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DMC hosts town hall alongside Working Group

By Shannon O’Brien ’15

On Monday, January 19, the Days-Massolo Center hosted a town hall discussion on the state of diversity and inclusion at Hamilton College. The event was meant to give members of the Hamilton community the opportunity to voice their concerns and ideas to the Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion.

Despite overall low attendance, several administrators attended the event including Director of Residential Life Travis Hill, Associate Dean of Students for Student Engagement and Leadership Lisa Magnarelli, Associate Dean of Students for Services and Accessibility Allen Harrison, Dean of Students Nancy Thompson and President Joan Hinde Stewart.

“To me, this exercise that we’re engaged in right now,” President Stewart said in opening remarks at the event, “is…an exercise in mindfulness, and thinking about who we are, and where we are and how we can do better.”

Director of Diversity and Inclusion Amit Taneja spoke of the problem of marginalized groups or individuals “being tolerated versus appreciated” on campus. After collecting surveys and doing “campus climate” research, the Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion identified areas that need more attention and evaluation in order to improve the College: sense of belonging, bias and micro-aggressions, education and training for students, education and training for faculty and staff and diversity issues in the curriculum.

Taneja explained that “sense of belonging or social belonging in activities over the weekend, and also having access to familiar comforts, such as food, cultural events, access to hair care salons…ended up being some of the recurring themes” in the committee’s survey research. While unconscious biases and misconceptions were frequently reported in surveys, blatant acts of discrimination have also occurred on Hamilton’s campus, especially in the past few semesters.

“A more recent phenomenon that we as a campus are struggling with,” Taneja said, “are forms of anonymous acts of bias, particularly on online forums.”  The committee is aware of such anonymous but blatant acts of discrimination and seeks the Hamilton community’s help in bringing such destructive social media hate groups to an end.

In terms of educating students on issues of diversity and inclusion, Taneja mentioned that the College has been working to incorporate programing that addresses the concepts of privilege, unconscious bias, racism and classism into first-year orientation. Taneja pointed out, however, that it is important that such cultural education continue throughout students’ four years at Hamilton, particularly for student leaders such as resident advisors, orientation leaders, Greek life members and Student Assembly representatives. “How do we tackle diversity programs outside the classroom?” Taneja asked.

Diversity and inclusion issues must also be addressed at the faculty and staff level of the College. Currently both required and optional programs and training sessions exist for faculty and staff, but Taneja suggested that the school needs to improve in this area as well. “In some reports we heard students talk about—or faculty and staff talk about—experiencing micro-aggression from faculty and staff,” Taneja said. “And again this idea of tolerance versus valuing or appreciating.”

Taneja also pointed to reports in surveys of instances “when faculty or staff failed to intervene when there could have been an educational moment, when something was happening and someone should have stepped up but they didn’t.”

Lastly, Taneja discussed the theme of issues with the curriculum. Students have criticized the lack of diversity in course offerings and expressed concerns over “whether their lived experiences are actually represented in the curriculum.” The Committee on Academic Policy has been looking into the possibility of requiring students to take a course on “diversity and inclusion,” but exactly what constitutes as “diversity and inclusion” remains up for debate. Several members of the Committee, including Associate Professor of Economics Steve Wu, Professor of Chemistry Karen Brewer, Professor of Comparative Literature Nancy Rabinowitz and Professor of Government and Associate Dean of Students for Academics Stephen Orvis, attended the Town Hall event to hear community members’ thoughts and concerns about the curriculum.

After Taneja’s presentation of the Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion’s findings in the campus climate report, event attendees broke into small groups and discussed the report themes. The aim of these breakout sessions was to share experiences, but more importantly to brainstorm strategies and programs to create an ideal campus. All participants were encouraged to speak and share their ideas and questions, and members of the Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion took notes throughout.

Another Town Hall will take place on Tuesday, January 27 from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the Tolles Pavilion. All students, faculty, and staff are strongly encouraged to attend.

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