Dylan Jones is a senior at MICA studying painting. His art, inspired by his love for sports, draws on experiences from himself and other athletes to include perseverance, injury, defeat, and triumph.
MICA Mondays is a project of the UB Post (University of Baltimore) showcasing the talent and work of students and alumni of the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) released every Monday during the fall and spring semesters.
Before the end of the last semester a petition was sent to the President of University of Baltimore challenging aspects of diversity on the UB campus. The petition focused heavily on racial diversity, encouraging opportunity for students and faculty of color.
With the start a new semester the issue of diversity continues to be on the forefront, and it seems the petition and ideas are still in the air. The UB Post was able to speak with President Kurt Schmoke about his perspective on diversity and the petition. President Schmoke wants the campus to be aware the diversity is a broad spectrum. “Diversity means more than black and white,” said Schmoke. “If we can all agree to that then we can have a better conversation about diversity. There are a lot of groups underrepresented in the academy, and we should be sensitive to that.” Below are the questions provided by the UB Post and the answers from President Schmoke.
How do you feel about conversations surrounding diversity before the PoC coalition’s petition?
KS: There were many conversations about diversity. From students, faculty, staff and alumni prior to the drafting of the petition.
Do you think this petition grew from the conversations already happening, or more so grew from the events happening in Baltimore and Mizzou?
KS: You’d have to ask the people that drafted the petition. But I think people who have been around a while recognize there was a Culture and Diversity Committee created at UB four years ago because the UB community recognized the need to focus in more clearly on the issue of diversity.
What does diversity mean to you or University of Baltimore?
KS: For me, diversity is broader than just the concept of race. It involves creating a welcoming environment on campus for people of different backgrounds, different gender orientation, different races, and ethnicities and points of view. So diversity is a broad concept but primarily the goal is to make this a welcoming environment for people who have differences—whatever those differences may be.
Do you feel the conversation in regards to diversity have differed since the petition has come from the students, or is it about the same?
KS: There has been some in- creased focus on issues, not only because of the petition, but what happened in Baltimore last April.
And then following other issues at other universities, like Missouri. But I thought the petition raised some important issues that needed further investigation, that’s why I responded to it the way that I did, in writing, saying that I thought points that they raised needed further investigation. I promised that I would take an initial step in meeting with the cultural and diversity committee, and I did that last Monday morning.
When you say further investigation, you mean points in the petition need further investigation?
KS: Yes. For example, one of the points they raised in the petition was that there was a disproportionate discipline of African-American students rather than white students for similar offenses. They didn’t provide details. They made the allegations but they didn’t provide any evidence to support it. I didn’t dismiss the allegation, but I said we need to find out whether it’s true or not and the only way to do that is through further investigation. That’s just an example, but there were some others that were in the petition. As I said it raised questions but there was a need for further work to determine the answer to those questions.
So should students put more work into investigating?
KS: No. I thought the best way of doing it [was] for the community together. That’s why I wanted to meet with the Culture and Diversity Committee because it has as its members: students, faculty, and staff. I thought that would be the appropriate group to begin this process of investigation. I’ve asked them to have more regular meetings and to raise their profile a bit so people who were interested in diversity issues at UB would know of them, and know about their work, and would find an easy way to raise their concerns.
I know the Culture and Diversity Committee’s goal is to increase diversity and make known diversity issues on campus. That is their mission right?
KS: It’s to make sure the issue of diversity is viewed as an important priority.
How did you feel when you received the petition from the student? Would it have been different coming from faculty?
KS: No, as I said I think the petition raised important questions. Had it come from faculty, I would have reacted the same way. I didn’t dismiss the petition. I just, in my response, said “you raised some important issues.” We need to do further work.
Did you feel the need to meet with the people of color coalition?
KS: I didn’t feel compelled. What I felt was compelled to respond to the petition. And I also wanted the petition to be public, so that I could get input from all aspects of the community because initially it just came to me and nobody heard about it, except a few other students. I wanted the petition to be public so that I could get input from those with knowledge about the issues that are raised. I want to hear from faculty members about their response. I wanted to hear from other students, and I must say the responses that I got from other students vary widely. They were not all supportive of the petition. So it was important for me to get input from those who might be affected by what the petition said.
When you made it public, and you were hearing responses from faculty and students, how did you respond to that?
KS: It confirmed my view that there needed to be more investigation
of what was alleged in the petition.
I have sat in on an SGA meeting in which the PoC Coalition mentioned racial diversity in faculty and staff. Many people on campus, pose the question, “what if there aren’t any qualified candidates?” “What if we can’t find people of color who qualify?” How do you feel about people raising the question, “What if there are not enough qualified candidates of color?” More so, your response to that statement.
