A Path Forward: action team update

Photo courtesy of Casey Gomez

As part of President Peterson’s “A Path Forward – Together” initiative in response to the death of Scout Schultz over a month ago, several action teams held a joint session on Tuesday, Oct. 17 to update everyone about the progress that they have made.

President G. P. “Bud” Peterson opened the hour-long session with a few remarks, saying that everyone there intended to listen and try to learn what they could from the community in addition to letting community members know what they have been doing.

First to talk was the campus culture action team, which is chaired by Bill Todd, professor of the practice in the Scheller College of Business, and Abheer Bipin, a third-year ME.

The team consists of ten faculty and staff and ten students who have looked at previous studies and assessments in order to complete four steps that they have outlined: define campus culture, celebrate the positive parts, understand the negative parts, recommend solutions.

According to Todd, defining campus culture has been one of the challenges so far.

“It is by definition the most nebulous of the groups. In a meeting yesterday I referred to it as ‘squishy’,” said Todd. “We believe that words matter, so we spend a lot of time talking about words.”

The campus culture team has already seen some issues that have begun to emerge: an Institute-wide obsession with rankings and numbers, unhealthy competition, unity around despair and workload instead of successes and a lack of whole person development.

Next up was the mental health team, which is led by Jenny Singleton, a professor of psychology, and Emily Hale, third-year AE. The seventeen members of this team have met four times, and held four “listening sessions” this week during which invested members of the Tech community were invited to share feedback and suggestions.

The team has divided its tasks into different working groups, each designated with a goal such as looking into the history of mental health support at Tech, researching existing programs or gathering helpful statistics about Tech and peer institutions.

The group is also holding interviews with 13 key mental health care providers and stakeholders on campus. The co-chairs indicated that they were not ready to reveal what themes had begun to present themselves in these conversations.

The third action team present was focused on the topic of LGBTQIA community support and was chaired by Steve Salbu, the Cecil B. Day chair and professor of business ethics, and Calvin Runnels, third-year BCHM.

This action team has had conversations with the Progressive Student Alliance, Pride Alliance, the Office of Institute Diversity, the University System of Georgia and many other organizations over the last few weeks.

The LGBTQIA support team chose to split into four subgroups. Housing and facilities will focus on providing gender inclusive housing and restrooms. Health and legal will work with human resources and Stamps Health Center to provide insurance coverage for transition-related care, HIV/AIDS prevention and the legal resources for changing one’s preferred name in Tech’s system.

The fourth action team, campus safety, has not yet formed due to the pending completion of the investigation into Schultz’s death by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

When President Peterson announced the formation of these action teams, he was flooded with recommendations for who should be members of the groups. He turned over this list, which in the end amounted to around 500 individuals, to the co-chairs of each team, who then decided which would create the most well-balanced and diverse groups.

The floor was opened to questions, comments and recommendations from the audience, which mostly consisted of administrators, faculty and staff.

The existing teams will deliver their official recommendations to President Peterson on Nov. 1, and it will then be Peterson’s responsibility to ensure the implementation of the recommendations as he sees fit.

In response to a student who was concerned about intersectionality of all actions carried out by the teams as well as the way the grief of the trans community is being addressed, John Stein, vice president for student life and dean of students, talked about some specific suggestions that had been presented to him in response to these concerns, as well as the healing of the community as a whole.

“Students made it clear that even if there was a time prior to the tragedy that they did feel safe, they no longer feel as safe,” said Stein. “The question is, how can we as a community restore some of the safety that’s been lost.”

Another person asked two questions: one about graduate student representation and another about dissemination of the information being presented at the this and other sessions held by
the groups.

In response, Bipin talked about how almost half of the student representation for the Campus Culture team was graduate students. Furthermore, he delved into how the anonymous feedback form the GSS had posted online for graduate students.

In regards to communication, Bipin mentioned that all of the teams’ email addresses and updates are available online at the president’s web page.

A question from the live feed on Facebook asked about the staff representation of the groups because they will be the ones implementing the decision.

Each group responded in much the same fashion, that their team had plenty of staff committee members that were representative of Tech.

“Almost everyone who is on these action teams was chosen because these were already issues they were looking at and passionate about,” said Hale in response to another question. “So whilst the action teams might finish on November 1, these people caring about these issues isn’t something that’s going to stop on November 2.”