Student Affairs and Student Assembly commit to racial bias resolutions

by Sunny Drescher | 2/28/19 3:00am

In response to a Student Assembly resolution and a subsequent meeting with SA leadership regarding racist vandalism found in dorms in Oct. 2018 and more recent racist emails targeting students and faculty, interim dean of the College Kathryn Lively publicly responded with a letter detailing three action items that Student Affairs was committed to taking in the coming weeks and months.

Action items included Student Affairs updating their website to include information about the current process for undergraduates to report incidents of bias by the first day of spring term classes; assembling a working group to examine that process and make recommendations for potential modifications by mid-summer; and working with Residential Life to evaluate safety practices in residence halls. 

“[Walters] and I had received lots of concerned messages from students who were either reporting biased incidents made against them or who had friends who were being threatened by emails or by vandalism on the doors,” SA vice-president Nicole Knape ’19 said.

She added that she and SA president Monik Walters ’19 believed that the resolution was the best way to call for urgent action on the part of Student Affairs and to “elevate [students’] voices to the administration” regarding how they felt these cases were being handled. 

Knape said that a meeting was scheduled with herself, Walters, Lively and senior associate dean Liz Agosto for the Monday following the promulgation of the resolution, which was emailed to campus on a Thursday. She added that the quick turnaround between the resolution being sent out and the meeting indicated that the administration was taking their resolution and their call for urgent action seriously. 

At the meeting, Knape said, they discussed students’ concerns and came up with a plan to make the process for reporting racial bias more transparent.

“[The lack of transparency] is one of the barriers to reporting [incidents of racial bias] because students don’t understand how these processes follow through,” Knape said. 

Lively said that she understands that it can be frustrating to students when Student Affairs is unable to share publicly what steps have been taken in an investigation.

“I was thrilled that student leaders were really willing to take a public stand for inclusivity and diversity and against cowardice, racism and hate. Yet, at the same time, I was also concerned that students thought nothing was happening when in fact a lot of things had been happening,” Lively wrote in an email statement.

Agosto said that Student Affairs does not share details during an ongoing investigation primarily to protect the students directly involved and “to not tip off the perpetrator.” She acknowledged the tension between wanting to be transparent and communicate information while wanting to make sure that all information is accurate and appropriate to share with the community. 

“With so much rumor going on, we want to share timely but factual information that doesn’t incite more fear or concern,” Agosto said. “It’s a hard balance, and I freely admit that we don’t always get it right.” 

Agosto explained each of the three action items detailed in Lively’s letter. First, she said that the reporting and investigative process had been absent from the website as the College transitioned from using one web platform to another.

Second, Agosto said that the plans for the working group had not been formalized at this point, but she was hopeful that the working group would have a representative group of students and staff. She added that it might be beneficial to have a student co-chair for the working group to be an additional liaison for students. 

Knape added that the working group would be especially helpful regarding determining how to best support students who are dealing with incidents of bias. The resolution included a provision to institute a more effective “network of care to support students” affected by incidents of racial bias, and Knape said that Student Assembly hopes that putting together a streamlined process for students to report such incidents will help students find relevant support services more easily, potentially through OPAL or other campus groups. 

Third, Agosto added that Residential Life had the potential to be a key player in increasing students’ safety and perception of safety with respect to incidents of racial bias. She said that ideas that had been floated so far included limiting dorm access to students within each house community and adding cameras to dorm entrances. However, she added that some of those measures may “come with costs and not have the support of the student body.”

Associate dean of residential life and director of residential education Michael Wooten confirmed through email that Residential Life is working with Student Assembly regarding their resolution, but he said that no plans have been finalized regarding specifically what Residential Life will be working on. 

“The hope is always to improve the student experience and to continue making the campus safe and welcoming for all students. I also hope that it illustrates a willingness on the Dean of the College’s office to listen to and work collaboratively with student leadership,” Lively wrote.

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