Sarah Fagan

The college published the five-section action plan in September, with initiatives scheduled for completion throughout the next few years.

College tackles multi-year anti-racism and DEI action plan

Sarah Fagan
The college published the five-section action plan in September, with initiatives scheduled for completion throughout the next few years.

Since the 1960s, Middlebury has conducted intermittent diversity climate assessments every six to seven years, according to Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández. The most recent of these initiatives is the Action Plan for Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, a multi-year plan published in September by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (OIDEI). 

OIDEI began writing the plan in fall of 2019 and circulated the plan to key stakeholders in the spring.  Like many of its predecessors, publication of the 2020 Action Plan followed a discrete campus or national event: in this case, the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolisis police officer last summer, which set off a fresh wave of protests about racial justice and equity in communities around the country. 

The plan is ambitious in both objective and scope, aiming to “identify and implement strategies that will engage the entire campus community in the work of fostering greater access, equity, inclusion, and full participation for Middlebury students, staff, and faculty.” 

Though Fernández and Directory of Equity and Inclusion Renee Wells spearheaded the Action Plan, they consulted numerous constituencies, including students, faculty, staff, administration, trustees, committees and alumni. They also looked at nearly two dozen reports, assessments and data to identify the institutional barriers that are mentioned in the report. From the feedback they received, the original plan underwent several iterations of revision. 

“Diversity plans often present lofty goals but lack specificity and strategy and therefore lead to ‘diversity clutter’ with a host of disconnected initiatives,” reads the Action Plan. To avoid these usual pitfalls and increase accountability, the Plan is broken into five foci: Faculty and Staff; Students; Fostering and Restoring Community; Accessibility; and Transparency and Accountability. For each of the 61 initiatives described, the Action Plan details the responsible units, a proposed timeline and a measure of accountability which delegates the responsibilities of the initiative. 

Still, the Action Plan introduction specifies the document should be viewed as a “roadmap,” not a “mandate.” When asked to confirm if strategies in the Plan would definitely be accomplished, Fernández acknowledged that fiscal realities as well as student and faculty initiatives could slightly shift the Plan’s approach. Wells said that the timeline may accommodate strategies as they become financially feasible. 

“Our goal is that all of this gets accomplished and more,” Fernández said. 

This Middlebury Campus investigation reports on the progress of the initiatives in the Action Plan with a particular focus on those with a proposed timeline of the 2020-2021 academic year. This project is split into five sections — one for each the Action Plan — and is the product of dozens of interviews with staff, students, committees and administrators. 

“The United States of America has not solved racism or issues of equity and inclusion in 200- plus years. I do not expect Middlebury will resolve it in five years,” said Fernandez in an interview with The Campus. “So I’m sure there is going to be plenty of work to do in five years, [but] I hope we’ll be in a much better place.”

Introduction by Hannah Bensen ’21.


Part 1: Faculty & Staff

The Faculty and Staff section focuses on increasing hiring equity, training new and existing faculty and staff in DEI practices, and building community among new hires to increase retention. Many view it as an important first step in an ongoing process that requires much deeper and continual institutional change.  Of the 11 strategies included in the section, 10 have been completed or involve ong...

Part 2: Students

The section of the Action Plan for Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that focuses on students is broken down into four categories of initiatives: recruitment, financial aid, development and support.  Renee Wells, Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion, hopes that these initiatives address the questions about community  “How do you help students understand what it means to...

Part 3: Fostering & Restoring Community

The Fostering and Restoring Community section involves strategies that are concerned with creating restorative mechanisms to address harm, facilitating spaces for critical conversations and workshops, creating avenues for dialogue between different stakeholders and providing opportunities to report incidents of bias and discrimination. These strategies are wide in scope, addressing students, faculty, s...

Part 4: Accessibility

This fourth section of the Plan includes eight initiatives, which are designed to address barriers to accessibility in the built environment, academic settings and technology or online systems. Though none of the strategies are slated for completion in 2021, work on many of them has already begun. And, as Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández explained, some of the strategies will never truly rea...

Part 5: Transparency & Accountability

The Transparency and Accountability section of the Action Plan (Section V) was designed to assess and communicate progress towards strategic goals and ensure responsible parties complete them. The section also commits to ongoing assessment and planning to ensure the mission behind DEI continues into the future.  Section V aims to create intentionality behind the work and enable the completion of ...