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Ongoing Drake community response to Welcome Week experience

One of the most important things we can do in challenging times is ensure we hold ourselves accountable to our actions, that we listen so we may learn, and that we do so with the goal of continued improvement for the students and community we serve. I have spent much of the last week listening to learn, reflecting on my own accountability, and working to understand where we can improve.

You’ve all received some form of communication sharing what transpired during the Welcome Week DEI session Thursday, Aug. 25. Without repeating what has been shared already, this update is an attempt to continue to be transparent about what happened and communicate ways we’ve already responded and will continue to do so.

On Saturday, Aug. 27, I attended one of the last sessions of Welcome Week to formally apologize to first year students and PMACs. I did so on behalf of the Office of Equity and Inclusion and in my role as Associate Provost, but also as a person—as someone for whom the well-being of students, especially around issues of inclusion and justice, is the work of my life and my heart.

I want to paraphrase a small part of what I said to entering first year students as I made that apology:

“The group that delivered the DEI workshop was an outside group, not a Drake team. Had we known that experience was going to go the way it did, we would not have hired them. That’s not to say we hadn’t vetted them and done our due diligence.* We did. And we had every reason to believe the experience would be positive. I share that to give you a little bit of context about how it happened, but not to ‘pass the buck.’ We hired them and so we’re responsible for what happened, and we know that.”

*A note about High Impact Training: an ad hoc team of Drake staff responsible for Welcome Week looked at the experience and materials for this program before contracting. The training is a widely used model called “intervention theater,” and the materials we engaged included descriptions of expert facilitation and specific learning outcomes that aligned with our desire to provide meaningful engagement of our commitment to DEIJ at Drake from the beginning of the Bulldog experience. The materials included this promise: “a safe forum to question or comment on some of the most challenging topics of the day, while encouraging students to teach and learn from each other.” We are very happy to provide these materials with any member of the campus community.

While I remain heavy-hearted about the pain students experienced last week, I am grateful to the many students who have been willing to risk sharing their anger and to insist on accountable responses from me and others in this community. I also deeply appreciate the Black Faculty and Staff Affinity (BFSA) group sharing reflections and expectations with me that explicitly urged us to see our response to this set of incidents through Drake’s stated commitment to joyful accountability. Accountability is ultimately about belonging. So even in the hardest moments of listening over the last week, I welcome the call to be accountable.

Immediate and Continued Response

In the remainder of this message, I want to share some of our immediate responses, as well as responses that continue to be planned. I will note these lists are not comprehensive—other ongoing one-on-one check-ins with students and student leaders (both in formal and informal ways) and other facilitated communal conversations are taking place that may not be noted here.

Student Support during Welcome Week

  • Jen Harvey (Associate Provost for Equity and Inclusion), Melissa Sturm-Smith (Associate Provost for Academic Excellence and Student Success) and Marina Verlengia (Director, New Student and Parent Programs) held two different listening sessions with PMACs on Aug. 26 and engaged with their ideas to build a response during Welcome Week.
  • On Aug. 27, Jen Harvey addressed the entire entering first year class, and then offered a 90-minute workshop that provided a debrief and student discussion of healthier interventions and interactions—the kind of discussion important to have to unpack some of what was said during the “open mic” that the educational team from High Impact Trainings did not provide.
  • Under the leadership of Jazlin Coley (Director, Equity and Inclusion), Crew Scholars and several other students of color from the first-year class gathered on the evening of Aug. 25, along with Jen Harvey, Dean Alejandro Hernandez, Dean Hannah Clayborne, and Ezra Krivolavy (Area Residence Hall Coordinator—Diversity Inclusion Specialist).
  • On Aug. 27, Hannah Clayborne (Dean of Students), Lorissa Sowden (Assistant Dean/Director of Residence Life), and other staff leaders in residence life provided space for RA’s to discuss their experience and receive support for working with first year students. A follow-up discussion was held Aug. 30.

Redress Responses

  • Under the leadership of Melissa Sturm-Smith, conversations have already begun with High Impact Training to communicate the harm that was done and provide opportunities for them to redress it.
  • Discussions are underway to conduct a critical review of what and how DEI sessions are included in the future Welcome Week planning; this review has happened every year since this part of orientation was developed and design of this session continues to be a challenge.
  • The leadership team for BLUEprint for Success—the one credit course all first year Bulldogs take—is modifying the DEI curricular modules we had designed to respond. There will be at least one week of curricular response in the form of community conversations that will be constructed with student input.

Pedagogical Support in Response

  • Communications from Renee Cramer (Deputy Provost for Academic Affairs) were sent to all First Year Seminar (FYS) instructors and Blueprint for Success (Blueprint) instructors beginning Saturday, Aug. 27. This communication was followed with a more detailed message on Sunday, Aug. 28 with information about a three-part model to have classroom conversation on the first day of the semester. The same information was shared with all faculty on Monday, Aug. 29.
  • The Office of the Deputy Provost hosted three pedagogical conversations for FYS and Blueprint faculty. Eight instructors attended the conversation Aug. 28; eight instructors attended Aug. 29; six instructors took part on Aug. 30. Four additional faculty reached out individually for guidance and conversation outside of those times.
  • The Office of the Deputy Provost will host an open lunch conversation Friday, Sept. 2, for any instructors wanting to process the classroom conversations they had, on day one.

Upcoming Community Conversations

The Office of Equity and Inclusion is offering two more opportunities for first year students and students who were part of Welcome Week to debrief, unpack, and talk through healthier models of engaging and interrupting bias on:

  • Wednesday, Sept. 7, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Rooms, 310­–311, Olmsted Center
  • Thursday, Sept. 8, from 1:30 to 3 p.m in Rooms, 310­–311, Olmsted Center

Community Garden Responses

  • Public safety has reviewed the surveillance footage from the Sprouts Garden and identified no activity in the garden, confirming that the eraser board graffiti was written at some point well prior to the formal opening of campus for the fall semester.
  • Members of the Office of Community Engaged Learning will meet with all Crew classes this week to address questions, acknowledge the harm, and describe what their office is doing in order to prevent it from occurring again in the future.

  • There will be a conversation between Kayla Bell-Consolver, director of the Student Counseling Center, and Scott Law, director of Public Safety, with Crew Scholars regarding recognizing one's mental health and highlighting mental health resources, as well as addressing questions and next steps regarding public safety.


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