Students, Not Administrators, Hold the Key To Inclusion
At Skidmore, the race problem is unclear. The best example of racism at Skidmore that the Editorial Board could come up with was the self-segregation that occurs amongst different racial groups. Upon walking into the dining hall, one might notice how many people sit based on their race. A disproportionate number of minorities sit on the so-called ‘purple side,’ across from the diner. Logically, we wondered what role Skidmore’s administration plays in race relations at Skidmore. We do not doubt the existence of implicit racial bias—even as a mostly white Editorial Board, we acknowledge that neither Skidmore nor the entire country is as inclusive as it should be.
We discussed how to make Skidmore more inclusive--how the community can focus on what is wrong and exclusionary to some members. To determine what can be done, we looked at the demands from the People of Color Union that they created during their Social Justice Week, held the week before Thanksgiving. This list provided only limited insight into proposed issues and solutions. Among the bulleted points was one that asked that the “campus be actually liberal.” Another demand was free laundry. We understand the frustration of some students, but these demands could have been clearer. Not all of them were like this. Some were firmer, like one that requested mandatory intersectional training for faculty. However, President Glotzbach, in an interview with the Skidmore News this month said, “I’m not sure that will work very well… [it’s] not helpful to have generic conversations in a room.” Rather, he suggested we could educate ourselves on diversity by incorporating race conversations into other interdisciplinary events. Though the President and Director of the President’s Office, Joshua Woodfork, acknowledged that they were reluctant to comment on any demands because they had never formally received the demands. When asked to comment on this, Rashawnda Williams of POCU explained, “these demands have been asked for by different activist groups on campus for multiple years in a row for the past couple decades.”
Though we agree many issues are not new, we were just as surprised as the President to hear that the demands had never formally been delivered to the administration. But, this is in line with the informality and disorganized presentation of the demands themselves. Unlike, Brandeis University, where students officially delivered specific and focused demands, POCU struggled to come up with a comprehensive and detailed list. The event where the demands were created was poorly organized and involved students calling out a long list of loosely tied requests, some of which made the final list.
Despite the disorganization of the demands, we applaud the Walk Out and the large student turnout. It was well-organized and attended. And, we commend President Glotzbach for announcing to the Skidmore Community that he would be attending. However, again, we saw the walk-out as an opportunity to inform students about what is wrong and what can be done. Unfortunately, other than a short scripted statement from Williams, nothing much was said. The administration has given students ample opportunity to voice concerns but students haven't taken advantage of them.
When asked how how well she thought the administration has responded to calls for changes to diversity policy and support, Williams said, “we've had very mixed response.” She commented, “Skidmore projects itself as very liberal and diverse, but we bring more students of color to this campus without proper support and a physical safe space.”
The current draft of the 10-year plan suggests that Skidmore “has the unique opportunity to make progress more quickly than may be possible in the larger society.” The President’s Office, in the aforementioned interview diversity, spoke about faculty diversity shortfalls, though acknowledged, it’s a slow process because faculty don't just stay for four years like students. The president suggested, “I expect us to have continued success.” On the question of so-called “safe spaces,” he remarked, “You should feel physically safe [always]… That’s where we draw the line,” when asked if this included creating spaces free of uncomfortable thought and opinion.
What this board sees is a shortfall in the way students are trying to improve the way we embrace diversity on this campus. Race issues didn't appear overnight and they won't disappear overnight. We know it’s going to take time to be as inclusive as we want to be. To get there, improvements can’t come primarily from the administration. Isolating ourselves in different spheres on campus won’t work either. Everyone has to be included at the table to tackle our community issues. We are going to need to be respectful of each other—hold ourselves to high standards. Policy may not be the main issue. Students have to decide to make courageous choices: to sit with new people in the dining hall, to make bold and challenging comments in class, to let others speak and to listen to those speaking.