Associate News Editor
To combat racial injustice and enrich diversity on campus, the students in the university’s Honors College have started an initiative called People of All Colors and Communities Together (PACCT). PACCT came into existence last summer in response to the countrywide protests, which, triggered by the murder of George Floyd engulfed the nation, and called for racial justice and an end to police brutality.
“In light of the nation’s current reckoning with systemic racism, specifically this past summer, with the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many more in the past, [George Floyd’s death] was the last straw,” Aniya Brown, leader of one of the PACCT sub-committees, said. “So UDARI (UD Anti-racism Initiative) initiated the open letter to everyone, faculty and administration, calling for action.”
The letter gained traction when the Honors College Dean Michael Chajes reached out to students and asked them if they were interested in forming an honors student action committee — PACCT was formed as a result in August 2020.
“The idea behind it is that it’s student-led, student-based, but faculty members help with things that students don’t really have access to,” Brown said.
PACCT is divided into three sub-committees: Retention of Minority Students, Representation of People of Color (POC) Students in Admissions and First Year Anti-Racist Education and Ethics.
The Retention Centre focuses on retaining students of color who are in the Honors College by providing them the necessary resources and services.
“We work very closely with faculty and staff … and specifically in retention we work to keep the students of color that are in the Honors College there,” Jayne Schiff, member of the retention sub-committee, said. “It’s one thing to have students come in, but we want to keep students as well and give them the services and accommodations that they would need.”
PACCT aims to reform the Honors College by working closely with Chajes and Deputy Director Chrysanthi Leon. The members started a First Year Seminar Program under the First Year Anti-Racist Education and Ethics sub-committee, in partnership with Chajes and Leon, wherein the students from PACCT participate in the first year seminar courses and provide “an abridged or different version of the anti-racism program that was going on before.”
According to the members, the program received tremendously positive feedback, with almost 96% students responding that they learned important things and wanted a similar experience again.
The Ethics part of the sub-committee questions the ethical and moral standards of academic programs and courses in terms of how they are structured. According to Brown, in the past students were not required to take an actual multicultural course in order to fulfil a multicultural course requirement.
“We think that being able to experience other cultures will help people become more open-minded and less xenophobic,” Brown said.
The POC Students in the Admissions committee under PACCT work on making the admissions process more equitable for students of color by setting realistic standards that they can attain.
With the university making the SATs optional in light of the pandemic, PACCT aims to make that change more permanent. According to Brown, SATs discriminate against underrepresented, low income, first generation college students and other marginalized groups.
“We know [cancelling SATs] is a possibility now — you did it once, so you can do it again,” Brown said. “We also drafted a list of suggestions for the Honors requirements to make them less daunting and more attainable.”
The suggestions are currently undergoing revision under the Honors faculty senate.
PACCT is also working towards providing more scholarships and incentives for the Honors College program. Currently they are looking to bring a Bonner Scholars program to the university, a scholarship for the first generation and low income students pertaining to service.
While the university has institutions on campus that specifically deal with student diversity and engage in conversations surrounding racial issues, the ultimate goal for PACCT is to expand the organization’s reach to the entire university and not just the Honors College.
“PACCT did come about as a result of some disappointments with inaction from the university and some dissatisfaction with what we were or were not seeing,” Brown said. “We aren’t seeing the changes we want to see, so we are being the change that we want to see.”