While the recent deaths of George Floyd and others at the hands of police indicate a lack of change in racial justice, IUP Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Elise Glenn sees hope in the protests and conversations that have risen up across
the country. Here, she discusses progress and challenges at IUP and elsewhere.
Dialogues with students, development of a response protocol for incidents of bias, and work by the commissions, councils,
and other groups, which would include Elephant in the Room, Difficult Dialogues, Women’s and Gender Studies, the Department
of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and the Free Speech Project—these have been the most effective efforts toward progress this year. The Center for Multicultural Student Leadership and Engagement (MCSLE) also has improved dialogue to build our diversity and inclusion culture. We had great programs, like an evening with Kyle Richard [sexual-violence-prevention
activist] and the Southern Border Series that the Hispanic Heritage Council did. We had Decolonizing Thanksgiving by the Native American
Awareness Council and a speaker who came to campus and talked about her filmmaking and about LGBTQIA issues within the Native American community.
And MCSLE hosted “Criminal Justice System Reform” and “Discussing Hate with the FBI.”
We had a plan for a program—which we unfortunately had to cancel because of the COVID-19 situation—about bringing professionals to campus to talk about diversity and inclusion in the workplace and to help develop tools that our students will need
when they leave IUP and go to work with people from diverse backgrounds. These types of programs will be more possible because a trustee, Tim Cejka, and his wife, Debra, gave a significant gift to enhance diversity and inclusion efforts at IUP.
This fund will provide support for scholarships, training, and other key initiatives.
The other really effective work that we engaged in this year was tool building for employees. That includes building on the work of trainer Libby Roderick to promote effective dialogue in difficult situations.
These efforts have been a priority for President Driscoll. He initiated the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, and he has really used
the Diversity Action Plan to move IUP forward.
Absolutely. That is work we already engage in, but we need to be more purposeful. If you look at the classroom, we do that on a daily basis at IUP. I used to teach in the Criminology and Criminal Justice Department, and there were many conversations
in that context about race in America, about national origin and how it affects the criminal justice system. That work is fundamental to the educational mission, but outside the classroom, we can be more purposeful, as well.
I know that Dr. [Tom] Segar, as our new vice president for Student Affairs, and his team at MCSLE are working on more opportunities to engage students. MCSLE is providing programs this summer to allow students, even as we’re remote, to talk through
race issues. We engaged in more purposeful dialogue after a racist incident last fall. It is crucial that we work directly with students to know better how they feel and how to respond to their needs.
If you don’t engage, then the conversation doesn’t have your voice, and we want all voices in the conversation.
Changing culture through student engagement and responding effectively on race and diversity issues are key. We can also promote strong culture change through faculty, because faculty have a unique ability to reach students. The classroom is where
students engage in important conversation and do assignments that promote the sharing of ideas.
Faculty can also be more direct and more willing to talk about these issues. It makes a big difference when a faculty member says to students after an incident at or outside of IUP, “I know that this was hard, and I don’t agree with racism. If
you are having a problem dealing with what happened, I’d be happy to talk to you or find you some resources to talk that through.” Or, professors can engage in a discussion in their class and tie it to their curricular needs. Having direct
conversations with our students is one of the most effective ways to create change.
But it’s not just conversation. It’s also support. We have to make sure that our students feel supported enough to ask for the help they need—and we have to be able to provide that help.
If an incident occurs, as a priority, we have to assess the safety of our community. That’s number one. Then, we have to think about what this incident means in terms of—let’s say it’s a student incident—the students involved. We investigate what
the facts are, and, if one of our students has engaged in behavior that violates the student code of conduct, then we make a referral to Student Conduct for adjudication and discipline.
Third, we think about if the student who engaged in that behavior has caused harm to somebody else or some other group and whether that student is willing to take responsibility for that hurt and engage in some kind of restorative justice. There
are different ways that can be initiated, such as a conversation with an administrator, or it may be a conversation with the department in which that student does his or her academic work. That conversation is followed by action to repair
The last thing we do is support people who have been harmed—whether that’s a direct victim, a group, or a large portion of the community. We want to provide support and resources for those who have been harmed by the incident.
Something we’ve learned over the years that we have to do better is communicate what we have done. We all recognize there are limitations on sharing confidential information, but we can still communicate that we are addressing the behavior.
If we’re talking about behavior in which a student engages in speech that demonstrates a bias against a particular group and the individual realizes after discussion how harmful it was, then we can help that person have a structured dialogue with
members of that group. Restorative justice can be restitution, also. If somebody spray paints a negative message, then restorative justice would include that person working on or paying to clean it up. Then, maybe they can go one step further
and do something positive.
That restorative justice piece—I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it is. It is an opportunity to help the people who have been harmed to move on; it is an opportunity for the person who engaged in the incident to learn, be educated, and grow
into someone who wouldn’t engage in those behaviors. And, it is also an opportunity for the university to say, “We don’t condone this behavior, and we are against racism, sexism, or any kind of bias.”
If the community shows that these incidents of bias are not consistent with the IUP culture, then IUP won’t be the problem—the behavior will. People have engaged in racist behavior that the university has had to face and help people through. But
that person’s actions don’t have to define who we are. Culture is defined by the fact that we don’t condone that behavior, and we will help that person learn not to engage in biased behaviors and hopefully help them learn not to think that
If something negative happens and that person is being held accountable, you can have your programs or your group discussions or your signs that say we are against that. You can also have faculty who change what you’re going to read this semester,
because they want to address that issue. You can respond through culture.
If IUP engages in really strong culture building—so all people are welcome, all voices are respected—then the negative behaviors won’t be who we are. They will be outside the norm.
A barrier in this country today has been that some people don’t want to think about race, don’t want to face our racist past, and don’t want to work toward changing our culture. I think that this is a particularly unique moment to steamroll right
over those barriers. The protests in America today and the ongoing conversations about what we’re going to do about racism have made this topic urgent and have elicited a political will that I don’t think we’ve seen before. It can get discouraging
to see that racial injustice is still so prevalent in our criminal justice system and in our culture. We saw riots and protests in the ’60s, then again in Los Angeles in ’92, and these kinds of eruptions of frustration dot our history. But,
this time seems different to me. And that political will to change extends to all injustice, not only racial injustice.
I think our IUP community is also looking for change. Last September, when a racist incident occurred in the borough, I heard from as many faculty as I did from students. I heard from people in the community, from parents—and all were looking
to help, to find out what we can do about it and how we’re going to make things better. People have been working ever since then to try to make things better through dialogue, programming, and policy.
Most people I talk to are interested in taking real action to grow culture at IUP. We are looking toward a campaign that can be an umbrella for all of our efforts and provide ways for everybody to be part of a cultural change. I don’t think we
have apathy anymore in America or at IUP. And that is reason for hope and inspiration toward action.