The Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) released a document via the Daily Messages on Monday. The memo, titled “Report on Student Responses to the Hate Crime of November 2011,” consolidates written responses submitted by students into four broad themes: improved communications, the role of institutions in promoting divisions within the student body, the development of programming to promote dialogue on sensitive topics and further discussion from a wider cross-section of campus voices. In addition to this list of topics, the CUL also cited specific recommendations that they believe should form the basis of future campus discussion surrounding these issues.
“The CUL was motivated by the campus’s reaction to the hate crime to create an outlet for students who were for various reasons unable or unmotivated to publicly share their opinions, to share them with the CUL. We extended an open invitation to the community for responses to the hate crime and subsequent events and conversations, hoping to receive a broad range of thoughts and ideas. As a committee, we debated issues and ideas for further campus action that were raised in the responses,” said Laura Berk ’12, student chair for the CUL.
CUL Faculty Chair and Professor of Mathematics Mihai Stoiciu was quick to point out that the CUL does not have executive power and so its report was primarily meant to serve as a source of information for students. “This is not a statement of the faculty saying, ‘This is what we have to do.’ This is the CUL listening to the students and reporting [responses from students]. Where to go from here is another discussion … We want this to be the starting point for a dialogue.”
According to Stoiciu, several of the student responses advocated strongly for improved communication among the administration, faculty and students as a means of warning students about threats in a clear and timely manner.
Students writing to the CUL also focused on the roles played by a variety of institutions at the College in promoting or perpetuating divisions within the student body. The report stated that students identified many College systems that promote inequality, including student employment, athletic programs, financial aid, the entry system and upperclassman housing. The CUL also noted divisions along “lines of race, class, gender and sexual orientation,” and one student report was cited as saying that participation on a varsity athletic team had resulted in “prejudgments from peers.” Students also expressed concerns regarding “faculty-student dynamics,” according to the report.
A third issue raised by students was the need for programming to discuss what the report refers to as sensitive topics “stemming from the ‘culture of silence’ and/or from a desire to avoid excessive political correctness.” Student suggestions included monthly open-mic discussions, an expansion of the Storytime program to include themed sessions and an expansion of the Human Library project. Respondents also noted a need for an expansion of the Claiming Williams Day program to include more regular discussions. “Claiming Williams Day cannot be considered the antidote to all issues regarding diversity and sensitivity,” the report stated.
The final student-proposed issue addressed the range of voices heard in campus conversations. “A few students who felt that they had unpopular minority views or felt silenced during campus conversations shared their opinions with us,” Stoiciu said. “They expressed their fear of excessive ‘political correctness’ or the belief that the response of the College to the hate crime was an overreaction.”
The report specifically referenced suggestions that political correctness on campus risked creating a “hyper-sensitive campus climate [that] might stifle free expression.” The CUL also cited students who “felt that the College overreacted to the hate crime and that this response was indicative of a growing tendency to over-privilege certain minority demographics.”
In addition to summarizing student responses, the CUL also listed several of their own recommendations that Stoiciu said he hopes will “invite more reactions [and] initiate a dialogue with other College groups regarding the hate crime and related subjects.”
Some of these proposals, such as the recommendation that the College disseminate information regarding security threats in a more timely fashion, closely followed the broad themes of the student responses. Other suggestions included extending Claiming Williams-like events throughout the year and continuing conversations concerning what the report described as “social interactions amongst students of diverse backgrounds.” The CUL also advocated for greater conversation on faculty-student dynamics and the value of increased emphasis in the faculty training process on facilitating discussions of sensitive topics such as race, class, gender and sexuality.
“These [proposals] don’t come from the faculty,” Stoiciu said. “They come from the CUL, which is a body that has faculty, students and staff. This document is for the campus community, and our main duty is to inform and make recommendations for the administration, especially for the Dean of the College and Vice President for Campus Life [Steve Klass].”
Klass indicated that the administration is not involved in the CUL’s processes, and that what the CUL does with its recommendations moving forward is “up to the Committee. We don’t have any sway over what the Committee does,” he said. Klass went on to clarify that while the administration may consult with different committees during the process of writing a report, the administration has no sway in determining how or what committees report or what recommendations they offer.
While Stoiciu said the CUL may seek to discuss some of the issues outlined in the report with the faculty, he also noted that the possibility had not yet been raised with the Faculty Steering Committee, which sets the agenda for monthly faculty meetings. In the meantime, the CUL will continue to collect and discuss comments from students throughout the remainder of the semester.