By Molly Igoe and Brooke Schultz
After the #WACLikeMe Panel in February, students opened up a stark conversation about race relations at Washington College. In part one, The Elm talked to students about their experience on campus and in Chestertown.
From her position, Dean Patrice DiQuinzio has been focusing on efforts to diversify the faculty. She said that the College hired a consulting firm, The Academic Network (TAN), to increase the diversity of the application pool for faculty and staff positions.
She said that the College is still in the process of filling open faculty positions for next year. Once that is completed, they will see how minority candidates performed.
Dean DiQuinzio explained the information TAN gathers for analysis.
“Did they get a phone interview? Were they interviewed at a conference? Were they invited to campus for a finalist interview? Were they offered the job? Did they accept the job?” she said. “Our next step will be to revise our diversity statement for job ads and to train faculty and staff on the search committees to recognize and eliminate unconscious bias that would eliminate minority candidates. Again, TAN will really help with this.”
She admits that the College has made more progress with diversifying the student body than the faculty, and that is why increasing faculty diversity is a priority for her.
“I care about this, as does President [Sheila] Bair. We are working with Carolyn Burton, director of Human Resources, to work on looking at the stages of the hiring process, especially focusing on minority applicants.”
Kay Wicker, Class of 2014, addressed the lack of diversity among faculty during her time at WC.
“I would have wanted more African Americans and just people of color on staff. It really was just Dr. [Alisha] Knight, and luckily I was an English major so I had classes with her and she was accessible to me, but I feel like if I were in biology environment…” she said. “There’s a lot of young women of color who end up leaving that field for something else because there’s not enough women in it, not enough people of color; you can only get so high [up]. Unless you’re going to be taking a class with Dr. Knight, when are you going to happen about her, really?”
Dean DiQuinzo emphasized the importance of taking a data driven approach to this issue. She said that the College has been very systematic about looking at the numbers and have closely monitored their goals and the process. The administration presented their data to the Board of Visitors and Governors in February.
According to the report, in the 2016-17 academic year 16.6 percent of students are minorities and 11.8 percent of faculty are minorities. Of the minority students, 7.3 percent are black, 4.7 percent are Hispanic, 2.8 percent are Asian, 1.1 percent are more than one race, and 0.6 percent are Native American.
So far, TAN, in conjunction with the College, has received 47,402 position openings notices, and 567 people have contacted TAN about a position opening at WC. The average time spent on the WC HR website is 23 minutes.
At the start of the 2016-2017 academic year, there was a high amount of turnover among faculty. Ahyana King, former director of Intercultural Affairs, shared a letter she sent to WC faculty and staff. Titled “Sometimes it’s time to say Goodbye Washington College,” she wrote about her experience as a black faculty member at WC.
She wrote in her letter that in her experience, “#Blacklivesmattersometimes,” and that individuals who are non-white, non-heterosexual, and non-male only “matter sometimes.”
“I don’t listen to everything my father says, but I’ve always held on to his words to never settle,” she wrote. “So I can’t settle for a campus community where I, my colleagues, and students who are from underrepresented populations matter sometimes.”
She said that underrepresented populations were less often treated as knowledgeable, worthy of pay increases that less-experienced faculty received, or fully included in the campus community.
“I can’t settle for a community who’d rather tell my students who came to say farewell that they shouldn’t be angry that I, Neisha Green, and Dr. [Xavier] Cole, [former vice president for Student Affairs] left as a coincidence, and they will support them any way they can, when the opportunity to support them was to engage and treat us as the humans we are before any of us knew that if we wanted to matter we would need to leave WC,” King said in the email.
Green, former assistant director of the Writing Center who left the College in the same month as King, said she experienced race-related problems with one specific colleague.
She discussed a time when, while teaching a freshmen composition class, she saw that one of the students had written the name of another professor of color instead of her own.
“I was not mad about that. I was puzzled to know how a freshman student would have mixed up my name and [the other professor’s] name because it was the very first assignment; school hadn’t been opened very long,” she said.
Green said that she was in the hallway, talking with some colleagues about it to try to understand why the student would have confused them. Another colleague approached Green and said that the reason the student had confused them was because their hair looked the same.
When Green responded that it did not, she said that the colleague persisted, despite that she was “trying to walk away from the conversation.”
