The relationship between the university and its students has been a rocky one in recent years, with some students on campus feeling their voices aren’t heard by the administration.
An article published by The PHOENIX earlier this month suggested some Loyola students believe voicing their disagreements with campus operations wouldn’t make a difference. One interviewed student mentioned opting out of taking campus-wide surveys, which the university sends to all members of its community, concerning topics ranging from gender-based violence to racial inclusivity on campus.
“I know I don’t take part in [surveys] because my opinion doesn’t really have a say in what the university is going to do anyways,” first-year neuroscience major Nikita Mahay said. “I feel like they have their minds set to one thing. They’re not going to change it.”
In the past few months, the school has made several efforts to reconcile this disconnect between the administration and students.
Loyola University Chicago announced March 13 it had convened an independent task force to investigate the controversial Feb. 24 incident involving the alleged profiling of two students of color and Campus Safety officers — an event which aggravated already present campus divisions.
The task force, comprised of faculty, staff, students and non-Loyola affiliate experts in student development and diversity, is set to review an independent investigation by risk management and consulting firm Hillard Heintze and submit recommendations to Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney by the end of April. These recommendations would likely address deficits in the university’s racial inclusivity and prompt change accordingly.
But once Loyola’s task force submits its concerns and recommendations, what administrative actions can we expect to see?
The short answer: We’re not sure what to expect — and that’s a problem.
The university’s responses to the widely-discussed incident have been apologetic yet optimistic, including promises for “making this a better, more inclusive community” as stated in a Feb. 27 email from Rooney to the Loyola community. But it doesn’t provide much specificity as to how that’ll happen.
If the university does have a clear plan of action, it behooves the school to speak openly about those plans, as it would demonstrate its honest dedication to providing a racially inclusive campus for its student body. But it’s impossible for students to hold the university accountable for its plans to act when we don’t know what those plans are.
Prior to announcing the formation of the new task force, the university announced Campus Safety would fully implement the use of body cameras on its officers by this fall. When The PHOENIX asked Rooney at a forum about the planned implementation, the answer was barely helpful. They needed to “wait until they get them to decide what to do.” However, Campus Safety is also implementing a curriculum this fall called “Policing at the Speed of Trust,” which does address racial profiling and diversity in law enforcement.
In the same email sent to the Loyola student body Feb. 27, Rooney announced beginning a series of listening sessions which would help turn student concerns, specifically about the university’s race relations, into administrative action.
“To that end, we are planning to hold listening sessions with students, faculty and staff in the second half of spring semester and encourage everyone to participate whenever possible. Please look for the forthcoming dates and further information,” Rooney stated.
Rooney did meet with NotMyLoyola March 27, a student-led movement formed in the wake of the alleged profiling incident. The meeting wasn’t publicized, and, because of the exclusivity of the meeting’s ongoings, it’s unclear whether this constituted a “listening session,” what came of the event or when a future session might be scheduled.
Furthermore, will the promised sessions be enough to make students feel heard, feel they can make a difference on campus?
Earlier this academic year, the university used the services of the social survey firm Willis Towers Watson to conduct Loyola’s first Diversity Campus Climate Survey.
The survey was “arguably the most in-depth and detailed examination of Loyola’s community to date,” according to a March 29 email from Rooney. More than 4,600 participants across all Loyola campuses responded, but this only amounts to 23 percent of all faculty, staff and enrolled students.
The university has been eager to share that most respondents showed they feel Loyola operates well with respect to campus racial diversity and inclusion. However, much of the breakdown of survey information by race isn’t publically available.
We know fewer black respondents reported favorability for all eight survey categories — including Loyola’s racial inclusivity — compared to white respondents. But it’s unknown, for example, how many individual African American students reported feeling positive about Loyola’s racial inclusivity efforts (one or one hundred?) — information that’s crucial to our understanding of the campus’ racial climate.
A self-aware university — one that is able to recognize and address ongoing issues on campus — can’t exist under a lack of transparency.
A truly apologetic university — one that is ready to confess to its past or current faults — can’t be realized by a university that isn’t self aware.
We commend the university for convening a diverse task force dedicated to addressing vital racial concerns on campus, and for allowing the force’s voices to guide the movement toward a more inclusive Loyola. We commend the steps it’s taken to implement body cameras on its officers and new training — hopefully more appropriate for future inclusivity. And we commend the intention to channel community feedback into action. This is part of the change we need to see.
But we also need to know what change we can expect to see. What change can we expect to see in response to the work of the task force? Only when we know this information can we hold administration accountable, or even work with the administration to enact those changes.
We need a transparent administrative body humble enough to acknowledge its deficits and its wrongdoings so these faults can be righted — or at least prevented from happening again.
If not, the work the university has already put in to addressing these issues could be interpreted as hollow.