“Diversity and Inclusion” will be theme for next fall’s Orientation, fall Board of Tustees retreat
In an all-campus email update yesterday, President Roth sent word that Public Safety will no longer include racial identifications in its safety alerts, an issue that has become increasingly contentious since Homecoming Weekend, when a sudden rash of safety incidents all described assailants as “African-American males.” The move has been recommended by a Public Safety Review Committee, which consists of students, faculty, and staff members. From Roth’s note:
The committee has recommended that Public Safety modify campus safety alerts to provide descriptions of suspects without using race as a descriptor, and Public Safety has adopted this practice. The committee continues to review the department’s policies and protocols, web presence, and schedule of trainings. Ensuring that there is a clear path for reporting concerns to the department is important.
Roth’s attention to issues of diversity and racial profiling follows closely on November’s “Diversity University” forum, where the topic of alleged racial profiling took center stage, alongside claims of Public Safety misconduct (most notably, an incident involving Paulie Lowther ’13), hateful ACB remarks, and diversity sensitivity in general. A number of students of color took the microphone at that event, describing being singled out for suspicion and unwarranted hostility. “It’s your responsibility not only to protect us, but to get to know us,” a student demanded to Director of Public Safety Dave Meyer. A heated exchange followed between Meyer, who insisted that Public Safety is required by Connecticut law to include racial identifications in email alerts, and Visiting Professor of English and African-American Studies Sarah Mahurin, who claimed that Yale—where she completed her graduate work—does not include race in its reports. (Meyer disputed this claim; a current Yale law student later verified it in an email to Wesleying.)
That week, Roth described the forum as “an intense, disturbing and enlightening experience for me” and vowed to “work together to make Wesleyan an institution that values diversity in theory and in practice.” Since then, his committee has identified three areas of needed improvement:
1) improving interactions between Public Safety and students, (2) increasing the scope and intensity of the Making Excellence Inclusive program on campus, and (3) enhancing town-gown connections to increase opportunities for positive interactions between the campus and the city.
In his current update, Roth notes that the committee will review Public Safety’s “policies and protocols, web presence, and schedule of trainings.” Additionally, next fall’s new student orientation will be devoted to “Diversity and Inclusion,” which will also serve as the theme of the Board of Trustee’s retreat.
“Recognizing that building an inclusive campus culture is a work-in-process,” the president concludes, “Wesleyan remains committed to creating, as our mission statement puts it, a ‘diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.'”
These subjects are not new. Racial profiling has been a topic of discussion and contention at Wesleyan for decades, and these moves won’t change that in a single sweep. I remember talking to alum Bobby Donaldson ’93 at an event shortly after November’s forum when the 1990 firebombing of President Chace’s office came up in conversation. Donaldson, now a Wesleyan trustee, revealed that he had been questioned as a suspect in the firebombing that spring. “They said it was a six-foot black male, and that described me,” Donaldson told me. “I hear racial profiling is still an issue on campus today!” Some weeks after the firebombing, racial epithets were found scrawled on the walls of Malcolm X House. President Chace held a campus-wide forum that sounds remarkably similar to the one that took place last semester. Over 500 students, faculty, and administrators were in attendance.
Has it gotten better since 1990? It’s hard to say. I wasn’t around then. You can find a detailed account of the events of that spring on a blog titled Racial Tension @ Wesleyan ’89-’90.
Nothing goes away overnight. But these current moves are a push in the right direction, I think, and ought to be commended.
Read President Roth’s full update here, via Roth on Wesleyan.
Homecoming Weekend: A Time for Violence?
Allegation of Public Safety Misconduct Emerge After Incident at Freeman
Beckham Hall Ruptures and Collapses From Weight of Released Emotion
Roth on Last Night’s Forum
“Diversity University” Forum: Complete Video is Online, Worth Watching
Activism or Terrorism?: The Chace Firebombing, Twenty Years On