Last week’s diversity-related events have sharply and passionately reminded our community of both the crucial importance and real difficulties of becoming the kind of educational community we say we want to be.
What do we say about our community? — “Earlham is an educational community, informed by the distinctive perspectives and values of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and aimed at providing the highest quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences. We strive to be a community of mutual support, responsibility, and accountability.”
What do we say are our principles? — “Respect for persons, integrity, a commitment to peace and justice, simplicity, and community decision-making shape Earlham’s community. Together these principles reflect Earlham’s strong Quaker tradition.”
How do we say we put our principles into practice? — “Principles and Practices is a statement of the values that guide those of us who live and work at Earlham College and who form its communities: students, teaching and administrative faculty, and staff.” “Principles and Practices also provides the foundation for campus policies that apply to all members of the community.”
— Statements above taken from Principles and Practices
We can all take pride in Earlham’s distinctive character as an institution of higher education. This past week, however, a group of students reminded us that we cannot take our principles and practices for granted. They have made the community aware of ways in which their experiences at Earlham are not consistent with Earlham’s aspirations and intent. For them, as well as for others, our practices have not been seen as being consistent with our principles. Following their expression of dissonance, the entire community has begun, through various meetings this past week, to better understand what is causing persons to feel disrespected, unwelcome, or misunderstood. This listening has only begun, and we have more to do.
As we listen, we are also beginning to identify what action steps can and will be taken to bring about changes that are needed. This work of listening, self-examination and collaboration is hard work that we all must embrace. We say that at Earlham, we value every voice and seek to allow every voice to be heard in an atmosphere characterized by respect and real listening focused on understanding. Even if, or especially if, we have doubts whether we always adhere to these ideals, we can and must support one another as we work together to strive to do better.
As we listen and make our action plans, we must also hold ourselves accountable to being the Earlham we claim and want to be. Earlham is not a utopia separated from the challenges faced by unique and diverse people everywhere; we all want and deserve to be respected and valued.
How are we going to do these things? How are we going to embrace and live into our commitment to the goals of our Diversity Aspiration Vision Statement, and for making real — and not just rhetorical — our commitment to Earlham’s core values of respect for persons, integrity, peace and justice, simplicity and community, as expressed in our Principles and Practices?
In this message, I want to address these questions by focusing on two imperatives of our current situation:
- Some of the ways the College will work to consider productively the points made in the document entitled “List of Requirements Concerning Students of Color” and related concerns
- Some of the ways the College will work to create a campus environment in which we can work together in the best Earlham spirit of respectful dialogue and cooperation.
How we will work to assess feasibility and make appropriate progress on the document of requirements and related concerns
Earlham students of color who raised concerns and goals in a document circulated last Monday across campus have asked for a statement indicating that the President and the College administration support their work for structural change to improve diversity and inclusion on campus.
This is the College’s clear answer: Yes, we wholeheartedly support the efforts of these students, and indeed the efforts of all community members, to work diligently to improve our organization and processes so as to produce the real changes that will address the actual needs and aspirations necessary for Earlham to live out its ideals for diversity and inclusion. And just to be absolutely clear: I personally am committed to this goal, as is the rest of the College administration and the Board of Trustees. As promised, the student document has been provided to the Board, which will begin its own assessment of the appropriateness and feasibility of the document’s many stated requirements at this week’s Board meeting, especially those where action would require significant financial resources or alterations in policies under the Board authority. It must be understood, however, that there can be no presumption that the College will be able to do all the things on the list of requirements.
It is also very evident and most important that Earlham faculty are also committed to these goals, as is indicated by the faculty’s consensus decision well over a decade ago to create a special standing faculty committee, the Diversity Progress Committee (DPC), whose charge includes assessing the College’s progress on diversity and inclusion and identifying “systematic problems that emerge or persist, and needs for new directions.”
As I indicated to student leaders who circulated the document last Monday, their document has been formally placed before the DPC, and I have asked that committee to analyze each of the points of the document and produce specific recommendations for action to the senior administration and to the faculty, as appropriate to each group.
