Illusion of inclusion

Mariela O’Neill

One cannot hide the fact that Roger Williams University is not necessarily the most racially or ethnically diverse university, nor most “liberal” of institutions for that matter. One could even argue that the political sentiment of campus is silent and conservative. Although the university strives to preach the ethos and spirit of Roger Williams, a man historically noted for religious freedom and political liberation, the growing attitude of the student body seems to be lacking his active liberal spirit despite efforts.

How does a university named after a man who inspired diverse, new, and dangerous opinions foster a campus culture of passivity? The answer is thus: Passivity occurs due to the omission of active agency and complacency of status-quo. Roger Williams was champion as a contradictor of authority, rebellious in both thought and action, and a revolutionary. The intellectual journey that students take here at Roger Williams University must align with his “free-thinking” ideology.

To actually achieve the diverse ideal that the institution has created for itself, Roger Williams University must intentionally and aggressively encourage students of all majors to be critical thinkers with global perspectives. Students and faculty are more than capable enough to host various discourse dialogs within their curriculum, taking notes from current events that shape the present fabric of our world. In order to become a community of global citizenship, addressing the elephant in the room is imperative. The elephant is global, political, and cultural passivity, on both student and administrative sides.

Students of all academic years and fields at Roger Williams University recognize the struggle with the retention of marginalized students. Junior international relations major Xante Chalwell states that he believes the university has not yet achieved the degree of diversity that they advertise.

“The university is not doing justice to the Core value of inclusivity; the superficial intent is a hoax. A hoax that looms over campus, blanketing the true colors of our climate. Students are not welcome into an inclusive environment, resources are lacking, and cultural competency among students and faculty is missing,” Chalwell said.

Issues such as institutionalized racism, extrajudicial brutality, global warming, and immigration are not explored or discussed with the broader campus community. There are often well-intentioned attempts to integrate these talking points into panel discussions and events on campus, however these topics are often only considered within venues that do not receive a great deal of attention from the majority of the student body, and are not valued or thought critical within the greater context of the university.

According to sophomore Melissa Mota, who double majors in political science and legal studies, the university must take initiative in making these issues a crucial part of campus life on a larger scale.

“There are only small pockets of students that are willing to have difficult conversations about the systemic flaws and injustices of the United States. There are even smaller pockets of students who are willing to take an active stand on these matters. What we need from the university is emphatic action of addressing such issues in a constructive manner. There is only a disservice done to students if the university does not take a stand and set the precedent of what we claim to be: A liberal arts institution,” Mota said.

The current 2016 Presidential Election has especially shaped the political narrative of the United States, and requires the attention of intellectuals who are educated in the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion at this critical time. From what has been displayed by the presidential candidates in the past few months, the focus of this election lies on possible discriminatory legislation, hateful speech, and economic scandal. As students, forming a coalition where information, thoughts, and ideas can be shared will serve only to shape a more proactive community of thinkers that would be essential in such trying times. Regardless of individual social or political views, students and administration must take the initiative in creating a forum of expression.

“The social climate of our country is inundated with tension. The university must be more proactive in promoting a positive environment in which these conversations can be discussed civilly and intelligibly. The university must be able to challenge the status-quo without fear of a damaging reputation or unfavorable repercussions,” said Brielle Jackson, a junior psychology major.

So does this university truly embody the spirit of Roger Williams? Roger Williams once said that “People’s consciences are in no sort to be violated, urged, or constrained.” In order truly honor the legacy of Roger Williams, the university must strive to further free students of silent conservatism, address the hoax of inclusivity, and embrace the diversity of opinion, passion, and existence.