With the heightened focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, there were alleged race-related allegations towards some Iona students brought to the college’s attention through social media before the start of the fall term.
Many students “exposed” others for alleged racist behavior on social media, all exhibited through senior Kobe Washington’s Instagram. Soon after, Washington started a petition calling for action towards the group of students including stronger repercussions. Washington later facilitated a peaceful protest on Iona grounds.
“The purpose of the protest had many parts but a primary focus on two parts,” Washington said. “Justice for all Iona students, and to also hold the NRPD accountable for the murder or an unarmed Black man a few days prior. #JusticeforIonaStudents stands for every single student who has or attends Iona, having the ability to tell their story, be heard and get justice. We called for all students and administration proven to be guilty of the accusations, have their Greek letters, positions on campus and privileges taken away effectively immediately.”
The petition had a total of 3,015 signatures with about 20 people attending the protest. The protest consisted of current students, alumni and construction workers on North Avenue, according to Washington.
In the Iona community, the Black Lives Matter movement calls for reserving exclusive positions for the minority community of this campus, stricter rules regarding any form of racism, rape, homophobia, abuse of power and balancing the diversity ratio, according to Washington.
Iona has looked into all of the allegations and has responded with a number of changes to the ways in which the college oversees diversity, including the hiring of a Chief Diversity Officer, according to a statement by President Carey.
“Iona College recently launched the search for a Chief Diversity Officer. The Search Committee, which will have its first meeting this week, will seek a candidate that will have leadership responsibility for advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism and anti-discrimination at Iona College. There is a great deal of very good work already happening on the Iona Campus within academic departments and administrative offices, and through governance committees such as the Diversity Committee and Student Leader Alliance for Multiculturalism (SLAM) organizations. With a Chief Diversity Officer serving as an integrative leader, we will be able to organize, enhance, increase and highlight these efforts, promoting and sustaining a strong sense of belonging and inclusion on the Iona Campus.”
The Chief Diversity Officer’s task is described as an overall leadership responsibility for the administration of services, policies, trainings and programs that advance diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism and anti-discrimination at Iona College, according to the Iona College employment website.
Some of the position’s requirements include a master’s degree in higher education, counseling, student affairs, sociology, psychology, social work or related field, and aminimum of five years or more of experience in a complex college or university setting, working toward the implementation of strategic initiatives to advance equity, diversity and inclusion, according to the Iona College employment website.
Along with the development of the senior position, further additions to the diversity initiative include: enhanced material and focus on the important issues in Summer 2020 student leader training, and the Summer New Student Orientation program calling all incoming students and student leaders to participate in a newly implemented Diversity and Inclusion module; Division of Student Life administrators take part in a summer read and monthly professional development series with topics focusing primarily on Diversity and Inclusion; and lastly, all Division of Student Life staff including Campus Safety officers will complete an Implicit Bias and Microaggression Awareness training certificate program.
Although Iona has responded with many changes to continue to protect diversity at Iona, there are numerous ways that Iona can continue to improve the effectiveness of the matter, according to Denise Hopkins, vice president for student life at Iona College.
“Enhanced communication with faculty, students and staff to promote awareness of existing resources and channels to address racism and bias will be important,” Hopkins said. “Regular reviews of protocols, policies and supports can help ensure they remain relevant and effective. Continued training of faculty and staff on best practices for combatting bias, racism and all forms of oppression (programming, pedagogy, and so on) is also important to ensure we bring our best to our students.”
Furthermore, Iona staff commend its students for fighting for positive change in their community.
“The freedom to express dissent or advocate for change is critical to a democratic society and consistent with the goals of a liberal education,” Hopkins said. “A college education is a much a societal good as a personal good and we should encourage students to exercise their voice and participate in civic life on critical issues in a responsible fashion.”
The Committee on Diversity, assigned with the responsibility for diversity initiatives, policies and the promotion of opportunities and professional development related to diversity, will continue to strengthen its efforts to prevent and deal with similar situations in a proper way.
“In my role, I have the opportunity to make recommendations to the committee that can impact diversity-related policies and initiatives/events on campus,” Nadine Cosby, co-chair on the Committee on Diversity, said. “Having the opportunity to initiate those conversations among the committee members, who clearly, based on their volunteering to serve on the Committee on Diversity, have an inherent interest in and passion for promoting diversity on campus, gives us the potential to be change-makers on campus.”
The committee is ready to play a role in any way it can contribute to Iona’s efforts towards anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion. The committee has the uniform function to adopt specific goals for that year to work towards. The committee plans to achieve those goals and come up with new, innovative ways to promote diversity, according to Cosby.
Student leaders are also acting in light of the allegations and protest including Jayson Troy Fox, senior and Vice President of the Student Government Association.
“Students understand the power of their collective force and it is powerful for an important cause like racial equality to be the unifying issue,” Fox said. “It shows that we are not just about equality when it comes to talking but also when it comes to actions.”
Fox calls for all Iona students to fight for its diverse population.
“It’s the job of every student on campus who endorses the mission of Iona College to take a stand and play their role in changing the culture when it comes to all issues of discrimination,” Fox said.
Student organizations are developing different policies to enforce Iona’s commitment to diversity.
“SLAM is dedicating this year to involving ourselves in policy change,” Chyanne Blakey, chair of the Student Leader Alliance for Multiculturalism, said. “Ensuring that our students have the knowledge on the code of conduct as it relates to race-based issues. In the various committees that SLAM is a part of including Committee of Diversity we represent students and we want to make sure that student concerns are being heard and addressed.”
With many of the changes and additional initiatives to enforce the commitment of Diversity in Iona, many of the protesters find themselves satisfied.
“Collectively I am and many other supporters of the protest are very satisfied with Iona’s response to our demands,” Washington said. “I have been assured by administrators that they’re investigating every claim seriously, and want the community to know to never be afraid to speak up.”
Washington has a final take away from his experience with the protest.
“Finally, I would like to say never stop believing in your truth,” Washington said. “Whenever one is standing up for what they believe in passionately and bows to no others opinion, reality will sink in.”