Faculty, staff panelists discuss barriers to CMU becoming antiracist

Faculty and staff panelists discuss Central Michigan University's I AM ANTIRACIST campaign, April 13 in the Sarah and Daniel Opperman Auditorium.

As a part of Central Michigan University's ongoing anti-racism discussion, a panel of faculty and staff spoke about the university's need to address racism at an institutional level. 

The sixth panel event of CMU's I AM ANTIRACIST campaign featured Jonathan Glenn, associate athletic director for student leadership and development, Rene Shingles, a faculty member in the school of rehabilitation and medical sciences, Sara Tisdale, women's lacrosse coach and Richard Rothaus, interim provost. 

James Span Jr., executive director of student inclusion and diversity, lead the discussion.

He asked the four panelists questions about how CMU can advance towards its goal of being a completely anti-racist institution.

"If we're going to be anti-racist, we have to be on the same page with how we define racism," Shingles said. "If defining a racist is just someone who is mean to people of color, as opposed to talking about structure and systemic power and systemic privileges that are based in race, then that can make a difference." 

"We have to look at the power structures. Who is making decisions? If you're not at the table, are you on the menu?" 

A common theme during the discussion was CMU's mostly white student, faculty and staff bodies. According to a report from Academic Planning and Analysis, around 75% of students enrolled in the 2020 Fall semester where white.

Glenn said he would like CMU to survey students to gauge how well the university is working towards anti-racism. 

"Let (students) tell us if we did our job," Glenn said. "Let them tell us if they felt validation. Let them tell us if they saw representation. Right now, those checks and balances are kind of skewed."  

Rothaus said one of the biggest issues for CMU is having faculty that represent the student body. He said Sterling Johnson, a political science and public administration faculty member, will be retiring at the end of the year and is currently the only Black man in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences faculty. 

Tisdale said CMU's demographics have been a deterrent for at least one potential student. 

"We lost a recruit from Canada that was Black," Tisdale said. "She said, 'I could not see myself there.' Sure, I can continue to recruit players that are from diverse backgrounds so in the future, she can see herself in our team, but ultimately what she was saying was she was walking around this university and she was seeing a lot of White students."

Glenn said working with students has shown him what they want from CMU's leaders. He said the "conversation is frustrating."

"Those at the top don't know or understand the student experience," Glenn said. "Please don't hear me and think I'm longing for power--I am not. I am longing for people with power to have emotional intelligence." 

"It takes one opportunity talking with a student to realize how much they really need us to do our jobs." 

Shingles said her positions as a program director and department chair enabled her to change bylaws, which required rehabilitation and medical sciences faculty to include diversity in their curriculum.

Span said each of the panelists were brave to speak candidly about anti-racism at CMU. 

"Not everyone is willing to literally put themselves out there to say there is a problem," Span said.

He said there are structural problems at CMU preventing it from being truly anti-racist. He said a lot of the work in solving these problems will be identifying them and "peeling back the onion layers" of structural racism. 

"Let's examine who we really are," Span said. "Take that real, honest, hard look in the mirror at yourself and say, 'we're not where we want to be and here is why, and now we're going to put action in place.'"

Span said he would like to see the conversation from the I AM ANTIRACIST campaign turn into action next semester.

The next event, with the Office of Diversity Education, will be at 4 p.m. on April 26 in the Bovee University Center Auditorium.