Green said that she did reach out to make a complaint to Human Resources (HR), but nothing was done.
“HR doesn’t have, or at least when I was there, didn’t have any grievance policies set in place… I could have sat down and had a conversation with the three of us, but there would have been no protection in place for me…,” she said.
HR could not confirm that Green made a complaint, but, according to HR’s website, if “problem-solving conversations” do not resolve the concern, the complainant can file a grievance, which is defined as, “an unresolved issue regarding an alleged misapplication or violation of College policy, practice, or procedure, other than harassment or discrimination.”
If a grievance is filed, the complainant is protected under the retaliation clause which states that, “All members of the WC community are advised that retaliation against anyone for filing a complaint of discrimination or harassment or for participating in an investigation of discrimination or harassment is strictly prohibited by law and by College policy,” and, according to HR, if retaliation is found to occur, the retaliation is treated as an initial incident and is responded to.
To make sure no acts of retaliation occur, there are informal check-ins with the complainant to gauge the situation.
HR noted that if no formal complaint is filed, there is no investigation. All complaints do not rise to the level of discrimination, but HR still performs check-ins with the complainant to make sure the situation has not escalated.
HR’s policy on discrimination states that the complainant should, “seek all available assistance, and to pursue remedies available through campus judicial or grievance processes. Complainants are also encouraged to report incidents to local, state and/or federal authorities or offices charged with handling unlawful discrimination or harassment.”
To report a complaint, students, employees, or third parties should contact Title IX coordinator or assistant coordinators, 504 coordinator or assistant coordinators, Student Affairs staff, Department of Public Safety, or the Human Resources Department.
This has not yet been updated to include resources from the Bias Response Protocol.
After talking with HR, Green said that she reached out to others to ask for help to find out what she should do in this situation.
“I literally had one person say to me, ‘Oh, [the colleague] probably never had to work…with a black person before….You have to teach [them] how to work with you, how to talk to you.’ And I’m like, ‘What? Teach [them]? How to work with me? A person? Are you serious?’”
The Elm reached out to Green’s colleague for comment. The individual declined further comment.
Green also recounted a time where she, as she was parking her car, she saw another College employee watching her inside her vehicle.
“The whole time, I’m wondering, ‘Well, how long are they just going to sit there?’ and so I just sit in the car, play in my purse, take stuff out, put extra makeup on that I don’t need – random things. The person still watches me and I’m realizing that the person is now in front of my car and I get out of the car finally and say, ‘Good morning,’ and the person demands to know who I am and whether or not I have permission or not to be here,” she said. Green said the employee was a person she had met before.
During her time at the Writing Center, Green said that she worked hard to broaden the tutors’ understanding of language and make it a safe-space.
“That has kind of always been a part of my mission, creating a safe space, because not only do I need it to be a safe space for the students, but I need it to be a safe space for myself because I’m very used to walking into a writing center and not being the first woman, but being the first person of color to be in an administrative position, let alone the first black woman. So I need the space to also be safe for me because in my job, in my work, I’m always the minority. Always,” she said.
Green said that she struggled to get readings that discussed code-meshing— the use of dialect mixed with standard English — onto the syllabus.
“In my first semester, I was told it wasn’t practical and it wasn’t knowledge [the students] needed to know. Do you know when it became practical knowledge? It became practical knowledge when President Bair came in and decided her pet project was going to be George’s Brigade. That’s when it became practical knowledge. It wasn’t practical before because we didn’t have any brown students on campus before that.”
Green said that the people who had the power to address these instances had opportunities to do so, but did nothing.
“These things happened and we told people and they chose to keep their mouths shut or to put ridiculous Band-Aids on wide open sores.”
Junior Rhea Arora is a tutor at the Writing Center who said she benefitted from those lectures and from gaining that understanding of language and identity.
In India, Arora switches between Hindi, Bengali, and English, and as a tutor, she said that she’s able to understand non-native English speakers’ trouble when fitting their language into an American-English context.
“Code-switching and meshing is important to me because I do it, I have always done it, and didn’t even know that there was such a term for it until Neisha told me,” she said. “There are many students who speak in various codes and foreign languages who can fluidly switch and navigate different sentence constructions and grammatical and syntax rules.”
