Presidential Task Force Interim Report
Submitted to President Michael Roth
Submitted on February 14, 2016
Submitted by: Task Force Tri-Chairs: Shardonay Pagett (student), Antonio Farias (staff), and Gina Athena Ulysse (faculty). Task Force Members: Caroline Liu, Henry Martellier, Jr. (students); Elisa Cardona, Makaela Kingsley (staff); Matthew Garrett, William Johnston (faculty).
History: Reports of previous committees and task forces show that Wesleyan has made multiple attempts to address issues of difference and racial tensions, but to limited success at best. The same problems keep recurring.
Mission: The Presidential Task Force is reinforced by the Board of Trustees’ Statement on equity and inclusion as a blueprint to enact institutional change and our task is to facilitate that goal as best as possible.
Recommendation: The creation of an integrative educational experience that will continue to reach across all parts of campus life including students, staff, and faculty, through a physical center and institutional initiatives for the indefinite future.
- In direct response to our charge, we recommend that the university establish a new center that has a clear, intellectually grounded mission focusing on intercultural development and literacy, which integrates students, faculty, and staff in its core operations at the developmental stage to sustainably work towards deeper commitment to inclusion.
- In order to recognize and address the broader historical and structural conditions that generated the IsThisWhy? protest and demands along with continuous patterns of inequity and retention problems among faculty and staff on campus, we recommend the university commit much-needed resources towards redressing these concerns and embark on a long-term, comprehensive, campus-wide initiative with concrete action plans to be incorporated in Wesleyan’s current and future strategic visions.
- In conjunction with the aforementioned, we recommend continuation of the task force to work in tandem with members of the larger Wesleyan community to create effective mechanisms to coordinate, centralize, communicate, and support ongoing institutional change efforts. Ultimately, this task force should evolve into a standing institutional committee comprised of students, faculty, and staff.
Throughout its long history Wesleyan has consistently faced the challenge of how to deal with issues of inclusion and discrimination. In the last three decades, the university has made multiple attempts to address issues of difference based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender, class and more, but with limited success at best. The same problems keep recurring. With the Fisk Takeover of February 21, 1969 as a notable turning point in campus affairs, the university has worked more explicitly to address issues of racial and other forms of discrimination since the 1960s, albeit far too often on an ad hoc basis. The Task Force examined relevant documents from Olin Special Collections dating from 1989, 1991, and 1998 that supported this.
In 1989, the University formed a committee to examine specific problems of inclusion and discrimination on campus. Many of the issues articulated in this document are exactly the same as those that students, as well as faculty and staff of color, experience today. As a result of this historical reality and the fact that numerous subsequent attempts to address these issues have not been successful, it is clear that we need to take action that creates immediate improvement and establishes an infrastructure that will be nimble and responsive indefinitely. Below, we comment briefly on a few earlier reports and their key findings. This is far from comprehensive as our timing was limited and additional research would help to corroborate and nuance these findings:
This report was produced by the Committee on Human Rights and Relations, which was originally formed in May 1980 to address sexual abuse on campus and discrimination faced by GLB students. Almost immediately (by the Fall of 1980), this work was combined with issues of race, referencing both minority students and faculty. The report recommended that measures be conducted using established institutional channels (deans, faculty, and the Educational Policy Committee) to address ongoing problems. Specific problems recorded included:
- Concerns regarding curriculum.
- Concerns regarding the hiring and promotion of minority faculty and staff.
- Concerns regarding tensions among students as an indication of a hostile campus climate. It was noted that “[m]embers of the Wesleyan community seem poorly prepared for open discussion, reciprocal learning and intellectual growth through exploration of racial issues.”
It is clear that institutional frameworks for addressing these issues once existed. For example, the Committee on Human Rights and Relations appears to have been the hub for reporting the status of ongoing initiatives, though it seems to have been dissolved around 1990. Hence, recommendations were made without an ongoing point of accountability, which strongly indicates the need for a standing committee integrated in the university’s governance structure. As this report noted, ameliorating the campus situation “requires sustained attention and periodic review on an institution-wide level.” This need for continuous assessment of institutional efforts was a recurring point in later reports.
In 1991, a Multicultural Center Committee comprised of faculty and staff also produced a report in response to issues similar to those raised in 1989. The recommendation was not for a Multicultural Center per se, but a Multicultural Coordinator—a point person who would provide recommendations and guidelines, but would not necessarily have any institutional power. The 1998 Report followed on the Initiative on Racial Legacy and Learning for the AACU placed emphasis on community partnerships (Wesleyan University & Middletown relations).
From these reports and their recommendations, we surmise that while some progress has been made from past demands to address concerns of inequality, Wesleyan has yet to make sustained gains in this regard. More specifically, this institution has not committed to responding fully and sufficiently to the documented unequal experiences of marginalized and underrepresented students, faculty, and staff. This is most evident in the recurrence of these same issues among students, faculty, and staff of color, in relation to recruitment, retention, and lived experiences on campus throughout the years. The failure of these institutional efforts to address the stated problems are revelatory in their assertions of continuities that actually become obstacles to further developments.
