Administrators discuss commitments to anti-racism and equity during open meeting

By Lily Jones

Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernandez explains the latest additions to the five-year plan, adjusted based on recent feedback from concerned groups. (Lily Jones)

The use of a racial slur targeting a Middlebury student and an update on the college’s five-year action plan for anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion were the focus of an open meeting co-hosted by the Student Government Association (SGA) and college administrators on Oct. 8. Student moderators represented groups accross campus, including the SGA, International Students’ Organization, Umoja and the Muslim Students Association. Panelists included President Laurie Patton, Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández, the Director of the Task Force on Anti-racism Christal Brown and dozens of other faculty and administrators. 

President Patton opened the event with a statement regarding the recent incident of race-related harassment on campus, which has since been investigated. “Racial slurs have no place on our campus, and no one should have to suffer dehumanizing treatment while pursuing a Middlebury education,” Patton said. She emphasized the work of the Senior Leadership Group (SLG) in response to this incident and listed several specific action steps.

The Board of Trustees plans to form a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee which will communicate frequently with BIPOC students and faculty. Patton’s aim is to make DEI issues more central in the Trustees’ decision making. The SLG has been talking to the SGA and Concerned Students of Midd — a group of students who sent a statement to President Patton and the SLG criticizing a May 31 community-wide email from Patton for drawing parallels between racial injustices and the pandemic. The email has since been removed from the college’s announcements. According to Patton, the SLG plans to implement restorative practices and is hoping to conduct follow-up meetings with Concerned Students of Midd. 

Patton also announced that the college will hire four new faculty members, three of whom will teach subjects related to Black Studies. One of the new faculty members will be in the Black Studies Program. There are also plans to create two more positions in the Black Studies Program in the future, thanks to a recent large donation. 

Patton went on to address the $500,000 the college received this past spring for anti-racism initiatives. Of that, $250,000 will go to the Task Force on Anti-racism, which will then decide where to allocate the funds. Another $50,000 will go to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS), and the remaining $200,000 will be allocated through the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (OIDEI). 

The office and the SLG will also meet with a newly formed task force of several compensated Black students to help determine how these funds will be used. Patton also provided more details about the Twilight Project, which will include research and artistic programming aiming to “bring to light those whose stories were previously left out of the cultural record.” 

Fernández followed Patton and presented the Action Plan for Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Fernández explained how the report was influenced by several outlets for student opinion, including the 2019 Zeitgeist and a climate assessment. After receiving input from multiple student organizations over the summer, the 35-page report was published by OIDEI in September. Fernández emphasized that the report is a “living document,” and that revisions have already been made, including the creation of the taskforce of compensated Black students that was conceived on the advice of Rodney Adams ’21 and Kaila Thomas ’21. 

Professor of Dance Christal Brown explains her role in leading the Task Force on Anti-racism for the next two years. (Lily Jones)

Christal Brown, the leader of the Task Force on Anti-racism and professor of dance, explained her new role within this network of initiatives. Brown has a two-year leadership role and said she aims to “stand in the gap as we traverse who we’ve been and who we are becoming.” She emphasized the need for greater communication and listening as a community. 

The panelists then went on to answer previously submitted questions. When asked about plans to expand the Black Studies program, Director Daniel Silva explained that there are currently no faculty with a doctorate in Black Studies. He said that the program requires a core of faculty, commenting that a colleague described the current Black Studies programs as “like having a chemistry department without chemists.” Silva advocated for hiring four or five professors in the next few years and spoke in support of a Black Studies distribution requirement. Patton noted that hiring priorities are determined by faculty through the Education Affairs Committee, not by administrators. 

Marti McCaleb, civil rights and Title IX coordinator, responded to several questions received about the outcome of the Sept. 25 racist incident. She said that investigations are confidential to protect student privacy as mandated by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). McCaleb noted that the impact of discrimination goes beyond the individuals involved and impacts the whole community. 

During the Q&A period, an anonymous attendee asks about the outcome of the investigation into a racist incident, one of multiple questions sent in on the topic. (Lily Jones)

Patton responded to a question about a separate incident of racism that took place outside the French House, during which an older, white community member sitting at the bus stop yelled “all lives matter” at a Black student. Patton said she hopes to intitate anti-racist intiatves within the town, including a “town-gown” coalition and educational workshops. 

Panelists also addressed ways in which the college can support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students. Director of Intercultural Programs and Professor of American Studies Roberto Lint Sagarena said he is “here to serve” and asked for students to reach out individually if they need assistance. Miguel Fernández added that he has been able to give DACA students grants in place of work-study and is able to aid in paying application fees and other expenses. Fernández said he is “trying to be creative but also cautious.” 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the event took place on Oct. 9 instead of its correct date, Oct. 8.