Letter to the Editor: UConn’s Chief Diversity Officer is unfit for the position

Dear Editor,

In the height of racial and gender bias incidents at UConn in 2014, including a racially charged incident involving members of Greek Life, in  - the “rock” incident and not one but two bias incidents in the Student Union Gallery, President Susan Herbst tasked the Vice Provost to chair and establish the Diversity Task force asking them to make recommendations to the University administration as how to promote diversity and inclusion on campus. One of the recommendations was to hire a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), and Joelle A. Murchison came on board in July 2016. Although the Diversity Task Force never recommended the Chief Diversity Officer oversee the Cultural Centers, the decision to have Joelle oversee the Cultural Centers on Campus was made.

Since her appointment, there has been an overall lack of transparent communication from the Chief Diversity Officer’s (CDO) office to students and staff, causing major discrepancies on issues regarding Homecoming. Homecoming is a week long, campus-wide event that is meant to bring the UConn community together and excited for the Homecoming Football game. On February 16, 2017 at a meeting with all five of the cultural center directors, Murchison gave a directive stating that the Cultural Centers are barred from participating in any Homecoming activities, in addition to not being able to receive any funding for activities related to the event.

On April 7th, Murchison attended the staff meeting at Puerto Rican Latin American Cultural Center, which was scheduled a few months in advance as she had been meeting with staff of other Cultural Centers upon her arrival. There were two professional staff, three graduate student staff, and 16 undergraduate student-staff present at this meeting with Murchison. Since the news of the Cultural Centers, as administrative units, being barred from participating in Homecoming had been previously announced to the cultural center staffs, it was natural for the student-staff to ask Murchison clarifying questions in that regard. In contestation, Murchison argued that she did not bar funding for Homecoming for the Cultural Centers, but that students would be able to participate as organizations or councils without using the Cultural Center names.

During the staff meeting, Murchison engaged in multiple accounts of uncivil behavior as she dismissed student voices and experiences, talked down to the staff and yelled over students expressing their concerns. She interrupted students on multiple occasions in a condescending tone while pointing fingers at the rest of the staff, calling them disrespectful. In one incident, she completely stopped a student from speaking by yelling over them and told them to “grow up”. As the conversation continued, it was apparent that Murchison was not concerned with the student’s experiences. When another student asked her why they did not seek student input in making a decision that directly impacts them, she yelled. “Sweetheart, students do not always have a say in administrative decisions here”, as she leaned over the table and finger pointed at that student and then to the rest of the students.

Murchison has shown no interest in learning about the University’s tradition of Homecoming, the Cultural Centers that she oversees, and overall student concerns. For many in the staff meeting, this was their first interaction with the CDO, who is supposed to be in charge of supporting them. Hundreds of students outside of the staff who engage in the Cultural Centers are also seen as invisible, and therefore unimportant, to Murchison and her decisions. Other student organizations on campus have had similar experiences with the Chief Diversity Officer.

During a Board of Trustees meeting on April 26, 2017, students representing various Cultural Centers voiced their grievances about the CDO’s office and Murchison's hostile treatment towards students and her inability to make informed decisions. Without acknowledging student concerns, President Herbst responded that she will continue to stand by the CDO and that Murchison will continue to oversee the activities of the Cultural Centers as Murchison sees fit. This, further, confirms a lack of accountability on the President’s part, as Murchison reports directly to the President.

We, as students of the University deeply involved in Cultural Centers and invested in campus diversity, have found Joelle A. Murchison as unfit due to her uninformed decision making, her condescending and uncivil behavior towards students and her lack of accountability and transparency. Although Homecoming sparked the student passion, we find that Murchison has failed at her job as the CDO, who should ensure diversity and inclusion. We have asked the Board and the President for Joelle A. Murchison to be put on probation for the next semester, in which her capability to fulfill the position will be decided on by a student review board.

Sincerely,

Kayla Kessler, Julian Cook, Ana Ocasio, Edward Masse, Prachi Shah, Shreya Khadka and Aubrey Tang.