Six months ago, a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin sent an email regarding the fall 2010 Diversity Forum.
The documents in this particular email, sent to Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate Damon Williams, resulted from an intense discussion at the Outstanding Women of Color panel, in which members of the campus community shared their stories, concerns and hopes for a more accepting climate at UW.
And now six months later, panel moderator Patty Loew, a UW life sciences communication professor, still has not had an update from Williams’ office.
“It’s really frustrating,” Loew said.
Besides teaching, Loew sits on three campus diversity committees, represents her department as a Faculty Senator and is an all-around advocate for diversity. But someone, she said, has to support her and others like her on campus.
“I teach and do outreach and I do research and everything I do involves diversity, but as far as trying to implement new policies, that would be Damon Williams. … I guess I’m not sure what else I can do,” she said.
Williams said the group was “spot-on with a lot of their insights” and the documents have “informed the quality of some of the things we’re trying to do.”
One example is creating a newsletter to update the campus community on initiatives the Office for Diversity and Climate is working on.
Williams said while some recommendations, such as the newsletter, had specific requests, others fell into less concrete areas, making it difficult to implement procedures.
“Many of the requests were principles, like we should be more just – it’s not necessarily a direct recommendation,” Williams said.
University Committee chair Judith Burstyn said while UC has been focused on the New Badger Partnership, among other things, UC can only act on a few suggestions in the documents.
Specifically, Burstyn said UC worked with Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff Steve Stern and Williams to implement procedures that would diversify the faculty and staff on campus.
The program gives departments access to information on how to supplement their search processes when looking to fill a position, Burstyn said. It also helps departments understand how bias creeps into a search process, so everyone is aware and can then combat bias more effectively.
While Williams said he meets with UC every six weeks or so, he did not meet with them specifically regarding Loew’s letter.
“We get a number of communications that come in that have a lot of great information, but that doesn’t mean we have a specific concern at the core of the agenda,” he said.
Communication is one specific area Williams plans to overhaul. The addition of a website, Twitter and Facebook accounts and the newsletter will help keep faculty, staff and students apprised on what the Office for Diversity and Climate is doing.
While Williams acknowledged he has a lot on his plate, he said his office cannot work alone – it needs more faculty members such as Loew to advocate on behalf of diversity.
“It’s important for us to try to do what we can to make things better, but there’s more that can be done. There’s always more that can be done,” he said. “Individual faculty members play a huge role in stemming the tide.”
But without adequate support, faculty members like Loew are confused as to what their next move is and whether their voices actually have been heard.
“Without an office of diversity in back of me, or a pot of money … as a faculty member I’m not sure what else I can do,” Loew said.