In an effort to address concerns about the effectiveness of Barnard’s inclusivity initiatives, the college’s Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has announced that it will implement more outreach programs with direct input from students and faculty, including annual events for campus-wide discussions, grants for selected speakers, and a potential student-run task force.
The council was created in 2017 as one of the recommendations made by the recently-disbanded President’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, headed by former President of Barnard College Debora Spar. While the task force had faced criticism from students regarding the effectiveness of Barnard’s inclusivity and diversity initiatives, the council is poised to implement more tangible change. Diversity and inclusion have long been an area of student concern at Barnard, evidenced by a heavy debate on diversifying its curricula, challenges regarding space allocation for student groups, and a call for administration to take up student-led diversity and inclusivity events like the Bold Conference.
The council’s creation comes as a part of President Sian Beilock’s commitment to expand the college’s diversity and inclusivity initiatives, which currently fall under three areas: building an inclusive campus-wide culture, and revisiting and developing structural changes to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Comprised of representatives from faculty, admissions, staff, alumni, administration, trustees, and students, this year’s council is headed by Interim Chair Yvette Christiansë, but has yet to find a permanent chief diversity officer.
Student representatives voiced a strong desire to ensure that a broad spectrum of student voices participate and feel included in the conversation of change at Barnard. For representative Daniela Lebron, BC ’22, ensuring student engagement is an essential facet of her role on the council.
“I think part of our role is to facilitate conversation and listen to the student body’s concern for more diverse and inclusive spaces and events on campus. The most important part is just being responsive to people’s needs,” Lebron said.
In line with the disbanded task force’s goals, the council cited its primary focus as expanding conversations around diversity and inclusivity to understand how best to support students, faculty, and staff. The council’s goals include a plan to organize at least two events to foster conversation, among which will be the annual Grace Lee Boggs Lecture—named after the renowned social activist, philosopher, and author—and a cultural event.
In a statement to Spectator, Christiansë said that the council will continue to push for student voices to be heard in college decisions around diversity and inclusion, and mentioned the potential for a student-run task force to drive further discussion. In response to concerns about curriculum diversity at Barnard, Christiansë said that while curricula changes are within the purview of faculty, the council will continue to push for discussions and embrace dialogue on the topic.
The council also announced Barnard’s Inclusion Grant, which intends to targets student concern over a lack of funding for student-led initiatives. As part of the grant, students, faculty, and staff will be able to submit proposals and receive funding for events such as speakers, workshops, and performances to promote a more diverse and inclusive community.
For diversity council representative Leeza Kopaeva, BC ’22, who identifies as part of the first-generation, low-income community, personal experiences of not having adequate resources led her to seek a position on the council. While previous initiatives have faced criticism for their efficacy, Kopaeva said that the council may have potential to affect real change.
“I remember going to the FLIP Library, and there weren’t any books for the classes I needed,” Kopaeva said. “The college had told us that there were so many opportunities available to us, but when I actually went looking for them, they were scarce and not very helpful. I wanted to find a way to change that, and I feel like the council will help.”