Why Brown University's $100 Million Plan to Improve Race Relations Falls Short

As a coalition of concerned graduate students of color and those in solidarity at Brown University, we come together to articulate our vision for a more equitable, responsible, and inclusive university.
11/26/2015 02:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This document was composed by a Coalition of Concerned Graduate Students of Color and those in Solidarity at Brown University. The author listed on this statement is solely a contact for the press and not the primary author of this document.

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(Brown Students of Color gathered in solidarity with the #ConcernedStudent1950 movement fighting racism at the University of Missouri on Nov. 12, 2015)

As a coalition of concerned graduate students of color and those in solidarity at Brown University, we come together to articulate our vision for a more equitable, responsible, and inclusive university. Given recent events and the long standing history of racial tensions on this campus, Brown students of color recognize this as a pivotal moment for Brown's administration and leadership to respond with effective and immediate actions per our demands.

On Monday, Nov. 16, after a long history of unmet demands, Concerned Graduate Students of Color at Brown University came together to publish a list of demands and request a written response from the administration within one week. The working draft of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP) was released by President Christina Paxson's office on Nov. 19, 2015. This document was scheduled to be published in October but was conveniently released after unrest on campus. We, Graduate Students of Color, reject this plan as a response to our demands.

The anticipated 10-year, $100 million investment in diversity and inclusion sounds impressive, but note that this is a mere 3 percent of Paxson's new $3 billion Brown Together capital campaign. Furthermore, the plan provides no identifiable timeline for the allocation or distribution of said funds. Instead, the document nebulously asserts an "expansion of resources" across a number of initiatives over the next decade. The document fails to provide any coherent vision for confronting racism at Brown, which will require much more than incorporating feedback through an online form. We demand that the administration take the necessary steps to provide a welcoming environment to underrepresented groups and ensure that all members of Brown's community flourish. Below, we reiterate our list of demands and outline the specific failures of the DIAP.

1. Increase in faculty of color hires and retention

As we noted in our original demands:

The current plan to double faculty of color is insufficient due to the dearth of tenured faculty of color, as well as the countless faculty of color who have left Brown due to a lack of competitive pay.

In contrast, the University of California Riverside, a publicly-funded institution with an operating budget of $564 million in fiscal year 2013-2014, has committed to making 300 tenure-track, interdisciplinary, diversity cluster hires within the next three years with a rigorous support system to ensure faculty retention. Brown University, a private corporation with an operating budget of $902 million in fiscal year 2013-2014, has only committed to 55 to 60 new tenure track hires within the next ten years, with no commitment to new hires in departments with specific strengths in race, gender, sexuality, power and related topics. In addition, Brown has not committed to any inclusion of students of color as voting members of hiring committees, nor tenure committees.

The following questions remain unanswered in the DIAP:

1. How will the university attract faculty and graduate students of color, and how will it address retention by offering competitive pay and competitive stipends to both groups?

2. The current system for diversity hiring does not work. How will search and hiring policies be improved? How will the administration ensure that the faculty hire pipeline not solely emerge from other Ivy League Institutions?

2. Accountability for departments and centers

Currently, departments are expected to fix their own flawed hiring processes and racist research environments through voluntary diversity training "modules". Self-regulation has not worked in the past; the university needs to realize that the entire system of incentives needs to be reorganized. We need to hold departments accountable for hiring and retaining faculty of color and dismantling cultures of exclusion through mandatory inclusion and anti-oppression training.

As a start, Brown's Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee and Director of Inclusion Engagement must meet at least once a semester with each department's chair, Director of Graduate Study, and graduate student representatives to review progress on hiring and training. More broadly, as stated in our original demands, there must be a clear structure for departments and centers to communicate regularly with the VP of Academic Development, Diversity, and Inclusion, the incoming Dean of Diversity Initiatives, and student groups.

