Dean leaves Hill in shroud of mystery
Former Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs and Director of the Pugh Center Shontae Praileau said that one of the reasons she found the College attractive was that it “is so socially isolated.” As such, she saw Colby as having the potential to be “an experimental lab of diversity [where] we can create the type of inclusive campus environment that we want.”
After handing in her resignation on Monday, September 27, Praileau parted ways with the social experiment she joined when she replaced Noel James on July 1 this past summer. With her departure there has been a significant backlash from both students and faculty members regarding the state of diversity at the College.
While neither Praileau nor Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students James Terhune would comment on her specific reasons for resigning, it is clear that Praileau’s reasons for leaving were on the administrative side of her duties. In response to hearing that Terhune told the Echo she resigned, Praileau said, “Oh is that what he told you?”
However, she refused to elaborate or provide any more detail into her reasons for leaving other than that her specific position was not a good fit for her. “What I feel about the position is different [than] what I feel about the college,” she said. “Although I’m not in this position anymore, and the position did not work out…I hope our paths still cross” in the future. According to its website, the Pugh Center “provides a hub for programs and activities that promote intercultural communication and understanding on campus.”
The Pugh Center opened in September 1996, as “a direct result of the campus discussions about the need for a multicultural venue, initiated by the requests of the Student of Color United for Change in the Spring of 1994,” according to an article from the September 26, 1996 issue of the Echo. Praileau’s departure has sparked a series of heated conversations among students, faculty members and administrators about the current state of diversity on the Hill. This past Friday, October 1, the Committee on Race and Racism and the Committee on Multicultural Affairs called via the General Announcements a meeting that took place Monday, October 4 at noon in the Dana Fairchild Room.
Both students and faculty members used the meeting as a chance to voice their opinions and concerns on a whole variety of issues surrounding the state of multiculturalism on the Hill. Both spoke passionately about Praileau’s positive contributions to the College and about their frustration over her decision to leave—and the lack of explanation regarding her specific reasons for resigning.
Among the topics covered, several important questions were proposed, often more than once, that did not receive immediate or direct answers from the members of the Administration present. The questions ran the gamut from “Why did Praileau leave, and why can’t the school say anything about it?” to “Why doesn’t Colby have an overarching senior position to oversee diversity on campus?”
After the lecture, Sonia Mahabir ’11, Pugh Community Board (PCB) chair in the 2009-10 school year, posted a list of the senior-level multicultural affairs officers in other New England Small College Atheltic Conference (NESCAC) schools who work in the president’s office or report directly to the president, as well as a list of other staff members “specifically and officially concerned with Multicultural Affairs.” All of the NESCAC schools except for Tufts and Colby have both senior-level and associate level positions specifically concerned with diversity. Mahabir’s full Digest post can be seen on the Echo’s blog at blog.thecolbyecho.com.
Additionally, 10 faculty members wrote a letter to the Echo explaining their concern with Colby’s inability to retain students from underrepresented backgrounds in comparison with their retention rates for other students (see page eight for the full letter). Education Professor Mark Tappan, who both signed the letter to the Echo and helped facilitate Monday’s meeting, said that he believes Praileau’s departure is bringing some serious diversity concerns to the forefront of Colby community members’ attention. He also said that, although Praileau’s resignation is unfortunate, there is “definitely faculty energy [and] definitely student energy” around making change as a result. Tappan does not know exactly what type of change the College needs to make, but he said that it needs to be dramatic. “What we really need to be thinking about is on the level of abolishing fraternities,” he said. “We need to be that brave, be that bold, be that courageous, be that willing to risk upsetting the way we do business here to really address this” issue of retaining students from underrepresented backgrounds.
Tappan said that a number of faculty members “feel like one change that would be good would be a chief diversity officer who reports right to the president.”As for how Praileau’s position will be covered immediately, Terhune said that from administration’s point of view, “Our focus at this point is focusing on what students need here.” There will be some advising dean reassigning to make sure all students have advising deans, and they will make sure that any “major components of her job are picked up in the immediate term.”
Additionally, the Administration has been reaching out to PCB, Pugh groups and the Student Government Association (SGA) to make sure they know that “there’s not going to be a disruption” in their scheduled programming or their daily operations because of Praileau’s departure.
Even if there is no disruption in programming, the disruption in leadership for the Pugh Center is undeniable. Praileau was the third director of the Pugh Center in four years and the fifth director in nine years. Not all of the directors have left because of problems with the administration, however. The previous associate dean of multicultural affairs and director of the Pugh Center Noel James left because her husband, former Vice President for College Relations Richard Ammons, took a new job at Duke University in North Carolina. The director before James was Sammie Robinson, who returned to work in Admissions, where he had worked prior to his job as director of the Pugh Center. SGA President Leslie Hutchings expressed her frustration with what she perceives as a high turnover rate for faculty recently.
“The turnover rate with deans and faculty members is really frustrating to students….The good thing about having faculty that stay a long time is that they can help carry on initiatives or keep momentum going [once students leave],” she said. “We’ve seen it with Dave McGraw, Kelly Wharton, Noel James and Todd Herrmann….I think a lot of students are like ‘what’s going on?’” Hutchings said. Although Preileau was only on the Hill for a brief 90 days, it seems that her unexpected departure has opened up a can of worms that the College will have to address.
News Editor Allison Ehrenreich contributed reporting to this article.