In response to Black Lives Matter and @BlackAtWhittier, Whittier College has created a plan to help the campus work towards racial equity.
In May, the Black Lives Matter movement gained visibility in a way it had not been visible before due to protests against police violence. The movement acknowledges racism with an emphasis on institutional reform and sets goals to reform what it means to be anti-racist. This includes examining higher education in how institutions approach topics of race, teach contextual history, and represent diversity through their staff and faculty.
In response, Whittier College sent emails to students regarding anti-racism campus reform, including emails from Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of Faculty Dean Sal Johnston, and Vice President & Dean of Students Bruce Smith. This week, Deans Smith and Johnston reviewed the College’s plans for anti-racism reform with the Quaker Campus.
One aspect of the College’s anti-racism reform plan, according to an August 5 email from the College’s cabinet, is to create the position of Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within the Academic Affairs Division. The Associate Dean will “advocate for the structural changes necessary to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within Academic Affairs and lead Academic Affairs’ responses to bias reports,” among other responsibilities. Progress is being made towards this goal, as the school is narrowing down applicants for the new Associate Dean, which Dean Johnston said may be decided next week. Although Johnston could not disclose specific information on the candidates’ backgrounds, Dean Smith added that the school is “really happy with the search.”
This summer, Whittier College alumni also created a forum for discussing racial bias experienced at the College. This forum took a virtual form through the Instagram account @BlackatWhittier, where former and current Whittier College students were quick to anonymously call for change and gain attention from school administration.
A Bias Response Team was formed as a response, with a goal for combating racial bias being “building an environment and community where folks treat each other well [to] prevent actions that are harmful,” according to Dean Smith.
This program differs from the Title IX Committee, which covers issues pertaining to gender-based discrimination and sexual misconduct, whereas the Bias Response Team deals with complaints “specifically about race,” said Dean Smith.
The College defines an “act of racial bias” using the official government definition from the Office of Civil Rights along with an individualized definition for the College, which emphasizes “allowing students to tell [staff and faculty] they feel harmed,” said Dean Smith.
Should an act of racism be perpetrated by a student, Dean of Students Bruce Smith will evaluate an appropriate response, while if the act is perpetrated by a faculty member, Dean of Faculty Sal Johnston will be the one to handle the investigation and punishment. Both Deans will evaluate consequences for acts of racial bias will differ on a case-by-case basis, and result from a discussion between administration and faculty members of the Bias Response Team. Cases will either be dealt with using a “restorative justice” or criminal justice approach, for severe cases. Dean Smith defines the restorative justice approach as a way to “move people forward in conversation.”
According to the College’s plan for racial equity and justice, the school will “value diverse backgrounds and develop diverse pipelines of candidates” for future hires. According to Dean Johnston, to value diverse backgrounds means hiring diverse candidates for leadership roles of influence including faculty and staff roles.
“We’re not aiming for particular numbers,” Dean Smith said in regards to hiring diverse candidates. “We need our faculty and staff to be more diverse to reflect the student population. We want students to feel represented in the College.”
Dean Johnston shared a similar sentiment. “This is more complicated than just demographics,” he said. “First-generation students, for example, need faculty to understand that experience. It makes a difference in terms of how the institution functions. It makes a big difference if you have leadership or faculty and staff who understand what the [Black Lives Matter] movement is about. It changes how we function as an institution and what the student experience can be like.”
The College has also partnered with the USC Race and Equity Center Initiative for Liberal Arts Colleges to train staff in combatting racism using the Center’s “equity training” and “climate assessment” programs. The new Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, will lead collaboration between the colleges for training staff and faculty, and possibly student groups like societies.
Additionally, the College’s plan for racial equity includes increasing funding for black student programs and more. Because the school is operating on less funding than the previous academic year, efforts to complete this goal may be complicated, however, Dean Smith is confident some progress can be made.
“Some of our efforts will require collaboration with the development department, such as creating new scholarships for Black students and increasing the emergency fund. We have already begun this fundraising work,” said Dean Smith. “At the same time, there are some programs that we can launch immediately, such as the Whittier College history project. In addition, we will be tapping into our network of alumni and friends to help bring in dynamic speakers and acts for our series highlighting expressions of Blackness in Southern California.”
Another aspect of the racial equity plan is individualistic. In his June 16th email to students, Dean Sal Johnston focused on a need for individual action to be taken to create an anti-racist campus, specifically mentioning non-people of color’s responsibility to be actively anti-racist. “We must move beyond what Robin DiAngelo terms ‘white fragility,’ he wrote.
“We can’t solve the problem if the responsibility for dealing with white supremacy continues to be put on the shoulders of people of color,” said Dean Johnston. “That doesn’t mean nothing’s changed but it comes at a tremendous cost. We’ve seen that all summer. It’s not possible to fix this the way we’ve been demanding it be repaired in the past.”
Moving forward, the College’s racial equity plan will require both ongoing institutional reform and College community members to foster change on an individual level, with effort from College affiliates of all races.
Feature image: Courtesy of the Office of Marketing and Communications