WCI calls for diversity

by Ithan Peltan | 7/17/01 5:00am

Revisions to Dartmouth's mission statement and the establishment of a "Council on Diversity" are among recommendations made in the final report of the Committee on Institutional Diversity and Equity that College President James Wright accepted for immediate implementation.

The most recent step in the implementation of the Student Life Initiative, the Committee's report calls for expanding the current institutional focus on diversity from attracting diverse faculty, students and staff to Dartmouth to include making the actual campus experience more pluralistic.

"For too long we've focused on ways of recruiting" minority students, faculty and staff, Wright said. "I think that even more critical is the sort of community that people find when they come here."

The Committee -- initially known as the World Cultures Initiative Committee -- has been discussing diversity issues and gathering input since November.

"A serious and continuing gap exists between the College's stated commitment to diversity and the practical steps that have thus far been taken to achieve it," the group's report states. "We therefore believe that the onus is now on the College to take futher action commensurate with its stated diversity-goals."

Committee co-chair and Dean of the College James Larimore said one of the group's most important findings was that a large majority of incoming students expect interactions with a diverse group of people to be an important part of their College experience.

All groups contacted by the Committee, however, were dissatisfied with the level of inter-group contact and friendship on campus.

Among other reasons cited by the committee for increasing the institutional focus on diversity included the value of such a move as "a strategic competitive investment" in the College's public image.

"As we are all distressingly aware, our image in the national (and even international) press has often been of a school inhospitable to women, gay people and people of color," the report reads.

As per the Committee's recommendation, Wright established a staff position overseeing implementation of diversity plans and advising senior administrators on related issues, appointing current Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Director Ozzie Harris '81 as Special Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity and Equity.

Larimore said the Committee felt that it is important for one person or office to have oversight responsibility for diversity issues at an establishment as "far-flung" as Dartmouth.

The Council on Diversity will be chaired by Harris and will function as a standing committee of the College for the discussion of diversity issues. Committee members will include administrators, faculty and students.

Wright also ordered the review of campus fees and financial aid policies in response to the committee's report that some students felt unable to take full advantage of opportunities available at the College for financial reasons.

Wright also created a new administrative position, an associate dean of student life for diversity issues, under whom various minority advisers will likely be reorgzanized.

A general sentiment of pessimism about the potential for positive change was noted among the students who spoke with the Committee.

"Energetic student participation only partly obscured a level of skepticism and disillusionment that we felt was beyond what we have observed on other campuses where we have taught, worked or studied," the report says.

The Committee's report, made public yesterday on the Internet, emphasizes a broad definition of diversity including classifications ranging from race to economic status to sexual orientation.

Wright said the report is "really part of a broader initiative ... to really take advantage of the richness and diversity of this community ... It addresses issues of why it is some groups do not feel as fully a part of Dartmouth as other groups do."

Implementation of a number of the committee's recommendations -- including Harris' appointment and the creation of the Council on Diversity -- was announced in a letter from Wright to the community sent today.

Wright will be working with the Board of Trustees to develop a mission statement that eliminates what the Committee called a "laissez-faire" attitude in the current mission statement about what happens once a diverse group of people has been attracted to the campus.

Wright directed administrators in a number of areas to review the hiring and retention of faculty and staff of color.

A number of administrators will begin looking at ways to improve cross-cultural interaction in various social spaces.

Other recommendations in the report include expanding the selection of Dartmouth Outing Club trips for incoming freshman and increasing funds for diversity training and Career Services.

The Committee also criticized the Greek system for "not doing as much as they can and should to confront bigotry, sexism and sexual violence and foster greater awareness and appreciation of diversity."

Wright said he plans to move implementation of the report's recommendations forward "aggressively" during the coming months.