KS: Well… first of all, I have to look, in the sense I have only been here a year and a couple of months, I have to find out whether in fact what they said was correct. I know, for example, in our Dean’s search for College of Public Affairs there were people of color in that pool of candidates. And that in the search for the provost there was not a person but there was gender diversity, so I had to go back and find out whether we had a history recently of no persons of color being in the pools of candidates.
So that requires further inquiry. I’ve encouraged the consultants that we use in the search committees to make sure they search broadly for qualified people. To the best of my knowledge nobody has been discouraged from pulling in people of color in the pool. So the bottom line is you can’t disagree with what they are suggesting. It’s just that, they may not have known that indeed there were people of color in some of these searches. They may not have been selected but they were in some of the searches. Again, it’s the type of general statement that needs further inquiry.
Do you think statements as mentioned previously are in the back of people’s minds and effect the hiring process? Not specifically at UB but in academia in general, that the pre-conceived notion that there may not be enough qualified people of color, do you think that effect the hiring process in academia?
KS: Some places yes and some places no. I mean I think academia knows that we need more PhDs of color in the academy generally. The numbers are pretty low. I’ll just give you a point- the president of University of Maryland, Eastern Shore which is a historically black college, [at our] last president’s meeting noted even at her school, the majority of her faculty are not African-American. They are white and people of color from overseas. So even at an HBCU (Historically Black College/University) there is a concern about getting African-American PhDs on campus.
So just to your point, I think there is a need to encourage more people of color to get PhDs and to pursue careers in the academy. I don’t think that it [has] been the mindset at UB that we can’t find any qualified people of color. In my review of things, I haven’t seen any evidence of that. So that is all I can say. The person who is occupying the College of Arts and Sciences, our interim Dean is a woman. In the academy in terms of higher education leadership women are still underrepresented. So, I feel proud of the fact that we have as our interim Dean a female PhD. No, the petition may not say that is diversity, but in my view, in the academy at least, that is diversity.
In the petition and your response, you mention cultural competency training. Is this recent?
KS: It’s interesting you should mention that because the folks in each of our departments said there is already a certain amount of cultural competency that goes on, but there has not been a single plan, like in our Title IX. There are individual issues going on, on cultural competency, but what the Culture and Diversity Committee committed to do is to review hiring procedures of our human resources department and various hiring procedures in our individual colleges and schools. They want to do a campus climate survey to get a sense from students, faculty, and staff of their concerns about diversity, and then following that develop a more…a broader cultural competency training program. They didn’t want to start doing that before they did the campus climate survey. The review of the hiring procedure is going to start, then the campus climate survey, then upgrade our cultural competency training.
One thing that I have heard from students is that they feel that they encountered microagressions in their classes and they don’t exactly know who they should talk to about that.
Do you know who they should talk to?
KS: They should go to the deans first. I would go to the teacher themselves. *Brian, for example gave us an interesting example where he felt that he was a victim of insensitivity by a professor and he actually went to that professor and said ‘Do you
realize what you are doing? How you are impacting me?’ The professor apologized, said he didn’t realize that and made a change that lead to an improvement in the class. That was one student that went directly to the professor. My view is that, the students, if they don’t feel comfortable, that they should go to the dean. If it is something that is so egregious—multiple students are having the same problem—then it’s through the Title IX coordinator, the provost, or they could email me and say ‘we got a serious problem here.’ But it [should] be at the individual school level first. I believe that is one of the things the Dean is prepared to do, is to be responsive when students feel they are being victimized.
The PoC Coalition sent another response in response to your response. Are you going to respond to that one? Have you received it yet?
KS: I am not sure if I received it yet. Was it after their town hall meeting they had? Oh! After upgrading the cultural competency training, I did commit to having a town hall meeting on diversity in the spring semester. That was the other thing… (after being provided a copy of the response mentioned) I did see [the response] and I just encouraged our Vice President of Student Affairs to continue to work with the drafters. I asked her to respond to this. I did, I remember seeing this. And she did respond. She met with them. I remember this issue of tenure/non-tenure, which lead me to meet with some faculty to members without disclosing confidential information that the issue about African-American faculty members being tenured is more complicated then set forth here.
African-American faculty being tenured is much more complicated? How so?
KS: Well that’s why I am telling you, it would involve me getting into the private business of individual faculty members and I can’t do that.
Do you think tenure effects diversity in academia?
KS: Some places yes. Some places no.
Do you think there are certain disparities that discourage people of color from certain opportunities when comes to working in academia?
