Looking forward: The future of UVM’s racial climate

Enrolled undergraduate multicultural students increased by 9 percent between fall 2010 and fall 2015, according to the 2016 UVM Source Book.

Since 2007, the percent of undergraduate students that are part of the ALANA ethnicity groups has gone from 6.8 percent to 11.4 percent, according to information compiled by the Office of Institutional Research.

However, UVM’s diversity index is still at .22, putting it only 16 schools from the bottom among all other national universities in the U.S., according to the 2015 ranking by U.S. News and World Report.  The diversity index rates schools on a scale from zero to one based on the likelihood of a student running into a student of a different ethnicity and culture at their school, according to the ranking.
Annie Stevens, vice provost of student affairs, said diversifying the University is “a constant progression of education and change.”
“I think this helps us reflect on the fact that we are not done now and to help us think about what can change in the context we live in today and what are the things we still need to be working on,” Stevens said. “I don’t think you ever end this kind of work.”

future diversity initiatives

Joe Oteng ‘15 said that the D1 and D2 classes are a good start.

The diversity credits are one of the few things that “unite” the various academic departments and colleges at UVM, Oteng said in a March 10 editorial published in the Cynic.
He said the problem with the courses is that they bring attention to only one type of diversity: visible racial and ethnic diversities.
“Diversity is in everyone,” Oteng wrote. “It is a cliché but it is so very important to acknowledge that no two people are the same.”
Diversity is in everyone. It is a cliché but it is so very important to acknowledge that no two people are the same. Joe Oteng '15
An identity is different for everyone who claims one, and is “equally valid,” he wrote in the editorial.
The diversity courses teach students about one idea of a culture’s place in its society, Oteng said in the editorial.
“The most problematic thing in the diversity courses is that students often leave classes with a seemingly expert knowledge on a culture when, in fact, they have learned only the superficial basics thereof,” he said in the editorial. “Making broad generalizations and reinforcing stereotypes may be even worse than being totally ignorant to the peoples studied in retrospect.”
Oteng said in the editorial that diversity classes need to change and focus on educating students about their own identities and the intersections between them.

Exposure to different cultures is important because students are more likely to interact with them when working after college, according to UVM’s “Why Diversity” statement.

“College is the first time [students have] been exposed to cultures that are different than their own,” Oteng said. “Being able to start a dialogue across cultures is a valuable skill.”

Through University President Tom Sullivan’s strategic plan to improve the school, UVM plans to increase international student enrollment from 5 to 7 percent.
Kim Howard, director of the Office of International Education, said having a campus community with an overwhelming number of Vermonters isn’t beneficial to students.
Raf Rodriguez, director of Residential Life, said their professional staff focuses heavily on the development of communication between people from different cultures.  Resident advisers attend weekly staff meetings where discussions range from typical department business to a follow-up discussion about identity and identity development, Rodriguez said.
RAs also attend longer monthly workshops which often focus on social justice and other diversity-related topics, he said.
RA Grace Cenedella, a senior, said the pursuit of social justice needs to be a continuous process, and she believes diversity training is something UVM and ResLife want in the community.
“Social justice, diversity, racial and cultural competence and inclusion are hot topics,” she said. “They’re salient in everyone because everyone has a race and culture in some individual and collective form.”
Cenedella said she thinks diversity training shouldn’t just be limited to the RAs. Instead,  there should be an ongoing requirement at UVM for students to be involved in yearly conversations about diversity.
Wanda Heading-Grant, vice president for human resources, diversity and multicultural affairs, graduated from UVM in 1987, and said her time at the University has allowed her to see the real progress it has made in the name of diversity.
She said she participated in an info session with Sullivan’s senior leadership this past January, which focused on seeing how UVM looks as an institution compared to other U.S. universities facing problems, like  the University of Missouri.
“We had been Missouri during the time of the Waterman takeover, but we’re much further ahead now,” Heading-Grant said.
She said she compared the demands made by students of other institutions to policies at UVM, and found the University already met many of them.  Many students at other universities were calling for diversity-related education, and UVM has had diversity requirements since 2006, she said.
Heading-Grant said the University will be pursuing another campus climate assessment at the end of the year to provide an updated report on the University’s atmosphere. She said the movement of the ALANA Student Center to a more centralized location in Living/Learning also shows UVM’s commitment to diversity.
The ninth annual Blackboard Jungle Symposium, headed by Heading-Grant, is taking place at the end of the month, and is designed to complement the six-credit diversity requirement and bring professional development focused on inclusion and diversity to campus, she said.
Heading-Grant said UVM is unique because though it may not have prominent institutional diversity in terms of enrollment, the University is more willing to engage in important conversations about diversity than other schools.
“Numbers don’t always mean something in terms of climate,” she said. “[Other schools] may have numbers, but if they don’t engage the community, that’s the difference.”
Heading-Grant said UVM is where it is today because it has invested in multicultural efforts over the past 20 years, but they always have work to do.
“This kind of work is a moving target,” she said. “Situations change, demographics change…we need to always be mindful even when it’s quiet on the topic.”

A New Winter Carnival

Junior Tim Cece and senior Alice Plante are co-chairs of an informal arranged committee dedicated to planning next year’s winter festivities. They are in the process of organizing a revamp of UVM’s 2017 Winter Carnival.

