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Honors BIPOC Coalition Continues to Work on Diversifying Honors Program

Zack Miller | The PhoenixSlow progress being made by Honors BIPOC Coalition

A year after a student organization formed with the goal of diversifying Loyola’s Honors Program’s curriculum, some efforts have been made to create more community spaces for students of color and include more diverse authors in the assigned reading. 

Though some changes have been made, student organizers in the Honors Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Coalition (HBC) at Loyola said they’ve adjusted their expectations with the understanding that institutional change takes time. 

Diya Patel, a senior statistics major with a minor in marketing, is the president and co-founder of HBC at Loyola. HBC was formed unofficially in September 2020 and became a formal on-campus organization in February 2021, The Phoenix reported

“It’s been a year and a half since we were formed, and as much as the Honors Program is changing and the world is changing, institutional reform takes a lot of time,” Patel said. 

Patel said the HBC organization has been primarily working internally this year within the organization on developing a greater support network for BIPOC students at Loyola — including finding funding and setting up leadership roles.

Faculty in the first-year honors seminars have been working for the past three years to try to diversify the texts, authors, and topics in the course, Director of the Interdisciplinary Honors Program at Loyola Virginia Strain said in an email to The Phoenix. 

“This has included the introduction of women writers; a unit taught on the Qur’an, and a unit taught on Langston Hughes,” Strain wrote. 

However, Strain said since the focus of the freshman honors seminar is Western Traditions, most of the authors of the texts taught in the course are by traditional white male authors. 

“I think it is important to hear diverse voices when students are coming in as freshmen,” said Mia Sedory, the first-year representative for HBC.

Mia Sedory, a first-year majoring in sociology, said their role is to ensure that first-years in the program are engaged as well as trying to connect the goals of HBC to the freshman course. 

Sedory said when she arrived at Loyola, she felt disconnected from the majority of her honors classmates. 

“When you are living in the dorms that are only honors students, and the honors program is mostly white, it can be very isolating for BIPOC students,” Sedory said. 

Sedory said HBC has visited First Year Seminar (UNIV 101) classes to educate students about the honors program and the importance of creating spaces for BIPOC students. 

Events throughout the year have aimed to bring students together within the program to discuss the role of HBC and also to create community spaces for BIPOC students within the program. 

At an online town hall event during the fall 2021 semester, BIPOC students discussed amongst themselves and with one of the professors within the program the importance of having an education that is more reflective of the diversity of the students in the classroom. 

After Loyola honors students finish their first year in the program, Strain said there are opportunities to take one of the several “Encountering” courses, which focus on studying the history of non-Western regions, such as Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Sedory said one of the issues with these courses is that they are treated more as electives than as fundamental courses like Western Traditions, meaning students aren’t required to take a more diverse array of courses. 

Brandon Morgan-Oslen, the director of the undergraduate philosophy program, said the department set up a committee to focus on how race is being taught within the philosophy curriculum at Loyola. 

“We have been really focused on our core classes, such as PHIL 130, 181 and 182,” Morgan-Oslen said. “These are the classes we teach the most and have the most students in.” 

In addition to reviewing the curriculum in these courses, Morgan-Oslen also said that the Philosophy Department is investigating possible ways professors can have access to resources or training on teaching more diverse subjects. 

“Our professors have a lot of discretion about what can be taught in each course,” Morgan-Oslen said. “There are certain criteria, but there is no fixed text that professors are required to teach.” 

Morgan-Oslen said because of this, professors tend to teach authors or subjects that they are more familiar with or have an expertise in. 

In addition to trying to teach more diverse subjects, Strain also said there are a number of new initiatives that have been formed this year in cooperation with the HBC organization. 

One of these initiatives has been the creation of the Honors Magazine, which highlights the achievements of Loyola students within the Honors Program and gives further information on the creation of HBC and the organization’s on-campus events. 

Strand also said there have been more opportunities for students to take on leadership positions within the program, such as participating in a recent American Jesuit Colleges and Universities Honors Conference, whose theme was on “Racial Justice and Honors Programs.” 

Members of the HBC will also participate together as part of a newly formed Honors Advisory Committee which will help to review the Honors Program towards the end of the spring semester. 

“The program is undergoing its first Academic Program Review,” Strain wrote. “And this will include opportunities for student, faculty, and alumni input on the program and its future.” 

Patel said the Honors Program has been pretty consistent in its curriculum over the past ten years and she understands it takes time for faculty to be willing to adjust the curriculum to be more reflective of the diversity of students on campus.

“I really want others apart from HBC, like faculty and students at Loyola, to teach and think about the world with cultural humility,” Patel said. “I think when people are trying to diversify their curriculum, sometimes it is difficult to think about it objectively without your own identity in mind.” 

Patel also said she has noticed a greater level of communication this year between Loyola’s administration and BIPOC students, due in part to new positions being created at the university.

In late September, Loyola announced the hiring of Dominick Turner, the newly appointed Vice President of Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI). Patel said that since Turner began working at the university in November, she has noticed a change. 

“The work that I see that she is doing on campus and what her department is doing is really significant,” Patel said. “I think it is the first time that students are really being listened to and committees aren’t being formed just for the sake of having a committee.” 

Patel said that over the past year, responses from the university, such as from the Office of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI), have shifted from making claims of unity to being more attentive to students’ concerns about inclusion. 

“If you would have asked me three months ago if the committee work was leading to no work I would have maybe said yes,” Patel said. “But now I am feeling more hopeful.” 

Lily Chen, a junior majoring in film and media production, is the publicity chair for HBC.

Chen said while the main goals of HBC have remained the same over the past year, the organization has realized that it will take time and research to determine the best path forward in diversifying Loyola’s honors curriculum.  

“We have sort of tweaked the plan to be more about the smaller steps we can do now to get there in the hopefully near future,” Chen said. 

With the newly created Honors Advisory Committee, HBC members like Chen feel that there is more of an effort by the administration to open the conversation and be more attentive to BIPOC students’ concerns. 

“The lack of BIPOC representation in education is a deeply ingrained, national problem, and the country itself is still arguing about it,” Chen said. “There isn’t a way for us to change all of what we want by ourselves, or in the matter of a year. We are in it for the long haul.” 

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