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Smatresk rules out required diversity training at Faculty Senate meeting

Smatresk rules out required diversity training at Faculty Senate meeting

Smatresk rules out required diversity training at Faculty Senate meeting
November 17
20:02 2019

UNT faculty and staff could remain exempt from mandatory diversity and inclusion training in response to former UNT System employee Caitlin Sewell’s use of a racial slur at a public event last week, President Neal Smatresk said at the Faculty Senate’s Wednesday meeting.

Instead, the president said he would like to see voluntary conversations about campus climate issues facilitated by UNT administrators, deans and faculty. Mandatory courses may “trivialize” important topics like race and gender, he said.

“When something like this happens, it’s always a good moment to take a breath and consider what we can do better,” Smatresk said. “What I don’t think we’ll do is have mandatory trainings, because when you add another compliance-type activity, it doesn’t actually incur ownership and enthusiasm on the topic. It becomes another thing to do.”

Currently, members of the UNT president’s cabinet are the only UNT employees who undergo mandatory diversity training. Colleges and departments can set up their own programs, like the College of Business or Mayborn School of Journalism, both of which conducted implicit bias training sessions last spring.

At their previous meeting, the Faculty Senate heard presentations on a new suite of online training programs called UNT Bridge, which could help facilitate additional programs for faculty through the UNT Office of Diversity and Inclusion, UNT Provost Jennifer Cowley said.

The UNT NAACP chapter, SGA and Black Student Union called for mandatory cultural competency training for all students, staff and faculty following Sewell’s remarks, among a list of demands made to UNT leaders on a petition with around 2,300 signatures as of Nov. 14.

The SGA-endorsed petition requests the implementation of more inclusive hiring practices at UNT so administrators and faculty more closely resemble the proportion of minority students, as well as expansions to the UNT Multicultural Center.

More than 100 student protestors led by SGA President Yolian Ogbu formed a sit-in protest during the first day of the UNT Board of Regents meeting to raise awareness of those demands. On Friday, Ogbu returned to the second day of the meeting and spoke directly to the Board of Regents about the demands on behalf of the coalition of student organizations.

Faculty senator James Martin, a media arts professor, told Smatresk he believes UNT students are making strong demands of administrators based on their own experiences of racism. Administrators may not be as surprised by Sewell’s words, Martin said, if they knew how many students experienced racism in Denton.

“Since that happened, I can’t even count the number of students have said ‘Well how does this make us a minority-serving institution if there is this shock and awe [from administrators]?’ at something they feel is pretty important,” Martin said.

Martin called the idea of mandatory diversity training an “overcorrection” in the response to Sewell’s comments.

Graduate Student Council President Tiffany Miller, a non-voting member of the Faculty Senate, spoke out in support of mandatory courses based on her own experiences in classes about diversity.

Miller said she was “starry-eyed” about the diversity and culture of UNT when she first arrived here as an undergraduate in 2013. Miller took multiple classes with multicultural elements as a requirement for her health administration studies, which she said enriched her worldview and could be replicated for more students if made a requirement in their studies.

“The longer I’ve been here, the more the facade has faded,” Miller said. “And you saying you’re not going to press this as mandatory training, that to me is more evidence of exactly part of the problem as to why these things keep happening.”

Featured Image: UNT President Neal Smatresk speaks about the possibility of mandatory diversity and inclusion training for UNT employees during the Faculty Senate’s meeting on Nov. 16, 2019. Image by Carter Mize

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Carter Mize

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