To the Echo, from the Faculty
October 3, 2010
To the Echo:
We are writing to share our concerns about issues of diversity and social justice on campus.
Our commitment to fostering a fully inclusive campus community, enriched by persons of different races, gender identities, ethnicities, nationalities, economic backgrounds, ages, abilities, sexual orientations, political beliefs and faiths, is one of our most important values as a College. Yet we all know that we continue to struggle to fully realize this commitment.
We struggle particularly around retaining the diverse student body that we admit every yearâ€”thatâ€™s the real challenge of diversity and social justice at Colby. Most people on campus donâ€™t know this, but our retention rates with respect to students of color, particularly Latino/a, African American, and Native American students, have been, and continue to be, quite low (see www.colby.edu/administration_cs/ir/factbook2009/index.cfm). Each and every student admitted to Colby is absolutely qualified to be here, and is undoubtedly able to meet our high standards for success, but the persistent differences in retention rates between students of color and white students strongly suggest that we are failing to support all students equally and effectively.
History, of course, doesnâ€™t have to repeat itself. But in order to avoid these problems, we must focus more intentionally on making Colby a more supportive, more welcoming, safer place for students, faculty and staff from under-represented groups.
To do this, we must systematically, structurally and strategically change the climate on campus with respect to issues of diversityâ€”something we have not done, really, since fraternities and sororities were abolished in 1984. There have been various initiatives, from time to time (e.g., the construction of the Pugh Center, the Faculty Allies program, Campus Conversations on Race, the formation of the Race and Racism and Multicultural Affairs Committees, and the new Colby Achievement Program in the Sciences (CAPS), but these have largely been piecemeal efforts.
Unfortunately, we have suddenly lost the services of someone who possessed the training, skills and expertise to help us make systemic and structural changes to our campus climate: former Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs and Director of the Pugh Center Shontae Praileau. Those of us who had the opportunity to work with Shontae in her short time here know how much she loved working with the students and building bridges with the faculty at Colby, and how committed she was to issues of social justice and changing the culture on campus.
Itâ€™s also important to note that three different persons of color have left the Associate Dean position in just over four years. These frequent changes in the position â€œresponsible for oversight and implementation of Colby's efforts to promote understanding of diversity and human differenceâ€ reflect yet another troubling aspect of our history that must be addressed.
Nevertheless, we have to recover from past and present setbacks and move ahead. To make a genuine difference, to dramatically change our campus climate, to significantly improve our retention rates, we have to be as bold as we were in 1984. The time is now, and we look forward to working with other faculty, staff, and students as we undertake this critically important endeavor.
Lyn Mikel Brown, Education
Julie De Sherbinin, Russian
Bevin Engman, Art
Walter Hatch, Government
Adam Howard, Education
Jorge Olivares, Spanish
Tarja Raag, Psychology
Betty Sasaki, Spanish
Mark Tappan, Education