What You Need to Know About the JCU Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force

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Diversity

By Caitlyn M. Davis / Editor in Chief


What has been unique about John Cabot University since its beginnings is its mission to provide its students with a liberal arts education that is influenced by an international context abroad. This has always been the pride of the university, and it is an important part of the identity of a student attending John Cabot. It is therefore necessary for more awareness of our differences and our strengths to be recognized, for these do not only affect a few; they affect everyone who is seeking an immersive learning experience in an accepting multicultural environment.

At the beginning of last semester, JCU announced the creation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, an idea that had been discussed earlier among students from the African Cultural Club. This idea gained more widespread support after the protests against police brutality and systemic racism took place last summer, so the need for an initiative that took action to prevent discrimination became even more essential. Concerns were brought up about how progress and awareness can be achieved towards an inclusive environment, and there needed to be a space designed for listening to the experiences of others without any judgment. JCU President Franco Pavoncello affirmed this in a letter to the JCU Community last summer: “We must continue, with new vigor, to take further initiatives to ensure that our university is free from the scourge of racism and discrimination of Black people and of any other group.”

JCU Vice President Jose B. Alvarez is the Taskforce Chair and Professor Kwame Phillips is the Vice-Chair. Both explained to me that they worked together to create the taskforce, and immediately after they put a lot of thought into who the various members of the group could be. They said it was important that these were individuals who are committed and passionate about diversity, inclusion and equity issues. They reached out to the commuunity and asked for student representatives of diversity-related clubs to participate. The current student members are: Raei Yohannes Megerssa, representative of the African Cultural Club; Valentina Jin representative of the Asian Culture Club; Naomi Villamizar Bedford, representative of the Organization of Latin Americans; and Nicolas Luca Lombardo, representative of the Queer Alliance.

Faculty and staff were also asked to participate, including Professor Peter Sarram, Professor Allison Donahue, and Professor Isabella Clough Marinaro, as well as staff from diversity-related programs such as Giulia Ricci from Student Cultural Programs and Julia del Papa from Community Service, Religious Life, and Multiculturalism. This team was carefully structured so that not only were students, faculty, and staff present, but individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences worked together to share their input and perspectives.

“In order for something like this to be meaningful, you need to have a representation that is as broad and as wide and includes as many voices as possible,” said Professor Phillips.

Meet the members.

The taskforce meets every two weeks, and their first step to interact with the community was the survey that was emailed to everyone last month, also announced by JCU President Pavoncello. The survey was anonymous and the questions were aimed to gauge if members of the JCU community felt they were accepted, respected, and listened to. The survey was put together by the taskforce members and informed by what they had observed from other universities’ taskforces. The data they have received from the JCU community was based on experiences, opinions and thoughts from students, faculty and staff, data that could help push the university towards an even more progressive environment. After reading through these answers together, the taskforce’s next step is to discuss what this data reveals, indicates, and what can be done to improve everyone’s university experience.

VP Alvarez also said that he directly communicates with staff members of the cafeteria and the maintenance crew. Both VP Alvarez and Professor Phillips believe that their experiences also need to be considered, especially since they have been fundamental in keeping the university open during this pandemic. The Diversity Task Force’s main objective is therefore to ensure that everyone in the JCU community feels they have an equal part in it and know they can move forward with what they want to achieve in life—and not held back.

“It is not enough to have different shades of color; it’s providing what people need to be successful,” said VP Alvarez.

Student Government President, Luca Azzariti Crousillat, is also part of the taskforce and president of the student-run Diversity Committee. While the Diversity Committee is part of the Student Government, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Task Force is not student-run. However, the committee can act as an additional resource for the Task Force to collect information that is specific to the interests of the students. Luca acts as the liaison between the taskforce and committee. He takes his role as Student Government President very seriously and uses his influence to raise the concerns of the student body on their behalf, which he did last summer when directly discussing these concerns with President Pavoncello, who later prompted the creation of the taskforce.

Luca said that JCU is almost like a family, we may have our disagreements but at the end of the day, we support each other.

Every member that I spoke to is driven to help shape the multiculturalism of the university into something bigger than a simple concept, into an actual place known for compassion and understanding, free from judgment and prejudice. This is an enormous responsibility that they all share, but they carry it with grace and optimism. Rome was not built in a day, but by working together the possibilities become more tangible.

“An African proverb says: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”


Contact the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force at:

jalvarez@johncabot.edu

kphillips@johncabot.edu