Dr. James Allen Hall, associate professor of English, director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House, and chair of the diversity committee, said that one way to address race relations is to add a chief diversity officer who answers to the president of the College. This will “institutionalize the fight against white supremacy.”
The administration should not be the only ones held accountable. Students and faculty can help, too.
“We can start with empathy. We can start by calling out racism where it occurs. We can start with ourselves. If you’re frustrated that the administration hasn’t stopped racism here, I am glad. But the better question, for me, is: what have I done today to combat racism and white supremacy? …While we’re waiting for administrations to act, let’s not forget our own power as individual agents of change.”
For the students, freshman Amanda Mede said that she believes it is an issue that the black community doesn’t speak out about what’s going on.
“I understand we’re mad, we’re frustrated, but if nobody knows your situation, then I don’t understand how they expect people to take action,” she said. “Also, you can tell someone how to act, but you can’t force someone to act a certain way, so even if the school did take action, there’s still some people who are not going to cooperate. The black community expects everyone to just accept them, but not everyone’s going to accept them, and they have to understand that the school can try to do whatever they need to, but they can’t force the students to act a certain way.”
Wicker said that during her time at WC, students of color seldom spoke out.
“I feel like the things that were happening, we were just used to it, unfortunately. A lot of people passed it off as, ‘That’s just what happens.’…We would just complain about it amongst each other, but we never really even thought to report it because it’s so ingrained,” she said. “Now, because there’s so much tension on that problem, we now kind of have a voice. It’s getting better. When I was here, it wasn’t as big….It didn’t really feel like it was a possibility.”
During Colleena Calhoun’s, Class of 1999, time at WC, students would contact The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post as a way to push back at the institution.
“That generally mobilized the administration to push their subordinates to make necessary changes and to respond more appropriately and swiftly to incidents,” she said. “Although it seems that everything we fought for back then has waned and the black students are now back to starting from scratch to eliminate bias on campus.”
Dean Sarah Feyerherm said that this year’s implementation of the first Bias Incident Protocol has been helpful in creating a formal system that allows administration to compile all their information into one place so it can be tracked.
Dr. Hall worked with Dr. Jean-Pierre Laurenceau-Medina, assistant dean of students and director of Intercultural Affairs on the Bias Incident Response Protocol. He acknowledged the importance of this first step and applauded President Bair, Dean Feyerherm, and others who helped with the protocol.
“We would be foolhardy to rest on this incident response as our only way to combat racism,” he said. “Every white person on this campus needs to examine his or her or their privilege and then use it to call out racism where it occurs, to counsel friends and loved ones, to act with empathy and kindness.”
Symeon Turner, a student that The Elm spoke to for the first half of this story, said that he thinks that panels like #WACLikeMe are are an effective way of airing their grievances, but there needs to be more communication to the “people who are having the issues.”
He said, “For example, every PS officer doesn’t have to come, but Director of Public Safety Jerry Roderick could come. These are the people that we’re having the issues with, so, we can sit in a room and talk about our struggles all day, but until we talk to the people that we’re having a problem with, nothing is going to change.”
For this particular panel, Roderick said that he was out of town at a conference, but concerns are being heard by Public Safety.
“I’m having conversations with my staff and they’re hearing what’s being said – what’s come out of this [#WACLikeMe] meeting– and so it’s a good conversation that we should continue to have,” he said. “My job is to represent the entire community and if anyone out there is feeling this hostility or profiling, then I definitely want to hear about it.”
Dr. Hall also mentioned that WC would benefit from more students of color in leadership positions on campus.
“We need to empower our incredible students of color to apply for positions of leadership,” he said. “We need to guard against unconscious bias in hiring for executive board and other administrative positions at the student government-level. We need student organizations across campus to make diversity/inclusivity part of their conversations as well. It shouldn’t just be BSU or EROS or TaNGO or the Intercultural Ambassadors of the SGA Secretary of Diversity that are working for a more inclusive campus. What are athletic teams, Greek Life, and other student organizations doing to combat this problem?”
Calhoun recommended that students “continue fighting the good fight.”
She said, “Your tuition is the same as everyone else’s. Thus you have the right to a comfortable and positive college experience just as much as any white students,” she said. “So you must hold the administration accountable for ensuring this is the case throughout your college career. No excuses.”
By Molly Igoe and Brooke Schultz