By Lexi Kelley /// Staff Writer
President Barry Glassner has announced the creation of a new Dean position that will focus specifically on issues of diversity and inclusion. On January 22, he named Law Professor Janet Steverson to the position.
Her qualifications include the Douglas K. Newell Professor of Teaching Excellence award and her experience as the Chair of the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion on campus. The Douglas K. Newell Professor of Teaching Excellence award is a prestigious honor that Steverson was given by retired Law Professor Doug Newell and a team of law students. The award recognizes her commitment to both the present and future success of her students first and foremost and her dedication to excellence in teaching overall. At the law school, Steverson teaches classes in Contracts, Commercial/Sales, Family Law, and Children’s Rights.
Most recently, as Chair of the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, Steverson held a listening forum on December 7th where, according to a statement written after the forum, she gave “…examples of possible problems [and] I spoke about four things: safety; campus culture; institutional issues, e.g., increasing diversity of the student body, faculty, and staff; and classroom (having more diverse materials and/or classes).”
Steverson later described the importance of holding discussions such as this.
“In order to have a true conversation on difficult topics, students should feel free to express their opinions, even when those opinions go against the prevailing norm,” Steverson said. “It goes without saying, however, that in expressing an opinion, one must not violate the rights of others. Also, it is good practice to assess whether your opinion has solid support or is the result of bias and/or ignorance.”
The Dean of Diversity and Inclusion position will not be in effect until this summer but Steverson plans to use the time until then to prepare.
“Right now, because this position is so new, there isn’t a job description,” Steverson said.
She believes that this will allow her to explore all of the possibilities that can come out of this new role. Her first priority is the inclusion and welcoming of all students on this campus.
One of the goals that Steverson has is creating an environment where all students feel safe on campus and she will respond to pointed situations that are targeted at certain student groups as they happen. Steverson believes that there will be push back against her style but being more aggressive, a request some students made during the listening forum in December, is not a solution that Steverson wishes to pursue. The largest problem that she sees with pursuing this solution is that it creates a divide amongst students, which is not something that she wants to see unfold across the campuses.
Another facet of Steverson’s new role as Dean of Diversity and Inclusion is to keep the institution and all of its members accountable by continuing to hold listening forums and checking in with different parties on campus, including President Glassner, faculty, staff and the student body of all three campuses, in order to further diversify and foster inclusion on campus.
Though President Glassner has posted an official statement on the Lewis & Clark College website, it seems that few students are privy to the fact that the position has been created. Nick Gerlach ’17 expressed confusion about the position.
“Honestly, this is the first time I’ve heard about it,” Gerlach said.
In years past, the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion has provided avenues for students to express their concerns and created forums for the campus to come together to share those concerns as a group. The group has minimal authority across the campuses but functions as a mediator between the needs of the people and President Glassner so that the goals of diversifying and including all students may be accomplished. Due to the decentralized nature of liberal arts institutions, it is uncommon for there to be a position like the Dean of Diversity and Inclusion that has authority over all three campuses, outside of the president. The rise in national attention to issues regarding race as well as the events that happened on our campus this past fall also brought new awareness of the need for this position on campus.
In addition to her administrative roles, Steverson is also a mother, a wife, a teacher, a lawyer and an esteemed member of the Lewis & Clark community.
Steverson plans on staying as the Dean of Diversity and Inclusion because she cares about all students during their time at Lewis & Clark and beyond. She emphasizes the care and respect that she will bring to the position. Despite this, she vowed that she will hold people accountable for their actions.
“I do care deeply about the students’ welfare,” Steverson said. “Accordingly, I will do my utmost to help students who are trying to bring about positive change. I will not, however, be a doormat and allow students to run roughshod over the rights and interests of others.”