December 3, 2015
At a Nov. 17 event entitled “Crucial Conversation” and a follow-up on Dec. 1, students, faculty and members of the administration gathered in the Events Barn to discuss diversity, Yik Yak and the need for more faculty of color at Hamilton.
These conversations were followed by all-campus email statements made by President Joan Hinde Stewart, Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Patrick Reynolds and the Committee on the Library and Information Technology regarding Yik Yak. On Tuesday, student led organization The Movement published a total of 39 demands concerning the Office of the President and the Board of Trustees, faculty, students, the College as a whole and facilities.
The Movement’s email to President Stewart stated, “It is important to note that The Movement does not seek to represent the ideas of all students from any one-identity category. Rather, we hope to serve as advocates and partners with other students who feel equally marginalized on the Hamilton College campus.
The Movement is comprised of students who identify with various racial, ethnic, sexuality, gender, socioeconomic, and disability categories.” The list of demands began with a condemnation of tokenism, defined as “the practice of hiring, appointing, or accepting a token number of people from underrepresented groups to deflect criticism or comply with affirmative action rules.”
In their introduction, The Movement said that tokenism “produces a methodically unfair system that inhibits these underrepresented bodies from thriving. It becomes the duty of these select few to educate the masses, a burden that these individuals should not carry. The demands below address the flaws within our Institution and demand the immediate changes that must come about for true ‘Diversity and Inclusion” to be achieved.’”
Demands included acknowledgement for student activism when it advances institutional change, a president of color as the twentieth president of Hamilton College, an immediate increase in the hiring of faculty of color and admission and recruitment of students of color, and an acknowledgement of the role of Oneida Native Americans in the College’s history.
Many of the student statements at the Nov. 17 meeting centered around a desire for transparent, “honest and blunt” conversations. “I don’t want to be treated like a statistic,” one student said. Another student said that campus racism “attacks our humanity, our intelligence, and our ability to succeed.”
In a Nov. 28 “Community Crucial Conversation Report #1” summary of the Nov. 17 meeting, Interim Director of Diversity and Inclusion Phyllis Breland highlighted several points. These included how President Stewart acknowledged that “we need change” and expressed her support, how everyone present at the meeting agreed to take an active role in “making our community better,” how Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Monica Inzer said she would immediately respond to statements how tour guides have referred to the Kennedy Arts Center as “KKK” and that Associate Dean of Faculty Sam Pellman outlined current actions to increase the number of faculty of color and asked students to play an active role in current faculty searches by participating in campus community talks and presentations.
At the Nov. 17 meeting, Breland asked everyone in the room to identify 1) what they do not want in the Hamilton community 2) what they do want in the Hamilton community and 3) suggestions for what the community can do. In Breland’s emailed report, the “We don’t want” list includes: dismissal/non-acknowledgement, silence about what is happening, co-optation, violence of any kind, excuses, lies, too much dialogue and not enough action, ignorance, “anonymous conversation on social media,” apathy, intimidation, sympathy, “symbolism without substance,” fear, denial and inequality.
The “Do Want” list was composed of 45 bullet points with concerns considered “immediate” by those who attended the meeting highlighted in red. The “immediate” wants were: faculty of color, transparency in the hiring process, a statement of position on violence and race, the shut down of Yik Yak, “current, engaging classroom experiences for all,” “more Laura Lees [Smith, Assistant Dean of Admission/ Coordinator of Diversity Recruitment] in admissions,” “for students and faculty to speak up and show up, mandatory education on diversity for both students and faculty, more frequent community forums, people of color in counseling capacity, a standing body of invested individuals (students, faculty and administration), “target of opportunity lines,” sensitivity training and awareness, administration-sponsored diversity events, and to address the Kennedy Center being called “KKK.” On Nov. 17, when Breland asked for “practical things we can get done before anyone in this room graduates,” meeting attendees prioritized shutting down Yik Yak, hiring a counselor of color, mandatory diversity and awareness training and establishing a standing body of students, faculty and administration to address concerns.
In the Dec. 1 follow-up conversation, Pellman discussed at length the faculty hiring process, which is currently underway. He explained that when a faculty position opens, it does not necessarily go to the same department. Departments vie for the opening and generate job descriptions. When a position is selected, the application process begins. Everyone who applies to positions must address how they will contribute to diversity at Hamilton. Later in the process, candidates visit the campus and demonstrate their teaching style in “job talks.” Pellman emphasized that job talks are a crucial juncture at which students can participate in the hiring process.
“So far this year we are doing a really superb job bringing interesting candidates to campus,” Pellman said. “This is the point at which it is important for students to engage in the process, go to job talks and show candidates that you are eager to learn from them.”
“I’m going to reiterate two things students can do. Talk to your faculty when jobs are being defined and be involved in job talks,” Pellman said. “And one more important point. So the third of these two things would be to support that faculty member once they’re here.”
After Pellman’s description of the hiring process, several members of the faculty stood and spoke. Associate Professor of Theatre Mark Cryer said, “The cold, hard reality is that building a diverse faculty is difficult but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”
Assistant Professor of Physics Katherine Brown discussed the lack of diversity in the sciences. “That’s what we’re dealing with now and it’s upsetting to me as a member of the search committee, as a physicist and as a woman,” she said. “We can’t hire applicants who aren’t there.”
Discussing his own hiring, Cryer said that he appreciated the fact that Hamilton mentioned his ethnicity as a positive and “didn’t treat it like a bad word.” “They came out and said that we’re trying to make the faculty look like the student body,” Cryer said. “I’m proud as hell to work here. Hamilton is not perfect but the heart is in the right place and we need to be the change you want to see.”
“Hamilton needs to be bold in diversifying and supporting faculty and students,” Professor of Philosophy Todd Franklin said. “Too often, our priorities are set by the money someone wants to donate. We have to take the lead in defining what we need.” He pointed to institutions like Brown and Bowdoin as schools that make target of opportunity hires and have “practices that match their principles.”
Breland, a member of the Class of 1980, acknowledged the change she has seen since her time as a student. “When I was a student here there were 12 of us [students of color], that’s 0.02 percent of the population,” she said. “I’ve been to more of these conversations than I care to count. I take issue with the word ‘demands’ but I understand and support the intent. We need to think about what we can do. We’ll work honestly and we’ll work together.”
During the Nov. 17 meeting, Breland said, “The physical place itself is just buildings. You [members of the community] give it its flavor, make it real, and make it the way we want it to be. It will not be easy folks, but that’s okay.”