Where Are We Now?: The Follow-Up Student-Faculty Assembly on Cultural Competency

In April of last year, Emerson students took a stand at a faculty assembly, demanding the culturally competent education they were lacking. On March 29, nearly a year later, many of the same students had the opportunity to readdress the faculty in a gathering spearheaded by Protesting Oppression with Education Reform (POWER). POWER is a group of student representatives from each department at Emerson who have been working with the ad hoc cultural competency committee to implement systemic change within their respective departments. The gathering was held to highlight the progress made so far on the fronts the students questioned the faculty about last year, such as diversity training, implementing more course material produced by people of color, etc. Another goal was to challenge the faculty to accomplish more or to make faster progress on the things they had committed to but not yet completed. Students sat alongside their educators as we waited to hear the report of where we stood nearly 365 days after the original faculty assembly.

After a briefing by Professor Miranda Banks, the assembly began with a powerful video which commemorated last year’s protest, while touching on the fact that though students in the previous year’s protest had been vehement, they had every right to passionately question why they were not being treated with the same respect in the classroom as their white counterparts. Cultural leaders Nathaniel Charles and Taylor Jett were then handed the microphones and thoughtfully spoke to the assembly about the relationship between emotional competency and cultural competency. They highlighted the fact that no fear should exist in the space, addressing faculty concerns that were expressed leading up to the second assembly. They set expectations for how the assembly was being run that day while welcoming feedback and comments afterward or via email. It was then that representatives for the Communication Sciences and Disorders, Communication Studies, Marketing Communication, Visual Media Arts, Journalism, Performing Arts, and Writing Literature and Publishing departments came up individually.

We were proud to see several members of Flawless Brown—Alexandria Ellison, Taylor Jett, and Lucie Pereira—confidently and poignantly address the entire assembly. Though each representative was able to articulate the positives that have been accomplished in the past year, it was made clear that there is still plenty of work to be done. This includes cultural competency training in the Communication Studies department, improvement of crew calls via diversity trackers in the Visual Media Arts department, development of casting call workshops for people of color in the Performing Arts department, more diverse case studies in the Communication Science and Disorder department, and even more minors that celebrate ethnic minorities, such as Latinx studies. All of these ideas, carefully crafted by the students who are seeking their implementation, were met with applause by the entire assembly, faculty and students alike.

As the representatives finished speaking, the floor was handed back over to Robert Colby, who brought a motion before the assembly regarding a curricular audit that would be required of faculty, holding them to the high standard of diversity and inclusion that Emerson claims to be committed to. The motion brought out some questions from faculty, as they had not been informed about it prior to the vote. It was at this point that the faculty had a chance to respond to what had been said. Although certain professors expressed hesitation or disapproval for the motion, many faculty had helpful suggestions and commended the students for taking on the onus of education reform at Emerson. One professor, Tulasi Srinivas, even handed the floor back to Nathaniel and Taylor, making sure student input on the motion was valued. This further reinforced the sentiment that for the most part, faculty overwhelmingly support students and their pursuit of the best education they can receive. The motion eventually passed and the assembly concluded on a hopeful and positive note.

Although it has been made clear that Emerson has a long way to go before it can meet the standards of inclusion and diversity it claims to have, there is also undoubtedly work in progress on the part of the cultural organizations, SGA, and faculty alike. To be able to witness and contribute to this progress has been a humbling, challenging, and rewarding experience.

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Created by Lissa Deonarain