Posted by Eleazer Amarteyfio
On Tuesday, The Pohndorff Room in the Lucy Scribner Library held the first half of "Shades of Gray", an annual two-night panel discussion organized by the Honors Forum revolving around this year's theme, "Where do we find diversity at Skidmore?"
About 20 people attended the discussion, which focused on the effects of socio-economic profile on students' college experiences, particularly for students from low-income backgrounds and issues of race relations.
"The point is to have a conversation in a pseudo-intellectual format," said Vinay Trimedi-Parmer '12, president of the Honors Forum. "It's not necessarily a committee that's focused on problem-solving, although that may come out of it."
The panel featured Janet Casey and Holly Jackson, both professors in the English department, Jamin Totino, interim director of the Opportunity Program, Hale Hall '14 and Mariel Bazil '12.
The Executive Council of the Honors Forum asked the panelists to identify the sources of diversity at the College. Bazil suggested that the Office of Student Diversity Programs offered an accurate representation of the diverse make-up of the community, while Hall noted a difference between ‘diverse' and ‘diversity' and suggested that having a diverse community does not necessarily lead to more diversity in the community.
"Diversity requires more active engagement," she said.
Casey said people attend college to gain the tools to improve their socio-economic standing, and that perhaps as a consequence, they are mostly unwilling to talk about their less-privileged socio-economic backgrounds. She noted that this phenomenon extends even to professors who have successfully completed this transition.
Jackson said diversity issues tie to issues of social justice, and that an unwillingness of members of society to lose their social advantages contributes to silence on diversity issues.
Totino suggested that in the discussion on diversity, disabled students and their unique contributions to campus life are often overlooked. A member of the audience suggested that religious diversity was another overlooked aspect of diversity issues.
Bazil said she worried some faculty and staff make assumptions about economic affluence, citing a professor's casual question to students on where they had gone on vacation for spring break, forgetting that some students had remained on campus.
Another member of the audience lamented the fact that not very many affluent white students attend school-sponsored discussions of diversity issues, and felt that their perspectives were missing.
Some students voiced concerns over Celebration Weekend and Convocation, suggesting that the traditions associated with these made them unfriendly to families that were not economically well off.
A major issue identified was a general lack of knowledge about official college programs set up to help less privileged students. One member of the audience described her effort to gain access to disability funds as a "maze". Another audience member cited his frustration at finding out about some of these opportunities only as senior, during a preparatory program for peer mentorship.
"Shades of Gray" will continue from 7 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday in the Pohndorff Room and will deal with "diversity policy." The discussion will feature Jennifer Delton, professor of history, Jovany Andujar '13, Herb Crossman, assistant director for EEO and Workforce Diversity in Human Resources and Christine Hintze '14, a student representative on the Committee of Intercultural Global Understanding (CIGU).