Mandel writes on inclusion

Kevin Yang

On May 3, President Maud Mandel sent an all-campus email, “Our past, current and future work for an inclusive Williams,” detailing ongoing and future initiatives for inclusion at the College. This email came two weeks after the Coalition Against Racist Education Now (CARE Now) sent an open letter to Mandel with 12 demands regarding equity and inclusion on campus. Mandel’s email was widely perceived as her response to CARE Now, as Mandel had previously confirmed she would respond to its demands by May 3. Describing “what has been a challenging year on campus,” Mandel’s email shared “thoughts about how we’ll devote next year to building a healthier campus culture,” focusing on two areas: the College’s “work on inclusion and on ways of respectfully engaging across difference.” 

Regarding inclusion, Mandel noted that “many of the issues involved were compiled by a group calling itself CARE Now.” Linked in the all-campus email, a summary of inclusion efforts addresses issues in the same sequence as CARE Now’s letter and uses the same headers as the letter to categorize the different concerns raised. The summary explicitly references CARE Now twice – once in relation to its request to waive the statute of limitations for grievance reporting and then in reference to concerns about staff and faculty grievance and tenure processes – but does not detail the extent of CARE Now’s input in the formulation of the College’s plans for increased inclusion. 

“CARE Now called attention to a number of issues that numerous student groups, faculty and staff have been raising with me ever since I arrived to campus,” Mandel said. “Many of these issues will be at the heart of strategic planning as we continue to craft a vision for Williams’ future.” She did not say, however, which initiatives had been established as a result of discussions with CARE Now and which had been instituted prior to the CARE Now letter.

The summary includes several measures the College plans to take that were also listed as demands in CARE Now’s letter to Mandel such as the group’s request that the administration approve two increases in OIDE funding for $34,000 and $15,000.

The summary also states that the administration plans “to commission an outside agency to perform a complete external review of CSS’ structure, regulatory responsibilities and protocols.” CARE Now’s letter had demanded such an investigation, “focusing on officer interactions with minoritized students.” Mandel’s summary also notes the possibility of an “oversight/review committee,” which was also a demand listed in CARE Now’s letter.

The summary also details ongoing initiatives at the College such as the Bolin Fellowship program that seeks to promote diversity within College faculty, as well as several committees and working groups that are a part of the strategic planning process. In the summary, Mandel mentions the strategic planning process multiple times in the context of changes to the residential system, noting that the “Learning beyond the Classroom” strategic planning working group is considering a pilot program for affinity housing. CARE Now’s letter to Mandel asked her to “formulate and implement a pilot affinity housing program for the Spring 2020 lottery.” 

Not all of the demands listed in CARE Now’s letter were addressed by Mandel’s summary. One such demand focused on concerns with staff self-advocacy, in light of what CARE Now characterizes in its letter as a “current lack [of] a formal collective mechanism to raise concerns and to hold managers accountable.” Commenting on this issue in an email to the Record, Mandel listed various reporting options that are currently available to staff. “The college offers staff many reporting options that guarantee them protection from retribution,” she wrote. “Some explicitly allow anonymous reporting, as well. They include our Whistleblower process, our Bias Incident Reporting protocol, the staff grievance procedure, our Title IX procedures, etc.” Mandel did not elaborate on any future plans toward addressing these concerns. 

In the all-campus email, Mandel also discussed a need to “teach and uphold principles” for engagement across difference, “so that people can debate issues vigorously without devolving into personal attacks.” She told the Record that the ad hoc committee on Inquiry and Inclusion has been working on these issues. Mandel further commented, “We’ll need to consider how we’re going to discuss such topics in a very hostile national and global climate,” citing incidents where “we’re increasingly seeing our students, faculty and staff harassed and effectively ‘punished’ via attacks from outside social media, press and other sources for trying to raise difficult topics like racism, freedom of speech or Israeli-Palestinian relations.”