With the issues of inclusion and diversity on the mind of Austin College administrators, President Marjorie Haas said the college has been preparing to launch initiatives to strengthen the campus community. In conjunction with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Breakfast, the college announced three initiatives Monday that will focus on developing acceptance and support for the diverse student population of Austin College.

With the issues of inclusion and diversity on the mind of Austin College administrators, President Marjorie Haas said the college has been preparing to launch initiatives to strengthen the campus community. In conjunction with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Breakfast, the college announced three initiatives Monday that will focus on developing acceptance and support for the diverse student population of Austin College.


"It was very meaningful to be able to talk about this in light of Dr. King’s legacy," Haas said. "Dr. King’s vision is a world where we look hard at ourselves, we look hard at what we do well, we look hard at what we can do better so we can set a vision that is inspirational and transformational. I think that’s meaningful to all of us."


This spring, the college will begin with a "Task Force on Inclusion and Diversity" to develop recommendations for best practices. AC psychology professor Lisa M. Brown and Chaplain John Williams will co-chair the task force, which will include students, faculty, staff and alumni.


"I think it will be very beneficial to the college," Kyra Carl, a junior and Black Expressions student group president, said. "It gave me the idea that this is a place that if there needs to be a change, change could happen. It would be best for us to use our voice and say where we need help because we know where we struggle."


By creating a task force on campus, Carl said, she believes the college will be able to identify the areas that need improvement. She believes that the college already strives to help support students with their needs but it could increase the diversity of professors who would understand the challenges that minority students face in a college setting, she said.


"I think we have a done a good job of bringing in a diverse student body and making sure that those students move very successfully toward graduation and beyond," Haas said. "I also think that we can’t rest on our laurels. We can’t assume that we don’t have areas where perhaps students feel excluded or perhaps we aren’t living up to our highest ideals. It’s important to us to look at everything we do to make sure that we’re continuously improving and striving not to just be good but to be great."


Based on the recommendations of the task force, Haas said, the college will also create a new position to support diversity and inclusion. In the meantime, she said she will be looking for someone to join the staff as an adviser to the president on diversity and inclusion. The third initiative includes the college sharing its current student policies with a panel of higher education experts who will review and report their thoughts in February.


"I hope students get to learn more about other people, like their religious backgrounds and cultural backgrounds by socially interacting with them instead of studying about it or hearing about it," senior Muhammad Ismail, a Muslim Student Association member, said. "I feel that if students socially interact with one another, they’ll be able to promote different backgrounds and diversities as well.


"With this new task force, Austin College is going to be promoting a sense of unity and bringing students together to raise awareness for different cultures, especially during tough times right now in domestic and foreign areas."