Colby struggles with community
Community. Diversity. Community. Diversity. We at the College have been hopelessly repeating these words as if they were a mantra—in the Echo, in the SGA, in the committees, in the work groups, in the classrooms, in the Coffeehouse and in the boardroom. At times it seems like we have been on the cusp of substantial progress on these daunting fronts, but we are once again stuck in the proverbial mud.
Let us hark back to that special day after April 12, 2009, when the student body turned out in a crimson tide on the academic quad to protest the egregious actions of a few security officers and the Waterville Police Department. On that day, we felt like we had the momentum; surely this would be a watershed moment. The administration could not defend the indefensible. Action was necessary, and there was no better time for it. However, in the days after that awe-inspiring display of unity, conventional wisdom was turned on its head. Student unity devolved into a morass of fatigue and disillusionment. The administration did, indeed, defend the indefensible in the most cynical way: appointing a conservative African American lawyer to obscure the facts and save face.
The fact of the matter is that our administration has a less than distinguished record on the issues of diversity and community. It really boils down to one thing: the identity of this venerable institution. Since the early 1980s, when Colby transformed from a regional college that served the needs of the northeastern corridor to a national college with global educational intentions, the school’s identity has been remarkably vague. Are we still the socially elite institution that caters to the whims of the privileged, or are we an intellectually and culturally diverse institution, which makes a concerted effort to embrace a variety of different people, ideas and practices?
Over the last three years (and I would venture to guess the last 30 years), numerous students, professors and administrators have made a concerted effort to create a more cosmopolitan culture. However, I doubt that the highest levels of the administration and the Board of Trustees are truly committed to creating the kind of inclusive and diverse campus community that so many of us want to see. I do not believe that the College’s most influential leaders have entirely let go of our former identity; instead, they have attempted to straddle our old and new identities. Consequently, we have not formed a cohesive community. We may have the most diverse first-year class in our history, but the factionalized social atmosphere continues unabated. Across the board, minority social cliques do not receive the type of support that they need in order to feel included in the College’s social atmosphere. The issue of racial diversity is most prominent on campus; outright racist acts and micro-aggressions have been all too common during the last three years (Cinco de Mayo, April 12, racial epithets on dorm room white boards, etc.).
And now in the last year we have lost two Deans of Multicultural Affairs, who were making substantial and positive progress on these fronts. What does the administration have to say about these departures? Nothing, apparently. The administration has held up its tradition of running a ‘Defense Department’-type operation by providing “no comment,” as if the reason behind the dismissal of Dean Shontae Praileau was protected by the ‘Official Secrets Act.’ This kind of behavior is emblematic of the administration’s tendency to conduct its most sensitive dealings behind closed doors without getting input from the majority of students and professors. On a variety of sensitive issues, the administration refuses to have open and honest conversations with our community. Instead, they make decisions independently and rarely communicate them effectively to the rest of the community.
If we, as a community, are to have a frank conversation about how we can make our community more diverse and inclusive, our administration needs to jettison its self-deluded air of infallibility, start practicing transparency, and make a commitment to a culturally diverse campus atmosphere. Tell us why Dean Shontae Praileau left after just one month on the job, and while you are at it, apologize for April 12.