A distressed community confronts administrators

Posted by Julia Leef

Throughout the past few weeks, Skidmore has shown its ability and willingness to gather together as a community in response to the ongoing events and issues concerning diversity and inclusiveness on campus. Last Friday, the community came together again in Gannett Auditorium for an open forum discussion between students, faculty and members of the community.

Acting President Susan Kress and the members of the president's Cabinet led the dialogue. More than 300 people came to the event, filling up the auditorium so that some people had to listen to a simulcast in both Davis and Emerson. Even after the meeting started, more people continued to file in.

Kress began the discussion by speaking about the incidents that have occurred on campus recently, including the vandalism of the Sex and Gender Relations bulletin board, the Graffiti on the controversial "Food for Thought" posters and the recent Compton's Restaurant incident and the subsequent media response.

"We stand by our fundamental commitment to support a diverse community," Kress said.

"There is work for every single one of us to do."

Kress invited the crowd to share their feelings, opinions and suggestions concerning the aforementioned issues. In addition, a question box was placed outside during the meeting for people who had additional concerns.

Although the majority of the people in attendance were older members of the community and faculty, a sampling of students also voiced their opinions that afternoon.

Students from various grades and backgrounds, such as Frank Cabrera '11, Rebecca Drago '11 and Danny Pforte '13, said that action needed to be taken to create a dialogue with the greater Saratoga community.

Many, such as Thomas Rivera '13, said that there have been too many conversations and not enough action. He also suggested bringing students and faculty together, by adding courses to the curriculum that would address such issues.

"In order to make this environment better," Riviera said, "there needs to be an understanding on both sides, students and faculty . . . we need to see you there."

Other students expressed their dismay at the racially charged comments made online in response to articles published in the Saratogian and the Schenectady Daily Gazette.

"It's bringing to the surface underlying tensions of racism," Angie Tucker '13 said, "comments such as the ones regarding the Compton's Incident were directed at minorities in general, not just at the four students involved."

The group repeatedly mentioned the Inter-Group Relations, or IGR, and applauded the opportunity that it offers people to speak about diversity and to become more involved in the community. Several workshops, such as the one currently scheduled for the summer, are open to both students and faculty, and many of those who spoke on Friday encouraged everyone to attend.

Sarah Finkle '11 and Yasmin Hormozi '11, who helped run the recent SGA sponsored student dialogue, "The Talk We Need to Have," are both IGR facilitators and were both present at the open community meeting. Both stressed the importance of involving more people, starting as early as the First-Year Experience. Hormozi also brought up the suggestion, which was echoed by several other speakers, that there should be a requirement to attend these discussions.

Kristie Ford, assistant professor of Sociology, spoke about an upcoming faculty and staff workshop in May, an annual IGR workshop where faculty could come together over the course of three days to learn about race and diversity related issues on campus. Following the workshop, participants are encouraged to share their knowledge by overseeing peer-facilitated dialogues, running a follow-up workshop or meeting and hosting a staff dialogue.

In addition, Ford also taught several IGR courses, including this semester's course "Race and Power". The college also offers peer-facilitated dialogues.

The dialogue cumulated with members of the Cabinet each making a brief statement on the actions their area is currently taking to make this a more inclusive campus. Some of those actions involved incorporating dialogues into summer programs and orientations, as Jeff Segrave, dean of Special Programs, said.

Mike West, vice president for Finance and Administration and Pat Rubio, acting dean of the Faculty, spoke about the ongoing effort to recruit and keep faculty members of color. West also mentioned using college resources to create more faculty diversity programs and workshops. Michael Casey, vice president for Advancement, said that his department was currently working with alumni to address these issues and to reach out to members of the community and the press.

Even after the meeting officially ended, more than 80 people remained another hour to continue the dialogue with each other. This gave participants an opportunity to share personal anecdotes about diversity on campus.

"Diversity does not just mean race," Rebecca Drago '11 said, "one kind of oppression means all kinds of oppression."

In an interview following the event, Susan Kress expressed the importance of continuing dialogues such as the one on Friday.

"Dialogue is a part of action," she said. "I think having an opportunity for people to listen to one another, for people to hear particularly the experiences of our students and particularly the experiences of our students as students of color… I think that's a very important piece of this work that we are doing."

On Monday, Susan Kress met with Cabinet members to discuss the feedback they received in the open community meeting, and ways in which they could address the questions put forth. In addition to the efforts listed by the panel, the administration plans to bring in advisors to the college to talk about how best to approach sensitive topics such as diversity. The administration will also attempt to strengthen the college's ties with the Saratoga Springs area, and deal with the online discussion boards that have been the source of alleged racial bias.

"We talk about Skidmore and the town as if these are two separate entities," Kress said. "We are the town, many of our students live in the town . . . we are part of the town, [so] how do we work together to try to understand how we can all be a more inclusive community, both the town and the campus?"

The college showed solidarity in the past few weeks through dialogues about racial diversity and bias. In the upcoming weeks, the college will try and extend this dialogue to the larger community.

"I think this is urgent work, and it's work for every single person on the campus," Kress said. "I think we can do better."

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