Unlike some campuses, which may try to push racism to the back burner, hoping against hope that things will go smoothly, Vice Chancellor Enku Gelaye of UMASS Amherst is more pragmatic: "This is our world --- racist incidents will happen. If we're not building relationships consistently, when something happens you have a mish-mash approach that is not authentic."
At the time of Shakti Butler's visit, the campus was in the midst of responding to an incident when three students' dorm room doors were defacted with racist graffiti.
The campus police department is one component of Geyale's bias response team. Police Chief John Horvath and his officers attended a diversity workshop run by Shakti Butler in order to learn more about systemic racism. We spoke the Vice Chancellor and Shelley Perdomo, the Interim Director of UMass Amherst's Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success, about the collaborative response to this racial incident. Here is what they shared with us.
The Need Is There
UMASS Amherst is the third largest residential campus in the United States. Although 21 percent of the 28,000 students are of color, residential segregation in their local communities means that many of the students don't have experience interacting with other races. Living in the dorms, these students are thrown into close quarters together, a situation that is ripe for conflict.
A 3-Point Direct Care Response
Gelaye's response plan looks at the bigger picture. It is the product of ongoing and evolving collaborative work with campus police, the counseling office, resident halls, and the multicultural center. These groups regularly meet together, providing feedback and engaging in community building.
The 3-part plan they enacted after the incidents radiates support outward from the student most directly impacted to the campus at large:
- Provide immediate support for the victims. The University asks them what they need -- therapeutic help, someone to accompany them around campus, a dorm change -- and makes sure they get it.
- Reaches out to the resident halls, making sure that advisors have the tools they need and encouraging them to take responsibility in peer-to-peer education.
- Engage the entire campus. Communication started with a message from the Chancellor's Office and included a campus-wide forum attended by 1,000 students to discuss the incident. Gelaye and her team are using what they heard in that forum to inform their diversity strategic plan.
"Direct care first, then education, and continued response," says Vice Chancellor Gelaye.
Shakti Butler's Impact on the UMASS Community
Fortuitously enough, Shakti Butler and World Trust were able to play an important role in the education component of the response plan. Shelley Perdomo, with the Center for Multicultural Advancement, met Butler at the 2014 National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) in May and had already invited her to host diversity activities at UMASS.Our next post will delve into her impact.
World Trust is a nonprofit that uses film and dialogue to provide a catalyst for racial equity and social change. To learn more about our diversity workshops and films, contact World Trust.