Photo by Stasia Demick
With a newly developed “task force,” a summit planned for a Seaver faculty training on cultural inclusiveness, and various workshops in production, Pepperdine administration is in the planning process of supplying students and faculty with the tools to increase cultural competence on campus.
The “task force” is a group that was introduced and explained last semester in President Andrew K. Benton’s first email response, which was sent out soon after the protests last semester. The email read as follows:
“To help craft a fuller response at Seaver, I have formed a special task force already at work that includes Dean Michael Feltner, Vice President Mark Davis, Provost Rick Marrs and Associate Vice Presidents Marnie Mitze and Tabatha Jones Jolivet.”
Last semester a number of racist comments were posted on the mobile app Yik Yak. The racist comments went viral on campus, and a Facebook group called “Waves Against Ignorance,” responded with on-campus protests.
Directly following the on-campus protests in November, the Student Government Association presented the administration with a list of five demands, requesting that the University “appropriately acknowledge the concerned sentiments of minority students at Seaver College.”
The demands include the removal of both the Christopher Columbus statue and the wood-carven mural, mandatory diversity and cultural sensitivity training, and the addition of a General Education requirement on diversity and inclusion.
Dean of Seaver College Michael Feltner said the demand to prohibit the use of Yik Yak on University supported Wi-Fi has been omitted from the list, and will no longer be involved in the planning process.
“There is always going to be Yik Yak, even if we completely blocked it through the network,” Feltner said. “The Yik Yak precedent proposal was reconsidered by SGA, and then the SGA president ultimately revoked it.”
Associate Vice President and Chief of Staff Marnie Mitze wrote in an email that administration recently held a meeting, during which they discussed the details, or “work and efforts,” they plan on investing into heightening cultural competence on campus.
The demand that both the mural, and the Christopher Columbus statue be removed, was a topic of discussion at the meeting. The administration meeting ultimately resulted in potential “intervention art projects” that were further sent to the Office of the President for “reviewing,” Mitze wrote.
Professor of Fine Arts Gretchen Batcheller and Professor of Art History Ellen Caldwell will be overseeing these intervention projects, as well as Senior Natasha Frazier and Senior Candice Erdos, who have “great student perspectives,” Batcheller wrote in an email.
Batcheller wrote that the team had been “charged” by Benton to “intervene with the conquest art on campus.” She further touched on the artistic meaning of the term ‘intervention,’ and additionally what these projects would entail.
The intervention team is in the planning stages, but Batcheller wrote that the group fully anticipates on getting more groups involved.
“I have reached out to educators at the Chumash Indian Museum as a starting point, and we do not want the project to move forward without their involvement, but there are no Chumash representatives currently involved,” Frazier wrote in an email.
“This project aims to use social art practice to intervene with conquest art on the Pepperdine campus, empower Indigenous voices through an artistic platform, and challenge and educate the Pepperdine community on the topics of local history, national identity, and collective memory,” Frazier wrote. “These ‘interventions’ — as they are referred to in the art world — are meant to bring about change in public perspective about existing conditions or bring awareness to a given situation.”
Feltner said that although all demands are being addressed by the University Council, the University still has no definite decision in regards to how they will go about introducing a General Education course on diversity to the University.
Based on how long it has taken various other schools to implement a new course, Feltner said that adding a new diversity course will likely be a lengthy process. It took UCLA roughly 10 years to implement a new course on diversity into the curriculum.
Furthermore, Feltner explained various approaches the university is taking to get the ball rolling for new curriculum on diversity.
“We have asked faculty and college staff to look into the courses that we already have at Pepperdine and seeing how we might expand on those,” Feltner said. “We’re also introducing a new grant program in which the University can apply or review grants for faculty, which will then provide resources for proposals to get funding for new courses on diversity topics.”
Feltner said that introducing new elective courses would also be a good way to “get the conversation going.” Feltner also elaborated on the “task force” mentioned earlier in the article.
“We have assembled a task force of faculty, students and senior administration to wrestle with questions on a new diversity class with new curriculum,” he said. “They will look at what other schools are doing, if that’s what’s needed at Pepperdine or if there’s an alternate way to achieve our goal.”
Omari Allen, junior vice president and social chair of the Black Student Association, is a member of Benton’s “task force,” and he said he is pleased with what has been accomplished thus far.
“Right now we’re in the planning stages, but definite progress has still been made,” Allen said. “As far as physical implementation, it’ll take time, but each demand on the list has been addressed.”
“They actually turned it into a teaching moment, which was a complete difference from their reaction after the Yik Yak incident,” Allen said.
Feltner expressed his feelings toward the “hateful speech” and other acts of discrimination occurring within the Pepperdine community.
“We can’t be what we aspire to be if we have that in our community, not only as an educational institution, but also as a Christian university,” Feltner said.
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