CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of the story said Collins had been murdered by a white former student at this university. Sean Urbanski, a former student, has been charged with murder, but the trial is upcoming. This article has been updated.
Following concerns over the lack of transparency in selecting the new chief diversity officer at the University of Maryland, members of the SGA said they are committed to working on a variety of diversity initiatives with Roger Worthington.
Worthington, chief diversity officer and interim associate provost, spoke at the Sept. 27 Student Government Association meeting to encourage participation among members in working with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion on initiatives like the student diversity leadership council. Worthington said he is looking to recruit members from other student groups for this council, which is a student-led initiative created to address hate, bias and other diversity and inclusion issues at this university.
Worthington said his address to the SGA was just one way he plans to engage students in diversity and inclusion issues, adding that he intends to continue communicating openly with students.
He added that his work at this university has just begun, and he’s still in the early stages of identifying specific ways that he can work with students on concerns about hate and bias, diversity and inclusion and equity.
The SGA will work with Worthington to enhance the hate bias response team that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is creating to combat hate bias incidents, as well as to provide support to victims who have felt threatened by such incidents, said SGA Director of Diversity and Inclusion Ja’Nya Banks.
Banks added that Worthington has been making the effort to get familiar with the campus community.
“I really see him on the forefront of a lot of these projects,” Banks said. “I think it’s just going to take some time for the entire community to get used to him.”
The SGA will also work with Worthington on improving and expanding cultural competency training for students, faculty and staff, SGA President AJ Pruitt said.
Pruitt added that Worthington will help the SGA create a diversity monument on the campus by providing feedback and connecting the organization with students who may provide insight about the monument. SGA member Ashley Vasquez is spearheading a working group to create the monument, which will honor minority leaders who have made an impact at this university.
Pruitt has previously expressed his concern over the lack of student input sought in the hiring process for the chief diversity officer.
“This process was not predicated on our values of transparency and equity, or informed by our principle of shared governance,” Pruitt wrote in a column for The Diamondback.
Despite his frustrations with the selection process, Pruitt said he has developed a close relationship with Worthington. The diversity officer showed early on that he is someone who is committed to transparency and shared governance among students, faculty and staff, Pruitt said.
“I see him and his office playing an important role in a lot of the things that the SGA wants to accomplish this year, and I hope that we can play an important role is his priorities and what his office is going to accomplish,” Pruitt said.
During the Sept. 27 meeting, Christine Hagan, SGA vice president of academic affairs, asked why students and faculty did not receive the opportunity to direct questions to Worthington during the hiring process for a new chief diversity officer. Other candidates held open forums for students, faculty and staff to attend.
After the death of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins, a black Bowie State University student who was murdered on this university’s campus in May, the search committee determined it was not appropriate at the time to seek student input because it needed to speed up the appointment process, Worthington said.
The process the search committee used to choose Worthington for the position did not help the problem of students’ lack of trust in the administration, especially after Collins’ death, Hagan said.
She added that Worthington should focus on improving student outreach, which includes listening to students’ concerns and not only hosting events, but promoting those events — such as the diversity task force open forums — so that more students attend. The SGA will help the Office of Diversity and Inclusion advertise these events if it’s in students’ best interest, Hagan said, but the SGA should not be seen as a “second hand” of the administration.
“When you advertise it and no one knows and then you say, ‘Oh, we had an open meeting but two students showed up.’ It’s not that two students care; it’s that two students heard about it,” Hagan said. “They need to work on how they’re getting information out to students.”