University makes progress on Black At App State demands, chancellor engaged in diversity recruitment and retention

The+Black+At+App+State+Collective+at+the+%22Wake+the+Chancellor%22+march+against+injustice+Aug.+31%2C+a+month+after+releasing+their+initial+demands+to+the+university.

Courtesy of Korbin Cummings

The Black At App State Collective at the “Wake the Chancellor” march against injustice Aug. 31, a month after releasing their initial demands to the university.

Xanayra Marin-Lopez, Multimedia Editor

Five months into the Black at App State Collective’s 36-month demand implementation deadline, the collective alongside university administration held yet another meeting on Nov. 12. Here the two discussed faculty and staff diversity recruitment and retention. 

A steering committee within the Accountability Team was recently introduced by both Black At App State and university administration. Consisting of six students, student affairs personnel, and members of the chancellor’s cabinet, this committee will devote their time to specific demands made by the collective.

In Black at App State’s initial July demands, the group called for change in multiple areas of admissions, faculty, student retention, and overall support, like:

  • Mandatory bias training 
  • An increase in Black and Brown representation
  • Exit interviews from students, faculty and staff of color 
  • A comprehensive report regarding diversity, equity and inclusion

According to university data, “underrepresented” faculty members make up 10.7% of the 1,429 total faculty members for the 2020-21 academic year. The data describes “underrepresented” as all races and ethnicities with the exception of “white” or “not reported.” There was a 1% increase in diverse faculty, compared to 9.7% in 2019.

As for staff, 6.7% of 1,813 total staff members meet the “underrepresented” category. 

“We hope to create a space where there will be longevity around conversations and actions of demand implementation,” said Korbin Cummings, a leader of the collective.

Presentations on Nov. 12 were given by representatives from Human Resources, Academic Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer Willie Fleming on overall progress.

From their meetings, Cummings said the university is taking an active step toward recruiting Black, Indigenous, and other students and university personnel of color.

Cummings noted some concerns brought in the meeting about retention and departmental funding. 

Some meetings, Cummings said, have introduced better advocacy for more funding, better faculty and staff payment, other benefits, and diversity training within search committees.

She says she has faith in the university administration’s cooperation with the collective thus far. On behalf of Black at App State, Cummings said they’re grateful for administrators, faculty, staff and student organizations who show involvement and continue to have conversations with the group.

Reflecting on the Nov. 12 meeting, Cummings said she appreciated administration providing a rundown and updates on their work.

“The meetings help us establish trust and ways we can hold ourselves accountable to get the demands implemented in the most effective way,” Cummings said.

After Black at App State’s initial announcement this summer, Chancellor Sheri Everts wasn’t as engaged. 

Everts had not attended any of the meetings Black at App State held with administration since their first meeting July 21. She was present at the Nov. 12 meeting, but Black at App State took to Twitter before the meeting to ask followers their prediction about Everts attendance. 

97.7% of responders voted against the possibility of Everts’ attendance. 

Cummings described Everts’ participation as “attentive” and engaged in conversation.

“The Black At App State Collective was genuinely surprised to see the chancellor attend the Team Accountability Meeting,” Cummings said. “However, it is commendable that she could attend and speak on ways she plans to advocate for students on a state-wide and institutional level.”

Chief Diversity Office Willie Fleming said he is both “baffled” and “extremely disappointed” at the suggestion of Everts’ lack of attendance. 

Social media speculation that encourages oppositionalism distracts focus away from the important work we have underway and which we want to accomplish together,” Fleming wrote in an email.

Fleming said that since Everts’ arrival to App State, she has prioritized diversity and inclusivity initiatives. 

Because App State is a predominantly white institution, Cummings said that administration must work more intentionally to ensure a safe and inclusive campus environment. She said she would like to see safety, better resources, better communication and respect for Black people at App State.

“When I graduate I hope that students of color will not have to face the same issues I faced. Tokenization and the emotional labor of Black student leaders has progressed for too long. I am hoping that the accountability meetings and further demand implementation will lead to an eradication of that issue,” Cummings said.

This story was updated with comments from Chief Diversity Office Willie Fleming.