Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosts first town hall on social justice reform

Troy Pierson Reporter

Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) hosted the first of a series of virtual town halls Tuesday evening to discuss racism and forms of discrimination on campus.

The series Shaping a Better Future: Dialogues and Strategizing for Change is part of a yearlong program dedicated to addressing topics related to social justice. Five town halls are scheduled for the month of August and will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5 p.m.

Chairperson of Pan-African Studies and Interim Vice President for DEI Amoaba Gooden spearheaded the town hall today alongside President Todd Diacon and Vice President for Student Affairs Lamar Hylton. Around 180 participants attended the meeting via Zoom and had the opportunity to ask questions on improving the lives of minority students, staff and faculty on campus. 

In the meeting, Diacon provided a series of numbers that tracked the number of diverse students and faculty on campus, including student enrollment and graduation rates amongst African Americans and minorities. Each area was presented in a 10-year timespan from 2009 to 2019. 

According to the information provided in the town hall, the percentage of African American tenure-track faculty on the Kent campus increased from 3.2 percent (21 faculty members) to 4.3 percent (26 faculty members). Faculty members of color with tenure increased from 5.5 percent (36 faculty members) to eight percent (48 faculty members). Diacon noted part of this increase was from a Faculty Diversity Hiring Initiative in 2016 and 2017, which hired 15 new faculty members. Diacon announced an additional one million dollars of base funding will be devoted towards hiring more diverse faculty members.

“These positions will be funded centrally so that we won’t add to the budget constraints of our academic colleges in our responsibility-centered management style of budget,” Diacon said. “I look forward to that effort – it certainly worked the first time, and it certainly merits doing so again.”

Undergraduate enrollment amongst African Americans has remained the same from 2009 to 2019 at 8.9 percent. Undergraduate enrollment amongst students of color increased from 11.6 percent to 15.8 percent. Graduate student enrollment amongst African Americans has increased from 4.7 percent to 6.1 percent. Graduate student enrollment amongst students of color increased from 6.3 percent to 10.1 percent. 

The gap of underrepresented students to the full cohort of students who graduate within four years decreased from 13.7 percent in 2009 to 9.8 percent in 2019. 

Freshman admissions by African American students for fall 2020 increased by 28 percent (405 students). Freshman admissions by Hispanic students increased by 21 percent (47 students). Freshman admissions by multi-racial underrepresented students increased by nine percent (91 students). Underrepresented freshman enrollment for fall 2020 remains flat compared to fall 2019 enrollments. Diacon noted this reflects the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on those students and families with the highest levels of financial need. 

Hylton provided details on the new anti-racism task force, which has been in development for the past month and a half. The task force will consist of faculty, students, staff and administrators, and will examine 14 areas of interest throughout the university experience with a committee dedicated to each task. These committees will look to find any barriers in these areas that stifle success for Black and minorities at the university, and find recommendations for how to eradicate those barriers. The task force will be led by Diacon alongside Gooden, Hylton and Interim Senior Vice President and Provost Melody Tankersley. 

Hylton also announced a safety summit in the fall for the university community to develop deeper relationships with law enforcement, and provide a forum to hear from individuals who have been impacted by experiences with local law enforcement. This includes Kent city and Kent State police, as well as Stow and Streetsboro police.

The next town hall meeting will be held on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 5 p.m. The meeting will discuss skill building and best practices in allyship, and will be facilitated by Director of the Student Multicultural Center Michael Daniels, Associate Professor of Sociology Carla Goar, Associate Professor of Political Science Julie Mazzei and Assistant Vice President for Equity, Identity and Success, Division of Student Affairs Yvonna Washington-Greer.

 Contact Troy Pierson at [email protected]