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Board of Trustees anti-racism action plan

The Mount Holyoke College seal

August 27, 2020

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke College community,

As the Mount Holyoke College Board of Trustees, we acknowledge that structural racism has harmed — and continues to harm — the community about which we care so deeply. We join with Mount Holyoke College’s leadership and larger community in actively becoming an anti-racist institution.

Conversations about race and racism have been at the forefront of trustee deliberations for the past several months. With the ongoing and senseless acts of violence against, and murder of, Black people, our discussions have become more urgent. These acts are rooted in deeply embedded racist structures and beliefs within our society.

Our conversations have been informed by the pain-filled testimonies of students, staff, faculty, College leadership and alums. Their personal experiences of racism on this campus, past and present, further compel our attention, and underscore the overdue need for action, as do the demands sent by the Association of Pan-African Unity that were shared with us.

Anti-racism is at the core of Mount Holyoke’s mission. As trustees, we must take a bold stand to live up to that standard and build a better and preferred future for our community. We fully support the College’s efforts to become anti-racist and will hold it accountable for progress. The Board of Trustees will also adopt an explicit approach and clear, measurable action steps.

We take on the work of becoming anti-racist collectively, as the College’s governing body and as individuals. In our role as the governing body we will address those items that are within our set of fiduciary responsibilities. The actions outlined below are our starting point for the longer-term work needed.

Our Approach

  • Building an anti-racist community will require us to interrogate our own beliefs, change our mindsets, listen deeply, think broadly and work collaboratively with our fellow trustees, the College and the community as a whole.
  • We commit to examining racism where it has existed in our past and opposing racism where it persists at Mount Holyoke. This commitment includes a process of discerning and reckoning with our racial history, as well as assessing the College community of today.
  • Anti-racism must now be core to our work as we live up to the intent of our mission. We will work to ensure that it is visible in our policies and practices, which will be reviewed through more informed diversity, equity and inclusion and anti-racism lenses.
  • We will continue to seek out, listen to and reflect upon the accounts of racism and trauma, past and present, in order to better understand the culture, address our role in shaping it, and help the College build a community where everyone can reach their full potential.
  • We will support President Sonya Stephens, the diversity, equity and inclusion team led by Kijua Sanders-McMurtry, and College leadership as they operationalize their own anti-racism action plans, holding them and ourselves accountable for progress.

Our Action Plan

For 2020-2021, the Board has committed itself to the following action steps:

Becoming anti-racist

  • Institute anti-racist education and training for the Board beginning with the 2020 fall semester, including active participation in the Common Read and undertaking the same training as the College cabinet. Anti-racist education will continue each year going forward. 
  • Create a Board-level diversity, equity and inclusion task force and a multi-year anti-racism and diversity, equity and inclusion plan. This plan will be in support of the College’s plan but will focus on those areas that are uniquely the purview of the Board of Trustees.
  • Embed anti-racist values, standards and education along with an awareness of the importance of valuing diversity, equity and inclusion in all Board committees. Each committee will articulate their plans for addressing diversity, equity and inclusion issues annually.
  • Work closely with the Alumnae Association to ensure deeper engagement among alums identifying as Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), as well as identifying training and education opportunities for the broader alum community.
  • With the College, establish key measures that track the College’s and the Board’s progress in becoming anti-racist, with the first annual report due May 2021.

Policy

  • With the College, review financial aid policies and funding to assess the impact on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, as well as the success of first-generation students and those with lower incomes.
  • With the College, examine past naming of buildings, monuments and other commemorations on campus; establish a process to ensure that future namings and commemorations are aligned with the College’s clear anti-racist and anti-bias policies; and approve renaming past commemorations as needed.

Practices 

  • Ensure that the trustee selection process and orientation of new trustees are informed by anti-racist values, standards and education. Share the principles that inform trustee selection with the Mount Holyoke community. This transparency will include goals around Board diversity and expertise.
  • Beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year and going forward, enhance opportunities for students, staff and faculty to engage with the Board to ensure that we hear from diverse voices and perspectives. Communicate the rationale and schedule of these interactions.
  • As individuals, and in our role as trustees, actively support College fundraising that benefits specific initiativesfor BIPOC, first generation and low-income students. This may include scholarships, financial aid and expanded resources for cultural centers. As a start, the trustees have partnered with the family of the late Mindy Lewis ’75 to fully fund an endowed scholarship for students of color in her memory. We have also donated funds to ensure the Student Safety Net Fund is fully funded for the 2020-2021 school year.

We look forward to reporting our progress toward completing each of these action steps in May 2021.

In solidarity,

Karena Strella ’90
Chair, the Mount Holyoke College Board of Trustees

Please share your questions and comments with us at antiracism@mtholyoke.edu.

Measures taken by the Mount Holyoke Board of Trustees since the release of the Board of Trustees anti-racism action plan in August 2020

as of July 6, 2021

Objective: Practice anti-racism and elevate diversity, equity, and inclusion as key values of the Board

Progress

  • In 2020-2021, trustees attended the following:
    • Common Read keynote conversation featuring Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the 1619 Project.
    • Various lectures and seminars presented during The Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Week of Racial Justice and Reconciliation. 
    • The Keynote speaker session for BOOM 2021 and documented their reflections on how the material informed their work as trustees.
    • Anti-racist education opportunities sponsored by the College’s DEI office, including a session on anti-semitism and anti-racism, among others.
  • DEI Task Force: The Board of Trustees has established the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force. The Task Force is comprised of a diverse group of trustees who also sit on or head the full range of BOT committees. The Task Force meets regularly and supports the ongoing work of DEI at the College. 
  • Mandatory training: The Board of Trustees completed its 2021 mandatory full-board training with Kijua Sanders-McMurtry.

Objective: In its oversight role, the Board will ensure an anti-racist and DEI lens is taken on College policies.

Progress

  • Review and assess: Financial aid policies and funding were reviewed by the BOT and College to assess the impact on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, as well as the success of first-generation students and those with lower incomes.
    At the February 2021 BOT meeting, the Financial Aid office presented a plenary which provided a detailed analysis of case studies representing students from different economic circumstances. Several issues of concern about equity surfaced as a result of this analysis.
  • Support of College fundraising: As individuals and trustees, actively support College fundraising that benefits specific initiatives for BIPOC, first generation and low-income students. This may include scholarships, financial aid and expanded resources for cultural centers.
  • As of spring 2021, the following actions have been taken to meet this objective:
    • The BOT has ensured that the Student Safety Net Fund (SSNF) is fully funded for the 2020-2021 academic year, and two donors (one a trustee) have established an endowment for the SSNF with initial commitments totaling $1 million
    • A trustee offered a matching pool of  $10 million  for endowed  scholarships which has resulted in several new trustee-funded endowments.
    • A total of $500,000 in matching funds have been offered by Trustees Monica Landry and Bess Weatherman for gifts to  the Mount Holyoke Scholars fund in FY20.
  • Several trustees partnered with the family of the late Mindy Lewis ’75 to fully fund an endowed scholarship for students of color in her memory.