On Friday October 11, the Dean’s Office sent out an email to the student body introducing the establishment of the Community Development Fund (CDF), a reserve of $150,000 to be spent evenly over the next three years on 15 student projects. The money for the fund will come directly from the budget of the President’s Office as part of an initiative that has been cultivated since last spring. In order to be eligible for each $10,000 grant, student projects must focus on promoting inclusivity on campus, ideally by bringing together a multifaceted cross-section of the campus community.
“The fund was created to be both a vehicle and incentive for innovative thinking related to building a diverse and inclusive community,” said Dean of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Development Lili Rodriguez. “We know that good ideas most often come when diverse groups work together.” To that end, as a baseline, projects funded by college grants should enable a conversation between individuals and organizations not regularly in contact. The idea is to promote inclusivity in discussions that pertain to the entire community instead of alienating certain groups.
The perceived exclusivity of discussions regarding campus-wide issues seems to be what many believe to be a major detriment to recent attempts to foster communication at the college. “When you say okay, we’re going to talk about diversity, some people automatically feel excluded because they feel that their own experiences don’t have anything to bring to the discussion,” A’Dorian Murray-Thomas ’16, programming intern at the Black Cultural Center, said. “If certain people feel like their voices can’t be heard or valued, then we have a problem.”
Murray-Thomas and others noted that the attendance at community discussions facilitated by the college this semester has often been representative of only a narrow demographic. Without the participation of multiple campus groups, many students worry that the conversations taking place will not resonate deeply enough with the entire community. “The community is divided on a number of issues, and so far, the conversations that have been taking place have, to a certain extent, made the divides deeper,” Aya Ibrahim ’15 said, student intern for the student activities office.
Rodriguez and the rest of the organizers of the Community Development Fund hope to change this.
“We hope students will work with faculty and staff or that student groups that don’t typically interact come together to design a transformative experience,” she said.
According to Rodriguez, there is no ideal project.
“We didn’t narrow the potential ideas. We only stipulated that the effort lead to meaningful interactions,” Rodriguez said. While the email sent to the community suggests that projects could include field trips, courses or community service projects, any project that inspires cross-campus communication would be well-received by the committee.
Though no project proposals have been submitted yet, according to Rodriguez, there appears to be extensive interest on campus.
“We’ve already received lots of questions from potential grant applicants, so it’s clear many members of the community had been thinking about ideas for some time,” she said. For these individuals, the community development fund appears to provide the resources needed to advance their project.
Christen Boas-Hayes ’16, co-founder of Allyship in Action, a group that also strives to encourage the interactions of diverse interests on campus, said that the Community Development Fund provided much-needed support for student projects.
“I think this is an excellent opportunity to give passionate students the resources they need to bring their ideas to life,” she said. Boas-Hayes is considering applying for the grant with her idea of a “Speak Week” where community members can “focus on concepts like ability, religion, and class that are often overlooked on a campus that prides itself on its diversity.”
Despite the positive interest from most individuals interviewed, it seems that many students are concerned with the timing of the project. “Some people find it problematic,” Murray-Thomas said. “It could be perceived as a pacifier for everything that happened last year.” Others agreed.
Another concern is that it gives the impression of a short-lived reform. According to the email, there will only be grants given out for the next three years, so some are concerned that the impacts of these projects will not be seen by anyone who facilitated their creation.
Dean Rodriguez denied that this is the case, saying “If it works well, it may become a part of the yearly operations.” She explained that if the goals of the fund are met, and various segments of the community are brought together in innovative ways, the project would be considered a success. In this event, it is highly likely that the college will invest more in continuing the development of such initiatives.
The due date for applications for the grant is November 27, so some of the student initiatives financed by the Community Development Fund might have a presence on campus as early as the spring semester. Until then, the effects of the initiative remain to be seen.
“I’m not sure the fund will solve all of the problems in our community,” said Ibrahim, “but it can help provide different platforms to start conversations in a different way.”