By Carley Crain
Springfield College prides itself on being an inclusive, welcoming and supportive community. With the recent Black Lives Matter movement protests this past summer, the inclusiveness and supportiveness of Springfield as an institution was questioned.
Many students spoke up and voiced their concerns over the College’s decisions and policies regarding race. This sparked a student-led protest over the fall semester, the March for Action on Alden Street, as well as a list of demands created by Black student groups that was sent to President Cooper and the board of trustees.
While many of these demands have been met or are in the process of being met, one area of concern is still inclusive hiring and what the College is actively doing to create a more diverse atmosphere on campus.
One of the demands by students was for Springfield to hire a Black counselor who is trained in race based trauma. Tiffany Benford was recently hired and is now available for students to schedule appointments with.
Senior Raj Omoru, president of the Black Student Union, spoke about how this was a huge step in the right direction. “We now have somebody on campus who can make students feel included and make them feel like they belong,” he said.
Recent hirings such as Nicole Coakley (Assistant Director of Service and Leadership) and Adaeze Alaeze-Dinma (Coordinator of Student-Athlete Leadership Development and Sports Communications Assistant) are a good starting point – but there is much more work to be done.
Students of color often feel like they do not belong on campus because of the lack of representation amongst staff members and students. Feelings of disconnect are apparent as well with their teachers because they do not share or understand the same lived experiences.
“I did not always feel like I belonged or that I was smart enough. At times, you can feel like an outcast if there are no POC (persons of color) represented within your major,” said Omoru.
“I know that our faculty and staff does not reflect the same percentage and it is very different for Black students and people of color on campus,” said Paris Lizana, co-vice president of the Women of Power club. “It is very evident, especially when professors are teaching courses of race and multiculturalism, where it requires a broader perspective in order to be taught effectively.”
The process of inclusive hiring right now is a tactical process for Springfield. As an institution, it is trying to differentiate itself from other universities so they can get more Black, Indigenous and People of Color to apply for open positions. Finding qualified candidates can be challenging, since many other institutions have the same goal in mind.
Administration is taking action — posting job offerings in different nationwide websites, diversity focused media pages, spreading the word through community contacts and within professional network groups.
The key to inclusive hiring is actively creating a diverse and inclusive campus environment where BIPOC individuals want to work and feel like they can succeed, which has been the main goal for Springfield.
Most hiring committees include students, where their voices can be heard and their opinions can be appreciated. Hiring committees are also implementing non-bias training so personal opinions or beliefs won’t be a factor in the hiring process.
Some areas of the college have higher rates of diverse staff members than others, specifically food workers and facilities faculty.
Why do these areas of staff members have more BIPOC individuals than other areas? This is a common trend on college campuses across the country, as BIPOC folks are disproportionately holding jobs in the service sector with less pay.
According to Insidehighered.com, “Black workers have been indispensable to advancing worker rights struggles in the United States, in part because of just their status in the labor economy and the economy more generally. Often they have been relegated to the lowest-paying positions and low-wage labor.”
Part of the solution for inclusive hiring is having BIPOC individuals represented in all aspects of the college, not just in one small sector.
“It is about retention for me. Being able to see people from different backgrounds, belief systems, and races, how can we keep them at Springfield College? I think that is something that the school struggles with,” said Lizana. “Being able to keep people that are different on campus and making them feel comfortable with the spaces they are living in and the people they are interacting with on campus is something that the school needs to work on.”
With progress taking time, it has been frustrating for students of color on campus but they are hopeful for the College’s future.
“They have tried to be more inclusive with faculty, staff and athletic coaching as of recent, but I think they can be more inclusive. I think that there can be more people of color in the sciences, especially professors, more women on campus, and particularly I think trans-visibility on campus could be a lot better than what it currently is,” said Omoru.
Springfield as a community is the third largest city in the state of Massachusetts, as well as being the seventh most diverse city in the state according to homesnacks.com.
Many feel like the college campus is not reflective of what Springfield is truly like and it acts sort of like a “bubble.”
“The Springfield community and Springfield College, I really see no collaboration between them and Springfield College has been there for so long and in this position, I really want to bridge that gap that is in between our community and Springfield College. Springfield College does have a lot to offer that the community can benefit from. So, trying to connect the dots is really my passion,” said Coakley
While there is much more work to be done on campus, there has been steady progress the past few months, which has members of the Springfield College community hopeful for the future.
While the process may be slow, Springfield is making diversifying staff and the campus a top priority.
“It is absolutely amazing the resiliency of people of color here on campus when they are underrepresented,” said Omoru.
Photo: Jack Margaros/The Student