Task force presents recommendations at first town hall

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Shernita Rochelle Walker Town Hall
Shernita Rochelle Walker, one of the co-chairs of the Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force, facilitates the Q&A at a virtual town hall Tuesday, Feb. 23.

An advisory board to promote community policing, a required foundational course on diversity and inclusion, and a university-wide infrastructure to promote and enhance anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion were among the recommendations put forward by members of George Mason University’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force at a virtual town hall Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Task Force co-chairs Wendi Manuel-Scott, a history professor in the School of Integrative Studies, and Shernita Rochelle Parker, an assistant vice president for Human Resources at Mason, facilitated the presentations and the Q&A session that followed with Mason President Gregory Washington.

Registrations to participate in the town hall via Zoom reached capacity days before the event, and interested community members were encouraged to tune in to the event through GMU-TV. A recording of the discussion is available here.

More than 130 Mason faculty, staff and students are involved in the task force’s six committees—University Policies and Practices, Training and Development, Curriculum and Pedagogy, Student Voice, Research, and Campus and Community Engagement. Each committee presented three recommendations during the 90-minute town hall.

Christopher Carr town hall 2
Volgenau School of Engineering's Christopher Carr, co-chair of the Training and Development Committee, presented recommendation at the Feb. 23 town hall.

Both the Student Voice and Campus and Community Engagement committees advocated for establishing a police advisory board that would to work with the Mason Police to help implement equitable community policing policies and procedures that help connect the unit with Mason’s academic mission.

“We all have to approach our work through an educator's mindset,” said Campus and Community Engagement Committee co-chair Creston Lynch, an associate vice president in University Life, when fielding a question on this recommendation. “It's important that we are hiring and training police officers who are invested in providing a comprehensive education to our students. We have to begin to see everyone who is involved in our community as contributing to our academic mission.”

A required foundational course on diversity and inclusion, titled Foundations for Building a Just Society, was recommended by the Curriculum and Pedagogy. Committee co-chair Lauren Cattaneo, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, said this course has been requested by students and has already been piloted at Mason.

When asked about the rationale behind creating such a course, Cattaneo said, Having a required class ensures that all students have the basic skills and awareness that allow them to interact with each other while they are here. There's also the idea that, as a public institution, we are preparing people to be engaged citizens in a diverse world so [providing] basic skills in this area is part of what we should be doing.”

The University Policies and Practices Committee emphasized a need to build a university-wide infrastructure to promote and enhance anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Part of the infrastructure, said committee co-chair Christy Pichichero, associate professor and director of faculty diversity in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, involves having the academic units develop inclusive excellence plans.

This committee also recommends conducting a university-wide campus climate survey specifically geared toward incidents of inclusion, exclusion, forms of discrimination and violence, retaliation, modes of resolution, and support needs.

“We want to roll out this survey to get information on what's been happening here,” said Pichichero. “We do not feel that we have sufficient information. On this committee and across the task force, we have felt the desire to hear from everyone and learn of what's been going on.”

In wrapping up the discussion, President Washington talked about Mason’s future in the next decade and how the university will continue to grow, adding 10,000 more students, 300 to 400 faculty, 150 additional staff, and at least two more buildings.

This initiative puts us in a position to become more diverse in all of those efforts,” Washington said. “I don't know that we will get to the point where we are ever perfect—because once you've reached perfection, you've essentially stopped growing. I will tell you that the future is extraordinarily bright.”

The next town hall is scheduled for March 4. The draft recommendations are available for review, and there is a form to provide feedback.