As a result, campus response today among those with longer institutional memory is one of skepticism toward the work being done by the present Task Force. Generally, there is little to no trust in the administration vis-à-vis its commitment to matters pertaining to equity and inclusion of marginalized populations.
At this point, part of the work of the Task Force is to ensure a sustained dialogue among members of the campus community that maintains both openness to its many points of view, and evidence of action. That said, to address persistent problems of inequality and structural racism at Wesleyan, a multicultural center would need to be only one part of a larger, university-wide initiative with concrete action plans.
Renewed Institutional Commitment
On June 1, 2015, President Roth noted that at its annual meeting in May 2015, Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees’ Equity and Inclusion Task Force presented the full Board with a statement of principles. It read:
The Wesleyan University Board of Trustees is committed to a campus culture characterized by diversity, equity, and inclusion. We believe that in order to meet the University’s educational mission and provide a thriving educational environment, the University’s governance, curriculum, and operations should be regularly reviewed and renewed to ensure that they reflect and address the broad diversity of the Wesleyan community.
The members of the board commit to conversations regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, and to monitoring progress in promoting equity and inclusion in all aspects of University life, including:
Eliminating the comparative disadvantages in educational experience that may separate student groups on the basis of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and/or other factors; and encourage honest conversations, openness, and metrics regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion and evidence reflecting student success, faculty and staff recruitment and retention, and institutional performance.
- The Board’s statement provides the directions for this Task Force to address the core educational mission of the University.
- The Board’s statement also emphasizes a commitment to utilizing the institution’s resources in hiring and retention of faculty and staff.
This Task force, which was created by the President in December 2015, to address current and ongoing concerns on campus takes as its goal making recommendations towards the establishment of institutional changes—physical, procedural, and practical—that will make, in the process, the Board of Trustee’s goals a reality. The Board’s statement directs us to deploy a metrics-based decision making process, which will require an assessment of our current institutional research capacity.
Towards a More Integrative Education
With the increasing corporatization of universities across the nation and pressures of the market economy, current campus cultures have become more disparate as students negotiate learning, professionalization, and community engagement. These pressures have definitive impact on students, faculty, and staff interactions that further fragments, and especially strains, the educational experience of those who are most marginalized. Indeed, to better achieve Wesleyan’s mission of a transformative liberal arts education, which begins with a “holistic review” of potential applicants, a sustainable and more integrative educational model mindful of the uneven impact of these pressures is necessary to inspire a more present, civic-minded, and action oriented learner, and minimize the academic, personal, and social dissonance in students’ lives.
Hence, it should not be taken for granted that Wesleyan’s history of activism, especially between the 1960s and 1990s, continues to influence campus climate and offers students the same sense of belonging as their non-activist peers. From the early 2000s, interest in social justice declined on this campus, as it did nationally. Moreover, existing university centers tend to have a singular focus, whether it be exclusively on scholarship and teaching, or service-based learning. There is a need for a Center that integrates student interest in educational outreach, social justice programming, and advocacy, along with academics. Indeed, without an intellectually robust component through faculty presence and curricular innovations to anchor it, such a center would eventually fall by the wayside in the same ways as previous efforts to address inclusion and discrimination on campus. This is also due to the inherent transience of students. To that end, this Presidential Equity Task Force comprised of students, faculty, and staff shares leadership, while forming opinions and working in cohesion from different viewpoints and modalities of work styles, with the goal of making informed decisions that benefit all parties. This model is valuable and should become precedent-setting for future campus initiatives.
Lastly, it must be noted that given the pervasiveness and persistent power of structural racism, alleviating these problems require both institutional will, and commitment from members of the larger community. All solutions, however, should not be directives, and stem from administration. Indeed, students, staff and faculty have distinct and overlapping areas of concern that demands we generate collective initiatives that will be instrumental to create a more inclusive, equitable and responsible campus environment.
The Equity Task Force’s Next Steps
Following this interim report, we will embark on our discovery phase and conduct field research. In the coming months, we plan to meet with various stakeholders across campus to elicit their input concerning the Task Force’s charge. We will investigate and evaluate the feasibility and operations of innovative multicultural and intercultural centers at peer institutions, as well as consider the more practical and operational aspects of establishing one in terms of physical space, staffing, etc. Upon completion, we will submit final recommendations to the President and the campus community by May 1, 2016 that will, as requested, provide a clear statement of the problems and solutions offered in developing this type of collaborative Center, and highlight meaningful policy changes required to support and sustain such a Center. As previously stated in the recommendations, with an emphasis on social justice, the Center has the potential to be a space that better integrates and enhances the educational experience of students from marginalized and underrepresented groups. We believe it is imperative that the university undertake a broader, long-term initiative aimed specifically at fostering new policies formulated to produce practices that are transformative, and as a result change the campus landscape into a more equitable and inclusive one in praxis.
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