Members of Purdue’s newly formed equity task force answered questions in several forums regarding minority students and the task force.
"We don’t just want to recruit diverse Boilermakers," said Venetria Patton, the head of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies. "We want them to thrive."
The forums were split into three sections: one for students, one for faculty and one for staff. Attendees could submit anonymous questions in advance, which were read off by Patton during the conversation.
Much of the discussion centered on this semester’s campus protests, as well as the ongoing issue of racially motivated violence across the country.
One student asked Purdue Student Government President Assata Gilmore why the University was so hesitant to embrace the work of its student activists.
"This past summer I’ve seen organizations come together in a way that I haven’t seen before, and I understand that they want recognition and change," she said. "I think the task force has been an incredible way for students to come together with faculty, staff and the administration."
Gilmore, who serves as the undergraduate student representative on the task force steering committee and is also a member and team coach for one of the working groups, believes that PSG will play an active role in implementing positive change on campus.
"For right now, we will continue to promote opportunities for student engagement within task-force efforts and ensure that the student-voice perspective is considered during the decision-making process," she said.
Barrett Caldwell, an industrial engineering professor and task force member, said some of the working teams are reviewing demands from the Justice Alliance for Momentum and other student letters the University has received since 2015.
JAM, which has organized several of the campus protests, announced at its most recent protest on Oct. 6 that its representatives would be meeting with the task force later that week during a closed discussion with around 120 members of the Purdue community that sought to gather insight on issues the task force should address.
JAM declined The Exponent’s request for comment on its involvement with the task force.
Virginia Gleghorn, the director of the Minority Engineering Program, said her team uses student feedback from surveys and questionnaires to identify where systematic change is needed.
"I started keeping my finger on the pulse of students that came into the MEP office," she said, "and I look at the data from the College of Engineering and try to stay on top of that for those things I can impact."
Gilmore argued everyone is impacted by equity concerns, even those students and staff who may not think so.
"There aren’t any members within the Purdue community that aren’t impacted by equity concerns," she said. "It is a privilege to share a campus and college experience with thousands of people from various walks of life. With that privilege comes the responsibility to ensure that those around you are cared for, so when a person or demographic is hurting, you don’t get to decide that you aren’t impacted or don’t care."
Both Gilmore and Purdue Graduate Student Government President Madelina Nuñez shared their experiences in their first classes taught by women of color, emphasizing the importance of their presence.
"The first time I took a course that was taught by a fellow Latina I really actually felt like I belonged in academia," Nuñez said.
Nuñez also stressed the importance of Purdue’s interdisciplinary studies and the necessity of multicultural professors to support the University’s growing international population.
"Purdue must support its faculty of color first and foremost," she said. "They must have the resources to sustain themselves, their scholarship and their students."
Caldwell said the presidents of both the National Panhellenic Council and the Multicultural Greek Council are members of working teams the steering committee has established and will be part of future efforts. Both presidents have been involved in Black Lives Matter protests on campus.