white.”

Denrey recalled the misogyny she endured when she was a sailor. She spoke about the eight months she spent on a ship and described it as the worst experience of her life.

She said she would often be mentally and physically abused by her male coworkers until she became severely depressed.

In response to the speakers sharing about how they had to “prove they belonged,” Brown asked them one question.

“When you are being that cautious, are you really being you?” Brown said.

Brown redirected the conversation to the audience of about 50, so that they could evaluate how they were perceiving others.   

“I have a bias — we all have a bias,” Brown said. “But if we let those biases control our environment and how we interact with others, we are at fault.”

Richardson shared that he was “deeply disturbed” about the discrimination some students endure from professionals on campus.

He said there is an assumed notion that college campuses are filled with people with progressive mindsets, but that is not always the case. 

In an interview with The Oracle, Brown said he wants the new president to know “where we are and where we want to go.” He said the current faculty at USF is underrepresented.

“We have a diverse student body, but we are not there when it comes to diversity within the faculty,” Brown said. “We have to have a conscious effort to want it.”

Brown said a mentoring program could be the first steps in fostering inclusivity.  

“We want everyone to get the memo that diversity is important on a college campus and I think our new president knows that not everyone has received it,” Brown said.

The transition to new leadership gives faculty and staff a “unique opportunity” to be heard in a new way, according to Brown.

“I want (Currall) to help me to help everyone get that message,” Brown said. “We can always be better.

“When you walk into an office and look at the staff, we just want it to be better.”