To the Campus Community:
With issues of racial justice on many minds this week, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaching on Monday, I am writing to update you on our continuing efforts to combat racism on our campus. Over the course of the fall semester, many offices, organizations, groups, and committees have been actively engaged in offering input and developing programs directed toward that goal.
Recognizing the need for the community to be fully informed of the range of efforts underway, we have created an Anti-Racism at Lafayette website that outlines our commitments to fighting racism on our campus, steps we have already implemented, and initiatives that are being planned. You will also find resources, expressions from various campus groups of solidarity against racial injustice, and ways to get involved. Our evolving antiracism agenda reflects input from two campus climate surveys, the most recent one in 2018, and from lists of concerns and demands shared by students in 2016, 2019, and 2020. We also include a number of initiatives developed by individual departments and divisions of the College.
Education. All of these efforts begin with the need to educate ourselves as a community. This January my Cabinet, the College’s senior leadership team, has held several meetings devoted specifically to discussion of proposals and initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In conjunction with those discussions, we as a group are participating in an ongoing intercultural competency assessment and workshop that we hope will enhance our personal and professional understanding of race, racism, and culture. As promised, we are developing requirements for anti-bias and anti-racism education for faculty, staff, and students. We are finalizing a decision about specific programs for faculty and staff in order to have those programs in place by the end of this term.
Many departments and organizations at the College are focusing programming and conversations on race and racism. The Center for Integration of Teaching, Learning and Scholarship is presenting programs and developing resources on inclusive teaching and building anti-racism into courses. The Hanson Center for Inclusive STEM Education has sponsored a number of discussions on race and offered a lecture by Princeton Professor of African American Studies Ruha Benjamin on anti-racist technology design. Community programs have included a student-led online conversation with Ibram Kendi, director and founder of Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research; presentations on the history of activism by Black athletes; and a workshop on race, gender, and discourse in STEM. Professors Wendy Wilson-Fall and Jeremy Zallen created four discussion sessions open to the campus community around their classes on “Black Experience” and “Race and Ethnicity.”
Current Actions. Ongoing work in a variety of areas reflects commitments made in my July 20, 2020 memo. A consistent concern shared by our community in meetings, through petitions, and on social media since this summer has focused on the role of Public Safety. While we initially announced plans to conduct an external review, we now feel that the input we have received has provided a clear picture of the concerns felt by the community around policing, surveillance, and the role of Public Safety. We believe the best next step is to respond to the issues raised while continuing to research the approaches taken by similar institutions.
On the new website, you will find among our progress updates a list of actions and changes that have already been made in Public Safety. These include expanded education and training, participation by Public Safety leaders in listening sessions on and beyond the campus, and greater transparency regarding the budget allocated toward keeping our campus safe. While we are not considering the elimination of armed Public Safety officers, we will continue to explore how non-police functions can be shifted to unarmed staff. We believe that having our own armed officers is integral to keeping our campus safe because of the rapid response they provide in moments of crisis and their familiarity with issues that can face a college campus. We will be holding a virtual Town Hall on Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. (register here) to continue our campus community conversation around this issue.
In other developments, a proposal is under review to recognize and compensate the invisible labor of mentoring of underrepresented students that is provided by many faculty and staff. The review and revision of the Common Course of Study currently underway provides a valuable opportunity for faculty to ensure that all students learn about race and racism as a part of their core curriculum at Lafayette. Finally, all academic departments and programs will be asked to review and further enhance their curriculum related to issues of race, ethnicity, underrepresentation, and social justice, and will be supported in their efforts to implement change.
I am also pleased to announce that the College is a member of the newly formed Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance. Dean Bookwala serves as our liaison to this consortia of institutions led by Shaun Harper from the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center. Our membership in this group provides us access to valuable resources and virtual learning sessions about antiracism, diversity, and equity that can be shared with members of our community.
Next Steps. Each administrative division of the College is in the process of developing division-specific diversity, equity, and inclusion goals that will be submitted to the College’s DEI Council. The DEI Council has requested that each division focus on goals related to additional training and education on racism and anti-black racism; further diversifying student and employee recruitment, and promoting more equitable and inclusive practices related to retention, advancement, and leadership opportunities; and campus climate. These goals will be folded into our College-wide agenda for change.
I hope that the Anti-Racism at Lafayette website can serve as a first step in increasing the transparency and accountability of our efforts to combat racism within our community and beyond. As we continue to refine our strategy, the site will continue to grow and evolve. This work requires sustained commitment, energy, and participation by every one of us. Thank you for your support of the critical goals we have set for ourselves as an institution and as a community.
Alison R. Byerly