Correction, Feb. 27, 2018, 6:30 p.m.: A previous version of this story stated the name of the alliance was the United Leadership Alliance. It is actually the University Leadership Alliance.
A few organizations at the University of Nevada, Reno, came together on Thursday, Feb. 22, under a new governing body called the University Leadership Alliance to discuss issues facing the campus and goals the university has as a whole.
The ULA is made up of members from the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, the Graduate Student Association, the Staff Employees Counsel and Faculty Senate. It was brought together to discuss diversity and inclusion after events and incidents — such as swastikas graffitied on campus, a student jokingly threatened to be shot by a university police officer and a university student being identified as a participant in a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville — rocked the campus last semester.
“We faced challenges this year that made us question our values as a university,” said ULA Chair and GSA president Sandesh Kannan. “We are here to come together to face these issues.”
In attendance were representatives from the governing bodies, President Marc Johnson, Chief Diversity Officer Patricia Richard, Vice Presidents Shannon Ellis and Kevin Carman, Title IX Director Maria Doucettperry, Director of the Center for Student Engagement Sandra Rodriguez, Kevin McReynolds, the student that was jokingly threatened by a university police officer, and Interim Director of the Center, Every Student, Every Story, Araceli Martinez. Other representatives were also in attendance. The meeting was also open to the public and about 35 students, staff and more showed up.
Although the ULA was assembled because of diversity issues on campus, it was also used as a time for these members to get on the same page regarding the university’s goals. The meeting largely was the separate bodies of the university presenting to each other their goals for 2018 and the future of the university.
President Johnson presented on three main goals for the university in 2018 — respond to the growth of the student body with a lower student to faculty ratio, reach a Carnegie R1 standing and become an economic driver in the Reno community. A Carnegie R1 standing is the highest a university can be categorized when it comes to research opportunity. In order to reach this standing, the university has to increase research opportunities, provide more research funds and increase Ph.D. candidates. It is expected to take a decade to reach this standing. This part of Johnson’s speech resembled his State of the University speech from 2017.
President Johnson also talked about how the university is supporting undocumented students who are facing the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and fear deportation. He said that he listened to these students, and assured them the university will not ask them or collect data on their immigration status nor send it to the federal government. He also said university staff is training to become undocu-allies to these students. Around 400 faculty members are trained undocu-allies, and more are being trained.
The university also hired a social services coordinator — Jahahi Mazariego — in May to be a resource for undocumented students. Mazariego has helped establish resources and has handouts to help these students know their rights should they be deported.
“This is a very important program for us,” Johnson said.
Johnson was asked by a student attendee about the parking situation on campus and if there were plans to improve it. Johnson said there is a parking garage under design that will be built on the south end of campus. The garage will have 750 to 1,000 parking spots and is expected to be open in two years.
After President Johnson, Provost Kevin Carman spoke about hiring more diverse faculty on campus and other programs on campus.
He said as of right now, 25 percent of the university’s faculty self-identifies as a minority. He also said the university hired 69 new faculty members this year, 41 percent of which identify as a minority.
“We are making some changes,” Carman said. “I think it will become more apparent over time.”
Carman also spoke about the NevadaFIT program. He said he is extremely happy with the success of the program and is deciding whether to make it mandatory for all new students. The student retention rate has increased since the introduction of the program in 2013. The increase has been particularly seen among Hispanic and black students.
Carmen said they are working to update the core curriculum to reflect updated values of diversity and introduce new courses on modern diversity.
Carmen was asked by an attendee about creating a diverse culture on campus, instead of just bringing more diverse people to campus. He said it is a broad challenge for the university and he is not pretending that they have solved the issue, but they are working on it.
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Joseph Cline presented on the growing undergraduate population. UNR has seen an increase in enrollment each year for the last decade, which has changed the demographics of students on campus. This year, 38 percent of the undergraduate student body are people of color and 53 percent are female. The increase in students also brought in students from outside of Nevada. About 25 percent of the student body is from out of state and 3 percent is international.
Cline also said that he is working to bring undergraduate courses that focus on diversity to the curriculum. He said he formed a committee to create new 100 and 200 level classes that focus on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, language, gender and sexuality with emphasis on equity. There are seven new courses being introduced in the 2018-2019 school year — including Racism, Colonialism and Communication, Race in Contemporary Life and more.
Richard presented on the university’s new diversity strategic plan that focuses on how to promote diversity on campus and ensure student safety.
Richard’s department has put together a diversity council with representatives from different organizations at the university — including ASUN, Title IX, The Center and more. The goal of the council and plan is to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment on campus, recruit and retain diverse staff and graduate students, market the “diversity and excellence” and engage with the community to increase diversity.
“We want to honor those stories and personal experiences [of students] by putting together a plan that addresses these issues and move us forward,” Richard said.
Richard said this plan is a rough draft and will be revised as the council continues. The university will also be sending out a climate survey to all students and faculty and will ask for recommendations for what they can do. This will help the university know what it needs to fix and focus on.
The university is working to diversify campus by adding a preferred name to class enrollment, requiring discrimination statements on syllabuses, changing bathroom signs to reflect different types of people, correcting braille signs and more. Staff is also going through implicit bias training so they can recognize it when it’s there and help fix the problem, according to Richard.
She also said that she, along with President Johnson and other members of university organizations, have sat down with select students and asked what their experience at the university has been. They have taken their answers into consideration when building this plan.
Richard announced Dr. Angela Taylor, the President of the Board of Trustees for Washoe County School District, joined the Office of Diversity as a consultant.
After Richard’s presentation, McReynolds showed a video that he helped produce. It featured students talking about how the university represents students and what they want to see changed.
McReynolds asked students if they felt safe on campus and if the university does enough to protect minority students, to which UNR senior Hannah Alterwitz said no.
“Within the last year, there have been three anti-Semitic incidents on campus, and we were never reached out to,” Alterwitz said. “I was the president of [Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi]. I was incredibly easy to access, all of my information was on the website, and not once did any administrator ever reach out to me and be like ‘How can we help the Jewish sorority? How can we help the Jewish club? How do we make you feel better on campus?'”
McReynolds also asked students how the university can be better at handling diversity issues.
“Start investigations to look into the problems because we can’t just have our university administration grab these problems and try to throw it under the rug,” UNR junior Issac Contreras said. “Everybody knows that they’re here, everybody knows that it’s present. So we need the leadership to take charge and actually start looking into all the issues that we’ve had, and actually go through and try to find the person and punishing them.”
Madeline Purdue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @madelinepurdue.