I understand that time for consultation with campus offices and faculty will be required to analyze these complex and many-layered concerns and focus them into specific actions that are feasible for the College.
But I also understand the need to move forward quickly. Consequently, I have asked the DPC to recommend to the senior administration approaches to the following four items, which, if approved, could be initiated as early as the beginning of the fall semester 2016 and no later than the conclusion of the fall 2016 semester.
- Diversity and inclusion training for all members of the Earlham teaching faculty, administrative faculty, staff, and students
- Establishment of neutral personnel, place, and process for complaint reporting and responsiveness
- Establishment of DPC website providing transparency of committee activity, including specific recommendations for action and feasible timelines, and ways for readers to provide reaction and input
- Re-establishment of the Student Diversity Council, which should be designed to provide meaningful and ongoing input to the DPC
I expect that the DPC in the course of its analysis will produce further recommended actions for consideration that are responsive to other aspects of the student document or associated diversity issues beyond those stated in the document itself.
In order to further enhance the effectiveness of the DPC, I have also asked that the DPC conveners meet bi-weekly with me and senior staff, and that the full committee join a special senior staff meeting approximately every 5-6 weeks. This will ensure that recommendations for specific action coming from the DPC will be placed directly in front of the senior administrators who oversee the various areas of the College and who are empowered to implement mutually agreed upon actions that are appropriate and feasible.
In cases where the items proposed would require formal faculty action, the appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that those recommended actions be placed before the appropriate faculty committee or the faculty as a whole, as Faculty Handbook procedures require. In addition, I and other senior administrators will seek to work closely with the DPC to establish more direct conversations with different areas of the College, including Student Government, academic divisions, campus offices and other areas, to open up more opportunities for voices to be heard and for individuals to get to know one another better.
How the College will strive to create the best possible campus environment in which we can work together in the best Earlham spirit of respectful dialogue and cooperation
For the College to function well, both as an educational environment for 1100 students and as a workplace for over 350 employees, a variety of spaces — for one’s own person, for study, for group work, for personal office work, for public gatherings, as well as others — must be respected.
Not only must spaces such as these be respected, the behavior of all members of the community in such spaces should be in accordance with the values outlined for all community members in Principles and Practices, and additionally in alignment with the applicable policies for students in the Student Code of Conduct and for employees in documents such as the Faculty Handbook and the Staff Handbook.
In order to ensure a safe and non-threatening environment on campus for everyone, in which progress on the important work described in the first part of this message can actually be done, and in order that the daily educational and other work of the College can also proceed effectively, we must recognize that we are all accountable for our words and actions in light of official College policy documents such as those noted above. The College will seek to protect our collective accountability in accordance with guidelines in these policy documents. That protection will include appropriate investigation and disciplinary steps, as circumstances may warrant.
We need to be clear on one thing: we all have the right to free speech and expression of dissent; there is no doubt about that. But we also all must recognize that our exercise of that right may have unintended or harmful consequences for members of our community if the way that right is carried out is not consistent with the conduct expectations as noted above, and especially if the exercise of our rights as viewed from the standpoint of those policies is determined to have violated the rights of others.
If we really want to strive to live out as best we can the values that define Earlham as one community, as those values are expressed in Principles and Practices , we must resolve to move forward together. A Quaker school with ideals such as consensus and respect for persons will not be able to function very well or be able to improve very much if caught in the grip of an adversarial situation that brings our will to collective effort to a standstill and impedes our capacity to move forward together.
Moving forward together includes recognizing the courage of those who stepped forward to bring us the document, of those who shared experiences in various gatherings, and of those willing to speak about how they have received and processed the document and associated events.
And move forward together we must, for without linking arms, listening carefully, sharing aspirations, helping ease one another’s pain, and providing mutual support — in short, without moving forward together, we may find ourselves unable to move forward at all.
I am fully confident, as so many have passionately affirmed to me, that we do have the capacity and can find the spirit and will to move forward together.
John David Dawson
President, Earlham College