Last spring, Demarcus Joiner, the first full-time vice president of a newly formed student government cabinet for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), ran on a platform largely based on programming, promising to bring events like speaker sessions and a new certification program to the University.
In preparation for an upcoming DEI week, The Crimson White caught up with Joiner to see where the cabinet stands in its first full year – a year that has been marked by administrative turnover and heightened concerns about creating a welcoming campus for all.
Q: I know this is a fairly new cabinet within SGA. What would you say is your main goal?
A: My main goal this year was just to build a foundation for my predecessor. Because this year, we were working with Jay [Little]. He served basically as an advisor to me since he had been in the position before, but he hadn’t been there long enough to actually make a lot of change. He made good strides, but we wanted to build on them.
Q: What does that foundation look like?
A: Essentially, the only set events that I hope to keep going on is the DEI certificate program and the Miss Unique UA pageant, because I believe those are instrumental in moving the campus forward as far as educating students and giving students a voice. Other than that, nothing I guess was actually set in stone, but we wanted to help give them an outline of all the possibilities and all of the things that they can do going forward.
Background: Joiner’s DEI certificate program launched last September, one day after a majority-Greek SGA Senate struck down amendments to a resolution that specifically mentioned the resignation of the former dean of students. The decision sparked national criticism about what, and whom, the student government values, and student and faculty members made clear that more needed to be done in terms of fostering an inclusive campus environment.
In a statement, SGA press secretary Jackson Fuentes alluded to the certification program – and other events put on by the SGA DEI cabinet – as a potential step forward.
“The Student Government Association agrees that the right of all people to freely express themselves is of utmost importance,” Fuentes told The Crimson White last September. “Through initiatives like the diversity, equity and inclusion town halls, we continue to engage in an open dialogue around these and other issues.”
About 20 organizations completed the DEI certificate program, which required members to participate in a series of workshops and lectures “designed to develop important life skills that will enhance students’ abilities to work together collaboratively,” according to an SGA press release.
Structural changes to the cabinet included the creation of a Multicultural Leadership Council and two DEI liaisons, who have mainly been responsible for attending and planning listening sessions with other organizations.
Q: How do you measure the impact of some of these events on the student body?
A: After the first DEI certificate program, we had surveys sent out to every student who signed in, so we received information back that way, asking what they liked and what they didn’t like. And, the majority of it was all positive, but for me, I guess how I measure it is to talk to someone who attended and ask them what they learned – if there was something there that they didn’t know before, or something that they hadn’t ever heard of, and asked them was it beneficial.
Q: How often do you interact with administration? There’s obviously been a lot of turnover recently, so what are you looking for from someone in that [student life] position?
A: I guess a strong advocate is what I’m looking for, someone who is there to listen to what we have to say, someone who will advocate for students when we’re not in the room. Also, someone who is present, who shows up to these events that we’re having, who will ask if we need anything – not just somebody there to say, ‘Oh, yeah, we have this, just give me a call and I’ll supply this for you,’ but not necessarily show up to the events.
Q: After DEI week, what’s next?
A: After DEI week, we’re finishing our listening tours, and then we are planning a week for Black History Month. And we’ll have information out about that within the next week or so.
You can learn a little more about DEI Week below:
Who is hosting the events? The SGA and the UA Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are hosting several events throughout the week of Jan. 27 to raise awareness about diversity and inclusion on campus:
Monday Jan. 27:
‘When They See Us’ speaker: Yusef Salaam
Where: Ferguson Ballroom at 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday Jan. 28:
DEI Networking Reception. Guest speaker: Dr. Stuart Bell
Where: Great Hall at 6 p.m.
Wednesday Jan. 29:
Spill The Tea: Culture Edition
Where: Great Hall at 7 p.m.
Thursday Jan. 30:
Where: Ferguson Center, Room 3104 at 7 p.m.