Students share experience with diversity on campus

Students and administrators gathered in Griffin 3 to speak openly about diversity issues at the College. Grace Flaherty/Photo Editor.
Students and administrators gathered in Griffin 3 to speak openly about diversity issues at the College. Grace Flaherty/Photo Editor.

On Thursday, students and administrators discussed major campus issues at the first diversity and equity forum of the year.

The forum was held in Griffin 3 and was hosted by Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Leticia Haynes. Haynes began hosting the forums last year and plans to continue them this year.

“The forums provide an opportunity for students to share their experiences around diversity, equity and inclusion on campus,” Haynes said in an email. “In doing so, students often highlight concerns, ask questions and identify things that are going well.”

“The forums also provide an opportunity for the administration to listen to students, answer and ask questions and discuss diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and programs that are ongoing or being developed,” she said.

Students raised concerns about the high standards and expectations brought on by the student culture. They said that many students feel the need to aim for perfection in all facets, a pursuit that can cause unnecessary and unhealthy stress.

“It’s an absurd ideal, and it’s not achievable,” Natalie Wilkinson ’19 said.

Gwyneth Henke ’19 suggested that the College reconsider the way it treats body image. “In a lot of ways, Williams encourages disordered eating,” she said, citing the physical education requirement and mandatory swim test as examples. The College needs support groups and education for eating disorders, she said.

Wilkinson also asked that counseling services be more available. Students with mental illness often do not know how to access help, she said.

Wilkinson, who is on the Mental Health Committee, added that the College’s geographic isolation makes on-campus psychiatric services the only option for students. The availability of those services, as a result, is essential.

Vice President of Campus Life Steve Klass said that the College has greatly improved its mental health services in recent years and is looking to hire a new director of counseling services in the near future. The College has doubled the number of counselors on staff in the last six years.

“We’re paying attention, and we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

Dean of the Faculty Denise Buell then shared some statistics regarding the College’s efforts to diversify the faculty. Of last year’s 13 newly hired tenure-track faculty members, nine identify as persons of color, and 10 are women.

Buell said that the College will host this year’s Creating Connections Consortium (C3) Summit in April 2017. C3, of which the College is a member, is a group of institutions seeking to promote diversity in higher education.

Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom said the College is continuing efforts to support undocumented students. All undocumented students are eligible for financial aid, and the College meets 100 percent of their need.

Students also expressed that the College could better incorporate issues of diversity into its curriculum.

John Herrera ’17 urged the administration to revise the Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI) requirement. He said that EDI classes could be more successful if professors designed courses specifically to focus on diversity. Currently, professors plan can submit their courses for the EDI designation based on fulfilling one or several of six criteria, and a director, named by the dean of the faculty, later decides which courses qualify.

Herrera suggested that the College increase the requirement from one credit to two and spread EDI classes more evenly across divisions.

Buell said that the faculty will vote on EDI this year and that the Committee on Educational Affairs, led by Professor David Edwards, is already reassessing EDI. “We will be hoping to make some pretty major changes,” Professor Gail Newman said.

The vision is for EDI to adopt a greater focus on social justice.

There is also a continued push to increase the presence of Asian American studies in the curriculum, Patricia Wong ’18 said. Last year was the 25th year of the movement for Asian American studies, and students want to see the College hire a tenure-track professor specializing in Asian American studies, she said.

Matthew Hennessy ’17 then provided an update on the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History (CSIH). CSIH spent the spring semester of 2016 investigating the his-tory of the Log mural and surveying students about the mural, he said. The committee concluded that the College should keep the mural but add written contextualization.

President Adam Falk praised CSIH for its work and stressed the importance of student engagement with complicated issues. Hennessy said this semester CSIH will continue to look into objects, spaces and names on campus that no longer align with the College’s current institutional beliefs.

Falk announced that the Board of Trustees will again host an open forum with students on October 15. He said the trustees “learned a lot” from last year’s forum.

Jason Adulley ’19 recommended that discussions on important issues be scheduled at more convenient times. Discussions are sometimes scheduled at times that make it difficult for many students to attend, causing turnout at these discussions to be disappointing, he said.

In light of recent national dialogue regarding safe spaces, the Committee on Diversity and Community (CDC) will continue to examine classroom climate at the College. While the CDC looked at climate from a student perspective last year, it will switch to a faculty perspective this year, Associate Dean for Institutional Diversity Ngonidzashe Munemo said.

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