Diversity in the dean’s office: students call for change

Recently an article was published (“No Team in TeamEph: How Orientation Can Divide Us” (Sept. 20, 2017)) regarding a subculture on campus. Some members of the College community, especially those part of minority groups, were very disheartened to learn that, in the aftermath of its publication, its writer, Calen Firedancing ’20, felt emotionally abused after meeting with David Johnson ’71, associate dean of the College and dean of first-year students, to express his opinions about the athletic culture on campus.

We are not here, however, to discuss the validity or implications of the article, or even the subculture it concerned. More importantly, we are here to discuss the behavior of the dean’s office.

We wanted to specifically address our concerns about the lack of accessibility to a dean on campus that minority students feel comfortable with. With the departure of both Rosanna Ferro and Rashanda Booker, former associate deans of the College, a number of minority and first-generation students on campus feel uneasy about representation in the dean’s office. We feel that the diverse and accepting Williams community cannot truly prosper without an equally diverse and accepting dean’s office. The dean’s office must include a number of deans who students of all backgrounds feel comfortable with. The dean’s office is the place where the College needs to start to create a more realized environment of diversity on campus.

These are the demands we seek the dean’s office to meet:

1.  For the Hiring of New Deans: Create a committee composed wholly of students that will have a clear and significant role in selecting the next dean. Because there is a lack of figures within the dean’s office that minority and first-gen students feel comfortable speaking with, this committee should include both students from the first-gen advisory board and board members from Minority Coalition (MinCo) groups. All participants on the hiring committee should have effective and safe environments to work in. No student, faculty or staff should feel unsafe during discussions throughout the hiring process of the new dean. There should be progressive discussion around resolving the issue of representation of diversity in the dean’s office.

2. For the Deans: A request for the College to investigate and reflect on the current structure of the dean’s office. Currently, the responsibility of first-years falls to one person in the office: Johnson. He is the only person whose job title explicitly includes all first years. This is problematic because it limits the options for who first-years can approach in the dean’s office to resolve their issues. To fix this, we ask that the responsibility of first years be split among more deans who currently work in the dean’s office. This would also mean that their job title would explicitly indicate that first-years could also go to them. In addition, some communities have felt that the dean’s office needs to improve its understanding of a spectrum of identities. Each dean, current and future, should go through sensitivity training with the Davis Center to fix this problem. There should be a process towards deciding how much sensitivity training the deans have been through, and have ever been required to go through, in order to effectively work with all students, especially first-year students, who are still trying to settle into life on campus. We need sensitivity training to ensure that our deans understand and can properly accommodate all students and not mistakenly perpetuate a culture of sexism, racism, ableism, classism, heterosexism, ageism and all other systems of oppression that could transpire because of a lack of awareness and acceptance. Other issues must be discussed, and this demand will be a longer process that should be re-evaluated regularly to resolve other issues that arise throughout time.

Today we seek a major and progressive shift in the relationshipsbetween deans and students. All students on campus should and must feel safe in approaching any dean within the dean’s office. Deans need to be able to appropriately and effectively respond to any and all students of the College. This is the place that the Williams community must start in order to further improve inclusion at the College.

Bret Hairston ’21 is from Columbus, OH. She lives in Dennett. Nadia Burroughs ’21 is from Bronx, N.Y. She lives in Williams Hall.

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