Update on Anti-Racist Work at Wooster,

Dear College of Wooster Community,

A month ago, I wrote in the wake of the brutal killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, treasured people who should still be with their families today. In our Community Care gathering on June 3, students, staff, faculty and alumni shared grief and outrage about these lives lost to racist violence, and the many that have come before them. We talked about anti-Black racism and its pervasive impacts and intolerable harms – around the world, and at Wooster as well. We declared our commitment, as individuals and as a College, to look honestly at ourselves and to act to dismantle racism in all its forms.

Since that time calls for justice have continued around the world, and some long-overdue changes are beginning. Here in Wooster, my cabinet colleagues and I have had the privilege of talking with Black alumni, students, staff and faculty about their experiences, and about the ways our college must change. It is clear that, while Wooster has made progress in some areas, we have urgent work to do to become a truly inclusive, equitable and welcoming place.

I write today to provide an initial update on that work and the plans that we are developing based on conversations we have had so far. This is only a beginning. We are looking forward to further discussions with students, staff, faculty and alumni in the coming weeks, as well as continued engagement with expert resources in anti-racist practices for each area of the College’s work. We will continue to provide regular updates.

Black lives matter. And the harms of racism have gone on far too long. Work to address them cannot wait, and it requires that we ask ourselves hard questions in order to make real change. Here are the principles guiding our plans and actions at Wooster.

  1. Students, staff and faculty deserve an equitable, welcoming, safe environment in which to live, work, learn and thrive. Far too often, that has not been the case at Wooster for Black people, indigenous people, people of color and other people with historically marginalized identities. That is unacceptable.
  2. To make a lasting difference, our anti-racist actions must be strategic, determined and sustained over time. There are things that we must do immediately, and then we need to keep going, and hold ourselves accountable for progress.
  3. We must listen to, amplify and be guided by the voices of our students, staff, faculty and alumni who face racism in their daily lives; those who are Black, indigenous and other people of color.
  4. Our progress cannot depend on these voices alone; it is not the responsibility of people of color to fix racism. Each of us is responsible for learning and becoming knowledgeable about racism and about ways to create just and equitable communities and workplaces, and then acting on that knowledge to make Wooster better.
  5. The changes we make are necessary for Wooster to achieve inclusive excellence, so that those who work, study and live here can truly thrive. But these commitments are not just about changing the campus experience. Wooster prepares students to become leaders of character and influence across the US and around the world. So, the learning that students do here, inside and outside the classroom, makes an impact on societal progress far beyond our campus.
  6. While Wooster has urgent work to do, we also have tremendous strengths to draw on. Our College was founded on the principle that excellence in education requires a broad range of identities and perspectives. We have some extraordinary faculty, staff and alumni leaders who have been doing anti-racist work for decades. We have a curriculum with new requirements in Diversity, Power and Privilege and Global Engagement, and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer who is already enacting discussions of anti-racism with students, staff and faculty. Our students are deeply committed to change, and our board of trustees will hold us accountable for progress. We are ready to seize this moment and make a difference.

In order to determine our next steps, my cabinet colleagues and I started with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic plan that the College of Wooster community developed in 2016-2017 with Shadra Smith and Christa Craven’s leadership. Listening to the voices of our students and colleagues, we have asked ourselves where that plan has succeeded in creating a truly inclusive and equitable community, and where it has not. Drawing from these reflections, as well as from study of anti-racist approaches to higher education, the cabinet leadership team has made the following initial commitments. These are only a beginning. We will continue to add new ideas as we learn more from people across the campus and beyond it.

  1. Build an inclusive and anti-racist campus culture.
    • Provide required training for all staff, students and faculty, focused on understanding structural racism and on the actions that create an inclusive equitable community. This work is beginning now with faculty, members of the board of trustees, the cabinet, and our teams in financial aid, student billing, security and protective services, and residential life, and will be completed by the end of the fall semester.
    • Contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion will be part of professional assessments for all faculty and staff. Building and supporting a diverse team, proactively creating an inclusive culture, ongoing learning and action will be part of the evaluations of all campus managers and leaders. This change will completed for the evaluation cycle in the coming academic year.
    • Review and revise our bias incident-reporting and response process, including increased support resources for those bringing forward concerns, for example, a trained individual serving as an ombudsman, and accountability for acts of racism or discrimination. This revision will be completed by November, 2020.
  2. Grow the diversity of our student body and of our faculty, staff and campus leadership.
    • Continue this year to build proactively-inclusive hiring practices for staff and faculty, and ensure equity in evaluation and promotion
    • Sustain and broaden the mentoring program and other actions enacted this year as a result of the faculty retention study
    • Continue to develop opportunities for students, staff and faculty of color to build connections on campus and beyond it.
  3. Strengthen resources for students to learn about issues of racial justice, and to develop capacities to lead, collaborate and make a difference in their work after graduation
    • Immediately enact targeted fundraising for Africana studies, CDI and other academic programs and co-curricular programs which focus on racism and justice.
    • Develop training resources for faculty teaching in courses that meet the Diversity, Power and Privilege, Global Engagement and Social Justice/Religion requirements. (To be completed this academic year.)
    • Revise new student orientation and leadership training for RAs and student organizations to strengthen learning about racism, cultural competency and creating inclusive community. (To be completed by the end of July, 2020)
  4. Ensure safety and broaden support for student wellness.
    • Collaborate with outside experts on equity, race and justice to find ways for our campus security and protective services team to become an even better resource for the safety and well-being of our campus community. (To be completed by the end of July, 2020.)
    • Increase the availability of counselors of color for students. (To be completed by the end of July, 2020)
  5. Increase support and opportunity for students.
    • Immediately undertake focused fundraising for the Black Student Equity Fund, Black Legacy fund, funds for DACA students and First-Generation students, as well as for scholarships, emergency funds, and funds for opportunities such as internships and study away.
  6. Engage with the community in the City of Wooster.
    • Find ways to collaborate with local leadership on anti-racist initiatives and on work to create an intentionally welcoming community.

My thanks go to every member of the College of Wooster community who is working hard to make our community better. Special thanks to those students, staff, faculty and alumni who have shared their experiences and perspectives, providing crucial insights into the painful experiences and harms of racism at Wooster. We will work together to create change everywhere on our campus, so that those harms end, and Wooster becomes the truly just and welcoming place for learning to which our mission calls us.

Sarah Bolton

Posted in Announcements on July 2, 2020.