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March 26 , 2004

Campus Moves Ahead on Imperatives Outlined at Forum

With the return from spring break, President Joanne V. Creighton and many other members of the Mount Holyoke community are moving forward with a four-part plan to strengthen the College’s longstanding commitment to diversity.

President Creighton outlined four imperatives at a community forum March 10 at which students, faculty, and staff discussed how to live, learn, and work together in greater mutual understanding and respect. The imperatives seek to “root out stereotyping and insensitivity, create a climate of achievement for all students, celebrate cultural diversity, and demonstrate institutional commitment,” Creighton said.

The community forum was prompted, in part, by concerns voiced by ALANA students and other members of the community about a number of issues affecting their experience at the College, including the recent departures of several top-level women of color from the administration. In addition, a campus incident earlier this semester provoked additional apprehension among members of the community about the educational climate for students of color here. Earlier that day, students and others had come together at a rally at Blanchard around these topics.

At the forum, President Creighton committed herself and the institution to a number of concrete steps.

First, in the imperative to root out stereotyping and insensitivity, President Creighton committed to:

• sponsor and help other community members sponsor lectures, workshops, and other programs that will help raise awareness about what leading scholar Claude Steele calls “stereotype threat” and other kinds of insidious vestiges of racism. Steele is the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences at Stanford University. He has written extensively on issues and challenges faced by students of color and women at American institutions of higher education and in other settings;

• support coordination, through human resources, of campus diversity awareness and educational programs;

• support students, faculty, and staff in developing an anti-racist statement that is displayed prominently on our Web site and in our publications.

In the imperative to create a climate of achievement for all students,

• President Creighton formed the Presidential Commission on Diverse Community earlier this year;

• committed the institution to hiring a faculty member on special assignment to work closely with her, the dean of faculty, and the faculty as a whole to give heightened urgency to an action agenda. This appointment will be made before the end of this term, if possible.

Many faculty members are already running or developing programs aimed at ensuring that the educational environment supports all students, while others are eager to become engaged in these efforts, Creighton noted.

Third, in the imperative to celebrate cultural diversity, President Creighton will support hiring an assistant dean of students for multicultural affairs to work in the dean of the College area. The new assistant dean will help advise ALANA cochairs, support cultural organizations, facilitate cultural programming, and make productive connections to the Office of Student Programs, the Career Development Center, and other offices and services. This position will be filled by next fall.

Fourth, as part of the imperative to demonstrate institutional commitment, President Creighton said Mount Holyoke will step up “affirmative and creative efforts to hire more persons of color for positions across the College.”

Creighton noted, “We will target, in particular, openings in the Office of the Dean of the College, the Career Development Center, and Student Health Services. Working with the faculty, we will try to sustain the impressive success resulting in 18 of 41 (or 44 percent) of recently hired faculty being persons of color, a record unmatched, I believe, by any peer institution in the country. It is a reflection of the widespread commitment to the extraordinary educational benefits of diverse perspectives across the curriculum.”

Creighton committed to setting up an ad hoc ALANA advisory committee “to share ideas, to develop a specific agenda with clear time lines, to track progress, and to witness our steady progress toward common goals.”

This week, a letter detailing these action steps has been sent to ALANA students who have approached the administration with their concerns. In her letter, Creighton noted that articulating the imperatives represents only a “starting point” in working with the many members of the Mount Holyoke community committed to moving forward on “a robust agenda of making Mount Holyoke a place that values and supports every single student.”

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