KS: Again I won’t generalize but it depends. [Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates] was a class behind me, we were in college together. He didn’t get tenure at Yale. But he got tenured at Harvard. So what was the issue there? Well the Yale faculty viewed him as being involved more in popular culture than serious academic enterprise. Harvard on the other hand says of course this guy, he’s published some great stuff, so it’s hard to generalize about things like that. What I do know is that the decision on tenure is generally left to faculty committees. They make the primary recommendation. If there is bias on a faculty committee, yes, a person of color is likely to feel the brunt of that discrimination. If the committee is fair minded and opened to good scholarship then a person of color is not going to be discriminated against. There was a professor of classics at Yale, named Eric Segal, who wrote a book called “Love Story.” It became a movie. “Love Story,” because a great book, a popular selling book and then a movie about these two who fall in love and one of them dies, like Romeo and Juliet. This is one of the most popular books around. Yale denies him tenure because he didn’t pursue classical studies. Getting tenure is a unique process and it is not something the president does by him/herself. It has to come from recommendation from faculty. If you have bias at the faculty level you’re going to have problems.
Would the same answer you gave for the process of tenure be able to answer the question of including selected cultural studies programs (African-American studies, Asian studies, etc…) here at UB?
KS: If you don’t have the persons to teach it. Well the one thing about UB is that it doesn’t offer as broad a mix of programs as some other universities. At this point if we were to offer new programs, one we would have to have the money to fund it. Second, we would have to make sure we had enough students in it year after year to justify it as opposed to having a lecturer come in and do it one time. The third thing is we’d have to figure out whether there is a way of offering that course electronically with other schools in the system. For example: if Coppin or UMES offered that program could we use the computers, could [we] have synchronous teaching of that and have a professor at UMES give the course. I am willing to explore those courses if I see there is really a demonstrated interest sustained over time. I don’t want to go out and hire a person and find out that ten people are going to take the course. I am open to looking at that along with faculty. Because of the concept of shared governance, if we are going to create new courses, that has got to come out of discussion at the faculty of each school level. I can’t just impose a new course on them. Again, hopefully the petitioners understand they raised some important issues that need further discussion in the whole community and that’s what I’ve been trying to encourage rather than me giving some definitive answer when I know that I’d have to go back to the faculty anyway.
What is UB’s hope for the future when it comes to diversity?
KS: Right now we are viewed as the most diverse, in terms of our student population, we’re the most diverse university in the state university system. I’d like to see us produce from our student body more students who are going to pursue more careers in academia. And maybe come back here and teach.
University of Baltimore is making strides to provide a welcoming for various groups of people. Both students and faculty are making effort to increase diversity to avoid students feeling there is a lack of diversity, opportunity, and sensitivity in the future.
For Ron Kipling Williams, 2015 has so far proved to be an exciting year. He performed Dreadlocks, Rock ‘n’ Roll, & Human Rights at Artscape, began a student fellowship with the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics, and embarked on his last semester of UB’s M.F.A. program. One gray Monday afternoon, this D.C. native sat down on the top floor of the law building to reflect with me on the future of Baltimore, activism, and rock ‘n’ roll.
What brought you to Baltimore?
Ron Kipling Williams: I felt like I was stagnating artistically and a good friend of mine, Jim Vose said, “Look, why don’t you come to Baltimore? It’s cheap to live. You can figure out what you want to do artistically” and I took him up on it. Honestly, at the time, I thought I would be here for a couple years and then move on to New York because that’s one of the meccas for an artist, and that was a couple decades ago. Baltimore really grew on me. I’ve met so many wonderful people here and [have] done so many wonderful things.
What makes Baltimore feel like more of a home to you than D.C.?
R.K.W.: Baltimore’s a much more friendlier [sic] town. When I started coming up here to visit, I’d walk down the street and I’d say hi to somebody and they’d say hi back, I was like “Wow. This is different.” Baltimore’s a city of neighborhoods. People don’t have the pretense they have in D.C. D.C. is a high-powered town. You’ve got all the government officials, diplomats, corporate heads… and it’s becoming even more gentrified now with more yuppies coming in and more development happening, so even the little cultural havens that existed are basically gone. This is happening nation-wide. Professionals, yuppies, and suburbanite folks are looking to downsize their commute and they’re looking to come back to the city for living and entertainment… It’s a shame. Artists come into an area and they create this cultural hub and then people will see this thriving thing happening and capitalize it and in doing so, they wreck it, because the property values shoot through the roof and then the hub gets destroyed and the artists have to move somewhere else. I hope that doesn’t happen to Baltimore. I know the Station North is starting to explode and we got some great venues, so we’re really amplifying our performing arts and theater arts. I hope it stays that way. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Baltimore. There’s so much talent and so much you can do for a relatively inexpensive price. You can really develop yourself, and I would hate to see a total gentrification of Baltimore.
