Editorial: The College and community must go beyond reacting to bias incidents

Editorial Board

In the past six weeks, at least three racist incidents have occurred on our campus. On Oct. 9, a campus visitor defaced the Soldiers Monument with Confederate graffiti. On Oct. 24, a College staff member found the N-word written in black marker on a chalkboard in Sawyer Library. On Nov. 5, students discovered racial slurs scrawled on the dust of cars in the parking garage on Whitman Street.

These incidents are appalling in and of themselves, but they are also part of a larger pattern of racism at the College. Last spring, the campus community witnessed a string of bias incidents, three of which were covered by the Record. In February 2022, the Record published an editorial titled “The College must provide more support for students in the wake of three bias incidents.” Nine months later, we are once again calling upon the College — as well as the campus community — to address such incidents and racism in our community.

President Maud S. Mandel announced the creation of an Ad Hoc Anti-Racist Campus Task Force in an all-campus email on Nov. 10. The formation of such a committee is long overdue. We recognize that this committee is still in a nascent state, but as it develops, it must not become performative or mired in bureaucracy — it must make a tangible contribution to our campus community. It will not be enough for the task force to respond to racist incidents after they occur. Instead, the task force must be proactive; it must develop concrete prevention plans, and the community must be consistently updated on its progress, as Mandel promised in her email.

The task force’s agenda should not fall entirely upon students — it is up to the administration to protect us — but the plans can only be effective if informed by student input and ongoing organizing efforts. Mandel linked a contact form in her email, and we encourage members of the campus community to share their experiences and requests to better shape the trajectory of the task force and hold it accountable.

These racist incidents are symptomatic of broader institutional issues. The task force has the opportunity to interrogate how bias pervades the College, both currently and historically. We hope it will address issues such as the College’s dismal retention of faculty and staff of color; the lack of comprehensive ethnic studies programs; and the daily struggles that students, faculty, and staff of color face at this predominantly white institution. We also ask that the task force push the administration to take more actionable steps in redressing the College’s foundation on enslavement and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples.

These are our suggestions, but ours should not be the loudest voice in this discussion. The Record’s editorial board is predominantly white, and our opinion should not overshadow others’ in this conversation. If students are sharing their demands publicly and making their voices heard — even if not through formal channels like the task force — the College must listen. Students have invited administrators to listen to and act upon their concerns in the past, and they felt that the institution’s response was not sufficient.

We should all be conscious of the spaces we occupy and the communities of which we are a part. Consider who is included and excluded in those environments. Then, take action to rectify those asymmetries. In the wake of these conversations, we can make interpersonal changes beyond the institutional efforts of the task force and other administrative initiatives.

This editorial represents the opinion of the majority of the Record editorial board.