Over the last few months, Millikin’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement and protests have prompted many students to call on Millikin to go beyond statements and take action.
Today, there are several projects in the works, including transforming the Long-Vanderburg scholarship program, hiring a new mental health counselor, and resurrecting a cultural events seminar requirement for students.
“I think that we haven’t lost momentum,” Millikin President Jim Reynolds said. “It’s a little bit slower than what I would have hoped for. The pandemic is a large part of that. Conversations like this are fine, but it’s really when you gather together in person…and have these deep and meaningful conversations that really, I think, change takes place. So, you know, we’ve done a few small things to keep us going forward. We made some positive progress, I think, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
After the surge of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, Millikin promised to initiate new initiatives to support BIPOC students and engage the Millikin community in anti-racism work. Dr. Alexander Deeb, the Director of Campus Life for Inclusion, helped establish a book club, and Molly Berry, the Associate Director of Alumni Engagement, organized a Black alumni network that first met during homecoming week. Deeb is also working to implement Safe Zone training and a certificate program that would encourage students and faculty to learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“We’re also trying to elevate student voice on campus, and I think that’s really important to the experience of underrepresented students to make sure that there is a formal vehicle by which students can talk to administrators and those in charge and those decision-makers,” Vice President of Student Affairs Raphaella Prange said.
Prange points to campus town hall forums as an effective way for students to communicate with administration about issues on campus. She feels that these conversations are an important part of the administrative changes happening behind the scenes.
In addition, Prange and Provost Jeffery Aper have been working together to increase faculty training and inclusivity initiatives, including revamping the Long-Vanderburg scholarship program. This program, which was established to honor Millikin’s first Black graduates, has previously been under Student Affairs but will transition “to be seen as an academic scholarship program,” according to Prange. The monetary value of the scholarship will also increase to $5,000.
According to Reynolds, the President’s Commission on Inclusive Excellence (PCIE) is also planning to reorganize itself so it can serve as a committee that represents different groups on campus.
While all of these moves have been widely supported, there are a few key issues that students have repeatedly pushed administrators to address, including the hiring of more BIPOC faculty members. The PCIE compiled guidelines for faculty and staff searches; according to Reynolds, these guidelines have played a bigger role in this year’s hiring season.
“It has been a very diverse group of people that we have hired,” Reynolds said. “And, you know, diversity comes in a lot of different forms. We often focus on the structural part, you know, those visible markers of diversity that people seem to think represent all diversity, but there’s a lot of diversity that I think adds real value to a university campus.”
Students have also requested more support for the Student Mental and Behavioral Health office, which provides free counseling services for students. SMBH currently has two counselors and an intern. According to Prange, a third position has been approved and Millikin has begun the search for a counselor with a focus on BIPOC students and BIPOC student mental health outreach.
“We’re currently looking at applications, and we’re hoping to hire that person by July one so that, for the new school year, that person will be in place so we can bring more diversity to that area and also, you know, more services specifically to encourage our students of color to utilize counseling and to understand how important mental health is,” Prange said. “So that’s a really important advancement, I think, that’s come out of conversations from like the student town hall…This is a direct example of how we utilize that feedback.”
While the town halls are popular, they aren’t the only way that students have critiqued the university. Protests that have sprung up on campus multiple times over the last few years in response to incidents involving Public Safety. Students wonder what changes, if any, have been made as a result of these protests.
“I would hope and pray that those are peaceful and meaningful protests, and I think the ones you’re talking about certainly were,” Reynolds said. “I think Raphaella [Prange] has worked a lot with Chris Ballard, our Director of Public Safety, and I think they’re developing a stronger relationship and an understanding of the situations and the issues. I think Chris understands how better to serve our student population. It’s one of those things that takes time.”
Prange and Aper have also been working to create a cultural events seminar requirement. This initiative, which ended in 1996, used to require students to attend campus programs outside of their major. Prange points out that while technology gives us access to a lot of information, this information is curated for us and rarely pushes people out of their comfort zone. She hopes that the program’s resurrection would encourage students to learn something new.
“[Anti-racism work] has been such a personal experience, but it also needs to be a shared experience. But we’re scared of it being a shared experience,” Prange said. “And so how can Millikin present that in a way that models that shared experience? That’s what I’m trying to accomplish. So that’s another way that we’re approaching this conversation behind the scenes a little bit in hopes that that can create a richer engagement culture on campus.”
For Reynolds, this culture has become a major focus. He points out that Millikin’s campus culture is key to navigating this “difficult” time in U.S. history, and he wants to reorient that culture as the administration begins a new strategic planning process.
“I hope that what we can do is weave into our strategic plan some real cultural shifts,” Reynolds said. “So we’ll make Millikin a more welcoming and inclusive place for everyone. Colleges and universities are places where the diversity of ideas should be shared, and they should be shared without fear of retribution…I think we have to create something that’s long-lasting and built on a foundation of trust and caring for everyone, irrespective of their opinions or politics.”
While Reynolds encourages students to “disagree without being disagreeable,” he understands that there are “gradations,” and people have views that are “nonnegotiables.” Still, he wants students to find common ground.
“There’s no administrative edict that I can give to tell people to be nicer to each other,” Reynolds said. “It’s the idea that we build that from the ground up, that we become so focused on our willingness to provide a safe and welcoming environment that it just permeates everything that we do.”