The plan also states the university will hire two to three staff members to assist the Brown Center for Students of Color, the LGBTQ+ Center, and the Sarah Doyle Women's Center. There is no description of what these positions will do, how their time will be allocated, and how they will assist centers and departments in developing anti-oppression pedagogy or ensure undergraduate, graduate students and faculty of color retention.

The following questions remain unanswered in the DIAP:

1. How, specifically, will the administration work with, incentivize, and move departments to comply with diverse and inclusive hiring practices?

2. How will the university support the labor of junior faculty who advocate and support students of color? For instance, such thankless sacrifice could be recognized throughout the tenure process.

3. How does the administration envision creating transparent and tangible reporting systems that allow students to voice their questions and concerns regarding the climate in their department around issues of diversity including: hiring and recruiting practices, class offerings, options for mentorship, and equitable funding for all students?

3. Better quality of life for graduate students of color

In our demands, we stated that a "significant numbers of graduate students of color are leaving campus due to referrals to Counseling and Psychological Service (CAPS)." Currently, graduate students are subject to mandatory referrals to CAPS by their departments, ultimately leading to their withdrawal from graduate school. Despite this, the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan has no mention of CAPS. The Graduate School and CAPS need to address this threat and ensure that CAPS is truly a supportive and protective service for students, especially for students of color.

We also called for disarming the Department of Public Safety (DPS), as well as anti-oppression trainings for DPS and the campus at large. Rather than committing to a complete overhaul of DPS's existing training programs, the current plan merely states the university "will examine the need for additional diversity and sensitivity training." We are concerned with the evasive use of the term "sensitivity trainings." In addition to the ambiguity and vagueness of the term "sensitivity," this word diminishes the demand for structural change in university "security." Our demand for trainings, which are "compulsory, in-person, and [...] regular anti-oppression frameworks," have not been addressed.

Lastly, the establishment of the Community Engagement Fellows program does not adequately compensate or acknowledge the labor carried out by graduate students of color. The payment must be commensurate with the actual time and effort needed to organize six high-quality campus events during the academic year and not simply a fixed honorarium. Additionally, compensation must be discussed for the many graduate students of color who produce events and programs for their departments and the campus outside of the Community Engagement Fellows program.

The following questions remain unanswered in the DIAP:

1. How would the trainings outlined in the DIAP address "repeat offenders" in the university? In other words, what are the consequences for faculty, staff or administrators who do not participate in trainings?

2. How will the Community Engagement Fellows be selected? What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the Fellows are accountable to principles of social justice and anti-oppression?

4. Anti-oppression trainings with an intersectional framework

The DIAP makes no reference to Title IX policies and training. As our demands state, this absence reflects an elision of the ways sexual violence intersects with "structural racism, queerphobia, economic violence, and transphobia." The DIAP must provide a clear plan for an anti-racist Title IX training that understands and responds to the realities of how race, gender, sexuality, and ability affect sexual violence and its perceptions.

The following questions remain unanswered in the DIAP:

1. What mechanisms are in place to ensure that all students, faculty, staff and administrators are properly trained?

2. Will the participation in these trainings be part of the tenure review process?

5. Honoring work of the staff, students and faculty of color that have come before us

We demand that Brown do its homework and cite its sources. The authors of the DIAP have not acknowledged the labor of the many students, faculty, and staff who have thoughtfully proposed plans for genuine change throughout Brown's history, including many of the ideas in the current plan. This administration is not charged to live up to its own expectations; it is compelled to rise to ours. These expectations have been expressed numerous times, from commissioned interdisciplinary recommendations to the demands issued at student walkouts.

Conclusion

Time has run out. This is our response because there has been no adequate reply from the administration to our original demands. We reiterate our demand for written, actionable steps to address our demands and a public forum with President Christina Paxson, Provost Rick Locke, and Graduate School Dean Peter Weber. We stand in solidarity with undergraduate students in this push to transform Brown. If the administration continues to fail to take actionable steps to meet our demands, we are committed to take further action.