About a month has passed since a group of "marginalized" UA students released their list of inclusion-related demands and protested President Ann Weaver Hart's lack of diversity accountability on the steps of Old Main. Almost immediately after, Hart announced the UA's new Diversity Task Force initiative in response to the students' concerns.
Diversity Task Force co-chairs Tannya Gaxiola, Bryan Carter and Javier Duran say they'll have to tackle a bigger beast than solely actualizing inclusion goals, though, based on the concerns the students self-identified as the Marginalized Students of the University of Arizona, voiced at the first and second task force meetings earlier this month.
The beast in question? Getting MSUA members to believe the task force's goals are real and sustainable.
"We're trying to negotiate trust with the students, and I fully understand why," says Duran, UA Confluence Center for Creative Inquiry director and professor of Spanish and border studies. "I think they have concerns, and those are valid, but I think they need to open some spaces so we can find common ground."
The common ground Duran refers to is a working relationship between marginalized students—MSUA-affiliated and non-affiliated alike—and the faculty and administration members behind the Diversity Task Force.
But it's hard for marginalized students to agree to this common ground when their distrust in the university system and administration—specifically Hart—runs so deeply, according MSUA organizer and Black Student Union co-president Trinity Goss.
"It seems like [the Diversity Task Force] was just for the sake of a response, just to once again escape accountability," Goss says. "We don't trust some of the faculty, we don't trust some of the administration, because they haven't given us a reason to. You're not noticing us until it makes the school look bad, so why should I owe you trust when you've demonstrated you don't care about every single student in this university?"
Carter says he understands why students feel this way.
"The task force was done, in a sense, as a response to the student demands as opposed to proactively put together as a response to the campus climate and issues we have that are systemic problems here on campus," he says.
Reactionary conception aside, though, the task force wasn't assembled to escape accountability, according to Duran—rather, it was assembled to map out campus diversity and inclusion issues in a collaborative environment.
"It has to be a university-wide effort to educate ourselves about the meaning of diversity and inclusion, and what are some of the consequences that we have now in terms of these demands that we should be paying attention and also putting resources into," Duran says. "It's going to be a large group of many different people from different areas of the university that are going to learn together."
Gaxiola agrees, adding that she intends for MSUA's members to greatly dictate what the Diversity Task Force becomes, as they are the ones who know their demand letter best.
"We want to be sure these students who brought these issues to light are being incorporated and are really sort of an integral part of the process," she says. "Obviously they're the ones who know what the issues are, they're the ones who are going to express what they were trying to do, what they meant in the demand letter."
Even Goss agrees with Gaxiola.
"If there's going to be a task force, it's going to need to be the way the students want it to look, because it's about the students," Goss says. "We don't want it to just be some committee that gets pushed off to the side that talks in meetings that just talks and talks. We want to see action."
Goss also said neither Gaxiola, Duran, Carter nor Hart ever contacted any MSUA organizers before announcing the task force's launch via email on March 26, which contributes to her and her colleagues' mistrust of their intentions.
"When the task force came out, it was a Daily Wildcat article ... We didn't even know about it," she says. "We were like, 'Well, what is this? What is the purpose of this? Are you basically putting the burden back on the students that are marginalized to fix everything that people are paid to do?"
Not exactly, according to Gaxiola, Duran and Carter. They say students are some of the most essential members of the task force because they serve as task force subcommittee heads.
Each of the eight subcommittees focuses on three or four related MSUA demands and how to implement them on campus in a short, medium or long-term fashion, depending on any given demand's complexity. The current subcommittees are as follows, according to an email from Gaxiola:
· Classroom experience: "What students experience in the classroom, including the classroom climate, interactions with instructors and other students and the curriculum"
· Student experience: "What the students experience beyond the classroom, including at sporting events, the Student Union, etc."
· Admissions and financial aid: "The recruiting and admission of diversity student body [sic] and the financial resources that are available to them"
· Health and wellness: "The experience of students seeking various types of medical care, including mental health care and sexual assault interventions"
· Faculty and staff diversion: "The recruiting, hiring, retention [sic] of a diverse faculty and staff"
· Cultural competency training: "The training of existing and new faculty and staff so that they are knowledgeable and empowered to prevent and deal with micro and macro-aggressions; the training of students in this competency as well"
· Space and facilities: "Our built environment and what space is available for whom"
· Student support: "The support services available for our students, the way that those services are delivered and by whom"
While these are currently the eight subcommittees the task force works with, Duran says he and his co-chairs are open to change as students, MSUA-involved or not, see fit, so long as the UA's diversity-related problems are sustainably and systemically addressed and changed.
"We need to know who the people at the university are, and I think this is part of the process," Duran says.