Baltimore, for the most part, is a very blue collar town. Can you really foresee city-wide gentrification happening?
R.K.W.: There’s a possibility that it wouldn’t, because of the blue collar culture. It doesn’t lend itself to gentrification. You still have a lot of resilient, blue collar neighborhoods and since this city has experienced such a decline in population, it would take a tremendous amount of people coming back in as well as an influx of different industries coming in. Right now, our biggest industry is hospitality. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you have sustainable jobs to go with it. The problem is, you have a lot of low-wage jobs and so people are not able to sustain themselves. They work two or three of these jobs in order to have a decent living… There’s still going to be a fair amount of gentrification…But Baltimore’s also a resilient city, so we fight. We fight like nobody I’ve ever seen before, even during the uprising. You had people telling the media, “get out of here. You’re not around here when we need you and now you’re just coming around for the big story.” Matter of fact, we told Al Sharpton, “Don’t come in here.” He had a brief meeting with [the] mayor and then left… And the media never focused on the fact that the morning after [the uprising], so many people came out to rebuild…We do rebuild after we suffer tragedy.
As someone who’s traveled to cities across the country, how do you think Baltimore compares in terms of poverty and racial inequality?
R.K.W.: Nationally, racism is a pandemic. Every city has their own set of problems, be it transportation or education or healthcare. We can only work to fix our own backyard and lend support to others when we can… I will say this though: activism is where you are. It’s not this overwhelming thing, it’s not something you have to study for. Just clean up your street. Read to the kids in your neighborhood. Fix the heating in your elderly neighbor’s apartment. [Activism] is where you are.
Where do you think your colossal desire to help people came from?
R.K.W.: As a child, I never felt like I had a voice, like I always had to fight to be heard. I was very fortunate to find writing as a medium by which I could have my voice heard. Then I began performing and as I developed my voice, cultivated my voice, and found the power in it, I discovered that I could help others find their voice. So that’s when began to mentor and workshop [with] others, and do the kinds of shows that would help people find their voice…In between then, it was rock ‘n’ roll and the activist movement. It’s all about breaking barriers, breaking the self-segregating nature of yourself and others and doing your own thing. I love the spirit of rebellion and I shouldn’t be ashamed to say it….
What brought you to the University of Baltimore?
R.K.W.: I was working a job and I got fired and I said, “You know what? I need to go back to school” because my art was stagnating and I needed to take it to the next level. Sometimes getting fired is the best thing that can happen to you. It disrupted everything and it forced me to refocus… It was, I think, the week after I got fired that I went to the admissions office and I enrolled. I wanted to finish my undergrad and get my grad degree in creative writing and publishing… This has become one big workshop process to totally recalibrate everything that I’m doing… I’ve loved the entire experience. I can’t sectionalize it. I’ve loved interacting with other students and becoming friends, mentoring, teaching, taking classes… I’ve been good to UB and UB’s been good to me.
Correction: Jim Vose was mistakenly spelled Boast in the original publication of this article.
What is the importance of National Career Development Month you might ask? The answer: to bring awareness of the importance of committing to life-long career development. Managing your career is an ongoing process, which requires a person to reflect on where they are in the present and where they want to be in the future. In the Career and Professional Development Center, our goal is to develop UB students to become Expert Career Managers where students take ownership and learn how to create opportunities for themselves. The CPDC is staffed with certified career facilitators who assist, support and provide resources pertaining to the Career Cycle. There are a number of steps you can take now, while you’re still in school, to position yourself well for your future job search. Consider engaging in some of the following activities:
• Review the status of your network and commit to connecting with a professional contact either in person or through social media such as LinkedIn.
• Update your resume and cover letter and have your documents critiqued by a career coach in the CPDC.
• Join an on-campus organization or a professional association to develop connections and network within your field of interest.
• If you are in job search mode, compile a list of common interview questions, create answers that will differentiate you from other applicants, and practice with a friend, career coach, or interview stream.
• Participate in career development workshops offered by the Career and Professional Development Center.
During the month of November, the CPDC will sponsor activities and events to promote that include the following:
LinkedIn Photo shoot will provide students with a professional headshot of themselves to display on their LinkedIn profile. No appointment is necessary and professional attire required. Nov. 19, 1-5 p.m.
Be Ready Workshop – are a workshop series offered on various career development topics including Writing An Effective Resume and Cover Letter, Ten Steps to Federal Employment and Success On The Job just to name a few. Nov. 19, 5:45-7 p.m.
Additional events in November and December can be found on the Events page of the Career and Professional Development Center webpage through UB Works and the campus calendar.