On February 28, 2017, following a major outcry for reform from the student body, Burman University made a public commitment to develop a committee which would “monitor, evaluate, and improve the state of race and multicultural relations on campus and within the community”. One year later, on March 1, 2018, the university’s own Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee held its inaugural weekend series of dialogues and presentations relating to diversity and inclusivity on campus. The evening of March 1 was dedicated to a dialogue with students, moderated by guest speaker Michaela Lawrence Jeffery. The promise of free dessert drew the attention of a large number of students and as they funnelled in, Human Resources Director Dawnette Baldeo shared a few words about the conversation to come.
“The goal is for students to have a wider understanding of what ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness’ mean,” she said, “And also Burman wanting to start the conversation about diversity and inclusiveness and how do we go forward as a campus, how do we change the culture.”
When the conversation began, race was not the only topic on the table. The seminar emphasized a variety of different aspects of individual identity including race and ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, disability, and socioeconomic status. This broader emphasis opened the door to a wider topical range of question posted electronically and anonymously by students in an online discussion forum. Questions raised by students related predominantly to the perpetuation of hate speech and discrimination on campus towards non-white ethnic groups and religious minorities. Some questions fielded even elaborated on a fear that Seventh-day Adventist doctrine and belief may prevent one from fully embracing all forms of diversity – especially a diversity of religious belief.
Some of the questions raised were truly daunting to consider in all their depth and while this meeting was primarily to begin conversations about identity and diversity, students are excited to see how the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity Committee will continue to address them following a successful inaugural weekend.
Mrs. Baldeo outlined the next steps towards building a more inclusive Burman, including issuing a student survey:
“That’s the next step and from there we will then review and our next steps will be guided by the survey, what the students want on campus, what’s needed.”
Students, faculty, and administration at Burman all agree that the discussions regarding these topics are ones which must be continuous. Given the discourse surrounding the Committee’s initial events and seminars, it is clear that equity, diversity, and inclusion will be terms allocated a certain priority at Burman in the near future.
Written by: Spencer Page, 2017-2018 Student Association President