“Our vision is to create a UVM tradition that reflects the current values of the University and its students,” Cece said, “and to provide a galvanizing experience where the entire UVM community can learn about our past, have fun and celebrate Catamount pride.”
The initiative is in its beginning stages, and many of the ideas are tentative at this point, he said. He hopes to formulate a formal committee comprised of leaders from many different campus organizations in order to facilitate discussion, such as UPB, UVM athletics, SGA, IRA, LGBTQA center and ALANA, Cece said.
“I want that to be the meeting of the minds from all of these programming organizations that can make [Winter Carnival] happen,” he said.
He also wants to organize a formal committee with the UVM Foundation. The foundation pledged an “unnamed” amount supporting the initiative, and will also help secure financial backing from alumni, he said.
Larry Roth ‘65 walked in the Kake Walk while a student at UVM, and is a member of the New York Regional Board of the UVM Alumni Association. He said he often sees a void where the old Winter Carnival tradition once was.
“This is about the University finding that event that can bring together the University in the same way,” Roth said. “Whether it’s a film festival, whether it’s a major kind of concert…if you don’t start doing it now then it’s never going to happen.”
This is about the University finding that event that can bring together the University in the same way. Whether it's a film festival, whether it's a major kind of concert...if you don't start doing it now then it's never going to happen. Larry Roth '65, member of the NY Regional Alumni Board
Cece said he wants to give Greek life the chance to reclaim Winter Carnival as their own, as well as showcase how UVM Greek life compares to Greek communities nationwide.
“The thoughtfulness that the Greek leaders have toward their program is incredible because they know what Greek is elsewhere, and they know they have to stop that stereotype here,” he said. “I think UVM does a good job, they just don’t have the audience necessarily.”
Cece also wants the new Winter Carnival to be a vehicle to educate the UVM community about the history of Kake Walk, he said.
“We don’t want to not acknowledge it,” Cece said.
He said a weekend-long symposium of campus leaders and other community members is one way he thinks a discussion about UVM’s past and future could be facilitated.
The weekend would promote values important to the University, he said. Cece said he wants students to run the event and promote social and environmental justice throughout the weekend. He also wants them to demonstrate artistic expression, likely in the form of music.
He said he hopes the creation of a new Winter Carnival will give alumni a reason to return to their alma mater, and give current UVM students an event to not only be proud of, but inspired to continue.
“Campus is fragmented in its interests,” Cece said. He said the University doesn’t currently have a singular event that allows the whole community to rally together, and he wants the winter weekend to fill the gap he, and many others, feel is missing.
Cece said he has some preliminary ideas of possible weekend events, including allocating more funds for the WinterFest concert, and potentially moving it outside and making it more like Montreal’s Igloofest, an outdoor concert in the winter.
A video by The Vermont Cynic recapping WinterFest 2016.
Cece is also a member of University Program Board, and said this year’s WinterFest started strong, but attendance dwindled toward the end. He said there’s no reason UPB should sell out of tickets to a winter concert, but only receive a small crowd in the Davis Center.
Burton recently opened a store near Church Street, and Cece said he would like to reach out to them to possibly co-sponsor a rail jam style event. He said Redstone’s Rail Jam is always a huge hit, and sees the potential for an even larger event with an expansion into the Burlington community.
Cece said he also sees the recent installation of lights at Virtue Field as an opportunity to showcase UVM athletics and their new facilities, potentially even to ESPN U. He said he wants to organize a Winter Classic event on the field with winter sports, but it’s a reach.
Cece said he would love to see a Frozen Fenway-style regulation hockey game under the lights with the whole UVM and Burlington community present, where a temporary ice rink would be constructed on the field. Hockey is one of UVM’s biggest draws in the winter, and he said he thinks the University would benefit from hyping it up.
“A lot of this is based on the money aspect of it, so there’s going to be a lot of third-party fundraising efforts here,” Cece said. He said the athletic department has a lot of experience fundraising with companies like Adidas and Big Daddy’s, but Campus Programs and UPB don’t have as much experience.
“There’s a chance that it could be up to $400,000 in a weekend,” Cece said, “and is that even worth it at that point? If we have that much money, do we want to spend it all on one weekend?” These are questions that need to be addressed first, he said.
Cece said at this point, the most important part in putting Winter Carnival together is gathering different perspectives from different student groups on campus. The goal is to promote an event that doesn’t hide behind UVM’s past, while creating something to be proud of.
“I definitely recognize that I personally own a pretty privileged place on campus, whether it’s my personal identities or my affiliations,” he said. “I want to use that to continue this conversation on Kake Walk and to give UVM an opportunity to celebrate itself.”
The next step in the process is determining a budget for the event, and working out the logistics within the committee and the UVM community, Cece said.

Back to Enterprise Home>>

Originally published in The Vermont Cynic on March 16, 2016.
Reporting by: Bryan O’Keefe and Sarah Olsen.

Featured image by: Oliver Pomazi.

Enterprise Editor: Sarah Olsen

The Enterprise section of The Vermont Cynic is dedicated to investigating and reporting longform stories, giving them the time, research and art they deserve.
read more: