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Criticized over lack of Black O-Week advisors, Lovett coordinators reopen applications

Courtesy Jeff Fitlow

By Savannah Kuchar and Rynd Morgan     6/25/20 1:10am

The Lovett College Orientation Week coordinator team reopened advisor applications to add additional advisors and to create an additional O-Week team after some students raised concerns about a lack of Black advisors at Lovett. This comes after previous years in which residential college advising teams have been criticized for lacking diversity.

The Lovett coordinator team, made up of Aayushi Shah, Ben Zaltsman and Lillie Plaza, said in an email to the Thresher that there were a few Black members on the advising team initially, and that after the second round of applications, the number of Black advisors at Lovett increased to better reflect university demographics. The Lovett coordinator team declined to provide the number of Black applicants to the first round of advisor applications. 

The Lovett coordinator team said that they knew there was a lack of Black advisors the same day they made their initial advisor decisions, and said that the proportion of Black students that applied to advise at Lovett was much lower than the proportion of Rice students who are Black.

“We realize that we should have scrutinized our applicant pool more, and done more to ensure that our applicant pool was diverse enough. For instance, reaching out to different clubs such as [the Black Students Association], or [the Rice African Students Association],” the Lovett coordinators said.

The Lovett coordinator team said that they reopened advisor applications on June 8 and sent decisions out on June 13.

The conversation about diversity in O-Week advisors had been ongoing at Lovett since at least O-Week 2019, which had three Black advisors, two of whom were co-advisors, meaning that they were not from Lovett, according to Nia Teague, a diversity facilitator for Lovett’s 2019 O-Week.

“And that’s certainly not because no one applied. There were plenty of Black people who were just rejected,” Teague, a Lovett junior, said. “The 2020 O-Week coords knew that this was an issue in the past and somehow still managed to repeat their predecessors’ mistakes.” 

Ajah Hale, a peer academic advisor involved in the 2020 Lovett O-Week, said that she appreciated the conversation the Lovett coordinators started with Black Lovetteers after they made the decision to reopen applications.

“Although the root of the issue lies in the application process and the selection of advisors, this was a deliberate decision to call out their missteps and take action rather than solely saying ‘we’ll do better’ and continue about their day and for that I applaud them,” Hale, a Lovett junior, said.

Teague said that many Lovett students, especially Black Lovetteers, were upset when the Lovett coordinators came out with their decision to reopen applications.

“The 2020 coords had made the exact same mistakes as the coords before them knowing that a lack of Black advisors had been an issue in the past,” Teague said. “I told them that reopening applications was too little, too late because if they had truly cared about Black representation at O-Week they wouldn’t have made this mistake in the first place. It was like a slap in the face to myself and other Black students.”

Lovett College senior Taylor Crain said that from her personal experience, the problem of a lack of Black Lovett O-Week advisors comes from a cycle of Black new students not seeing themselves represented in advising teams, and as a result feeling discouraged from participating in residential college culture.

“Time rolls around for advisor applications and new Black Lovetteers hear that previous classes of Black Lovetteers were not accepted for advising. They decide not to apply or do apply and, for the most part, are rejected. And, thus the cycle continues,” Crain said.

According to Hale, Teague was the only Black Lovett advisor from the college last year. Diversity facilitators are appointed by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and not chosen by O-Week coordinators.

“Every student has the right to be seen and heard and I know that I would have transferred from Rice had my O-Week mom not looked like me,” Hale said. “That’s something that many people don’t have to think about because so many Rice students can walk five seconds and see someone who looks like them and feel comfortable. However, this luxury is not there for minority students.”

The 2020 Lovett coordinator team said that in their decision-making process, they were in contact with the Black community at Lovett, the Lovett advising team, First Year Programs and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

According to Nishant Pradhan, one of the diversity coordinators (campuswide diversity facilitators), the Lovett O-Week Coordinators did not reach out to the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Instead, Pradhan and diversity coordinator Lindsay Josephs reached out directly to the Lovett O-Week coordinators to express their concerns about the lack of diversity, Pradhan said.

“In other words, we have not seen the coordinators take much initiative for diversifying O-Week,” Pradhan, a Martel College senior, said.

Derin Okunubi, one of the diversity facilitators for Lovett, said that she was not aware of the Lovett coordinators’ decision to add new advisors, and it was not something that was discussed during their meetings.

“In my opinion, if it was something they had realized, and if they were even told by Nishant and Lindsay, something could have been done much earlier,” Okunubi, a Sid Richardson College sophomore, said. “The addition of new Black advisors proves they could have been in the team from the start if diversifying Lovett O-Week was made a priority.”

Araceli Lopez, associate director of First Year Programs, said that when the Lovett O-Week coordinators met with her and the student directors, they discussed how they would communicate this with their college as well as how they would handle their peers’ responses.

“As this has been an issue for Lovett, particularly in the past few years, they were hesitant to not do something now,” Lopez said. “The coordinators recognized that some of their peers would have an adverse reaction to their initiative — that was of course was rightly justified — and were open to hear and have those conversations.”

The Lovett College coordinators, Pradhan, Okunubi and Lopez acknowledged that Lovett has lacked Black advisors in previous years as well. Other colleges, in general, said that the proportion of Black advisors at their college was consistent with either the proportion of Black students at Rice and/or the proportion of Black students in the class of 2024.

Hale and Teague both said that before Lovett reopened their advisor applications, there were three black advisors: Hale, who is a peer academic advisor chosen by the Office of Academic Advising; Okunubi, who is a diversity facilitator chosen by the Office of Multicultural Affairs; and one co-advisor.

Jones College and Brown College provided statistics for the races of their advisors. Jones O-Week coordinators said that out of 50 advisors, five are Black, and at Brown, coordinators said that five out of 48 advisors are Black.

Duncan College did not provide statistics for all advisors because, like many of the colleges, they did not ask advisor applicants to indicate race or ethnicity on their advisor applications. However, they did say they had seven Black advisors in their 48-person advising team.

Hanszen College coordinators Isabelle Scott, Lisa Shi and Jae Kim said that while the racial demographics of their advising team are consistent with those of Rice as a whole, they should have had more representation of Black students.

“Black students at Rice are already underrepresented, and as coordinators, we strive to make O-Week as inclusive as possible. Rather than just aiming for numbers consistent with Rice’s, we should’ve tried to get more representation,” the Hanszen Coordinators said in an email. “We think future coords should be more proactive about reaching out to Black Hanszenites to apply.”

Rapha Onyeka, a coordinator for Baker College, said that it was important to be able to choose advisors from a diverse group of applications.

“Sometimes the problem is that people get too focused on some of the other aspects of different advisors but not specifically race, but I feel like if you kind of make sure when you’re starting out [...] to try to draw in different groups of people into the pool, then you won’t have problems as far as lacking diversity,” Onyeka, a junior, said.

Toluwani Fasina, a coordinator for Will Rice College, said that it was essential to her to encourage diversity in selecting advisors because of her experiences as a Black student.

“As a Black student at Rice, I have sometimes felt disconnected from the residential college system and from Will Rice because I have not seen many students that look like me in my residential college,” Fasina, a senior, said. “It can be difficult to want to participate in a residential college’s culture when you do not feel like an accepted member of that community.” 

Eddie Jackson, an advisor from Baker, said that a lack of diversity in the Lovett advising team would make the transition from high school to Rice much harder for Black new students.

“It’s just comical how bad this is. You would think in 2020 with how much Rice preaches about diversity and inclusion, and how this can still happen. It just doesn’t make sense to me,” Jackson said.

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