Future of OADI uncertain as Dionne departs
This article was originally printed in the Feb. 11, 2019 issue of The Round Table.
As Beloit College continues to navigate its $7 million deficit, students will begin to see various members of the college’s staff and faculty depart. One particular departure, however, left many students concerned about the future of some programs aimed at assisting marginalized students.
Paul Dionne, the former Associate Director for Student Success, Equity, and Inclusion at the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness (OADI), is now working at the Filene Research Institute in Madison, Wis. after his position was eliminated at the college. Shortly before Dionne left Beloit he spoke to The Round Table. He thought it was important to note that his position was eliminated.
The elimination means that the college does not have any direct plan to replace his position and with that, several of the programs Dionne was in charge of were suddenly left in limbo.
Dionne believed that the elimination should make everyone at the college wonder about the college’s commitment to equity and anti-racism. Throughout the years, and in the face of various hate crimes on campus, Beloit has made it a mission to further their work to reaching an equitable campus. That is why Dionne’s elimination came as a surprise: “my position was one hundred percent about equity,” he said.
During his time at Beloit, Dionne was in charge of organizing and running several programs including the Peer Support Groups, Mentoring Forward, Equity Peer Mentors, Chromebook Program and Safe Zone LGBTQ Training. Additionally, as noted in a previous article, Dionne was a prominent resource for DACA and undocumented students at Beloit College.
“There is no sustainable or robust way to keep the programs open,” Dionne said. “I am concerned about the future of OADI.”
Miyani Clark’19 worked as an Equity Peer Mentor. The program matches first-year students with upperclassmen from similar backgrounds in hopes of giving students guidance throughout their first year. The mentors “do a lot,” Clark explained where every mentor shapes their work around the mentees resulting in a vastly different experience case by case. “They’re my kids,” Clark added. To Clark, the program is central and vital as a way for students who share identities to build a connection and not feel as alone as they transition into the world of academia.
“I would not be here on this campus were it not for SEL [Student Excellence and Leadership] and OADI,” Clark said, and so cutting funding to these programs and eliminating Dionne’s position seemed like a huge mistake to Clark and other students.
Clark argued that the programs Dionne led were an important investment into students who may otherwise have been ignored. It is an investment that helps retention and helps students succeed, Clark said. “People come to Beloit because of the OADI…it shows students how much [Beloit] does care.”
Alondra Guzman’20 agreed. She was sad about Dionne’s departure because he “really became involved in [her] life.” Guzman–a participant in the Latinx peer support group–saw these groups as a a place for “people who identify the same…to rant…or come up with an outing. I have had some of the most meaningful conversations or discussion in the peer support groups that I don’t think I would have had if I wasn’t in [the group].”
Guzman saw all of the work Dionne did on campus as a clear indication of how “he always had everyone’s best interests in mind and always cared about the students.”
To Guzman, Dionne’s departure seemed like the college “taking away resources from those students that need them most.”
“Who are we supposed to go to? Who is going to look out for the undocumented community here? Who is going to look out for all these identities that are constantly being attacked?…The college is going to have to step up,” Guzman added.
Dr. Jesse Carr a postdoctoral fellow working with the OADI expressed similar concerns to Dionne about the OADI. As a postdoctoral fellow, Carr will also be leaving Beloit at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year. The departure of Dr. Nicole Truesdell last year left the office with “no true director,” Carr said. Currently, Dr. Atiera Coleman serves as the Interim Senior Director of OADI, she is, therefore, doing this in addition to directing the McNair Scholars Program.
To Carr, the changes seen in both the OADI and OILL signaled that the offices had been “fractured not merged” especially because “what makes the OADI a special place is less about individual programs and more about the space it created.”
Carr noted that that “Paul independently spearheaded Safezone [training],” a two-hour training program for faculty, staff and students to learn more about LGBTQ issues. Without Dionne, Dr. Coleman would be left alone to host those training sessions. Carr feared that they would perhaps no longer be offered with his departure.
“Part of the issue with fracturing [the offices] is we have our own staff meetings. We communicate and strategize with each other,” something Carr feared would stop happening if the OADI had to “become part of the bureaucracy.”
Carr did agree however that many of these fears may be unwarranted, but they had no way of knowing because of the “lack of clarity.” After all, some students had not even been aware of Dionne’s departure and of the changes happening within the two offices until recently.
Clark agreed that more transparency was needed.
Bierman was aware that the reduction of the OADI and OILL offices with the intent to merge the two was concerning to many on campus: “There’s some reduction in resources. That part is real.” But, that the cuts were made when “we looked at what seems fair across all offices at the college and also where do we think we can absorb changes with as little impact to the quality of the student experience as possible.”
Bierman suggested that “students are seeing places being cut that are very visible to students but…my bet is that if you looked at it proportionately, student support services would be hit disproportionately less than many other offices on campus.”
Additionally, Clark had expressed their thoughts to President Scott Bierman at one of his open office hours hosted at Java Joint last semester. Bierman recalled this meeting where “a group of students came and talked about the importance of the peer mentor program. It was compelling.” The meeting prompted Bierman to reach out to Youngblood, and last week, Bierman spoke to The Round Table again and confirmed that “in the aftermath of Paul leaving, the peer mentoring program is continuing on.”
Youngblood will now oversee the program. It will, however, face some changes that are yet to be seen.
While Youngblood had expressed an “initial hope…to expand” the Peer Mentor program, they instead will maintain the program “as it is now.” The numbers and all involved will depend on how the program will be restructured.
In terms of the merging of the OADI and OILL office, Youngblood stated that a former announcement and statement about “what to expect” would arrive in the future: “we have to rethink what we’re doing…[but] the work is going to remain the same. It’s just a matter of how it looks…we will refigure what we’re going to do like all departments.”
Bierman also assured that this merging was a “continued process” that was being worked on by having regular conversations with Dr. Coleman: “we haven’t forced a merger that we weren’t ready to do.” Instead, the process was a signal of the college’s continued effort of “trying to find efficiencies.”
In terms of the support groups that Dionne helped organize Bierman could not confirm that they would continue: “those continue to be student-led groups so it really depends and continues to depend on student leadership.”
Both President Bierman and Youngblood wanted to make it clear that the administration is aware of how important many of these programs are to students on campus.
“I want to assure students that we know how important the assistance students receive is. We’re not going to let that go,” said Youngblood.
Bierman hoped that changes like Dionne’s departure would be a “change [that] does not result in a reduced quality of the support that [students] deserve.”
Unfortunately, aside from the Equity Peer Mentor program, the future of many of the programs that Dionne helped lead in his four years at Beloit College still remains unclear. As the year continues, changes may occur that could potentially clear up some of the lingering questions.