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Lack of communication leads to tension regarding IDE ten-year plan

What is the IDE Steering Committee?

When former president Steven Poskanzer took his role in 2008, Carleton had no committee dedicated to implementing Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (IDE) goals. In light of George Floyd’s murder, national support for the Black Lives Matter movement and rising agitation among students, faculty, staff and alumni, in October, 2020, Poskanzer commissioned an IDE Steering Committee to create a strategic plan for Carleton.

This came after the Ujamaa Collective, a group of members from various Black student groups, drafted a list of demands to the college. Over 2,000 alumni signed an open letter to the school supporting the Collective’s demands and calling for action to make Carleton a more inclusive school. 

Over the past two years, the committee has been focused on creating a ten-year IDE plan for the school and holds a ‘special focus on black experiences’ as directed by Poskanzer.

Committee co-chair, alum and trustee member Jeninne McGee clarified that the plan is not a response to the Ujamaa demands but rather a product of the context in which the demands were made.  

“It was the context of George Floyd, it was the context of our alumni saying we need to make progress and it was the context of students coming to us and saying there’s not a place where they feel a sense of belonging,” McGee said. “So, it wasn’t the demands in particular, it was the moment which the demands came from.”

A timeline of the committee’s actions can be found in the graphic below.

What were the concerns presented by the CSA?

The CSA’s concerns, presented to the committee, included the lack of representation of different constituent groups, including international students and disabled students, and vagueness that students noticed. CSA Public Relations Officer Hana Horiuchi ‘23 remarked on this issue.

“We were kind of shown this list of changes to be made, and they were very vague,” Horiuchi said. “It’s like ‘keep metrics for making sure that staff are not being racist’ where it’s like ‘Ok, what are you talking about? What are you going to do?’ How do you measure ‘anti-racism’?”

CSA Class Representative Jancyn Appel ‘23 added to this sentiment, saying that the timeline was another concern of hers.

“What we’ve been hearing for months is ‘We’ve been in discussion; we’ve established working groups; we’re going to talk about this; things are going to happen in the future,’” Appel said. “We’re so past the talking point; it’s been two years.” 

According to CSA President Molly Zuckerman ‘22, another big concern was the lack of clear communication between the CSA and the committee. Andrew Farias ‘21, CSA President from Spring 2020 to Winter 2021, stressed that this has been a concern since he began working with the CSA.

“CSA is directly tapped into what students are doing, and the IDE Steering Committee is there for students. Of course, alumni and faculty and staff members are impacted, but Carleton is really a place for the student body to feel welcome,” Farias said. “Having that presence and that relationship is necessary; you want students to feel informed.”

Looking back on the numerous committees that Carleton has had, according to Farias, there has consistently been a lack of student representation.

“I would say that the ratio of students to faculty, staff and alumni almost always outnumbered the current number of students on the committees,” Farias said. “That’s pretty frustrating, because what ends up happening is that you get alumni that are 40 years removed from campus, and their experience is not going to be what students now are experiencing.”

Zuckerman added to this, requesting that the committee keep regular communication with CSA.

“Number one is [to] meet with us again and brief us, or number two send us an email, keep us updated,” Zuckerman said. “I think what was particularly upsetting was that they did not want to come back to CSA, and senators had so many concerns during the initial meeting that it seemed incredibly crucial to follow up.”

Combining the concerns regarding the timeline and the communication difficulties, Horiuchi shared the fear that students will graduate and be unable to hold administrative bodies accountable.

“Saying that you’re going to do things is all well and good, but there has to be follow through,” Horiuchi said. “The worry is that by the time we’ve graduated, the people who complained about this and know that this is not what the Ujamaa Collective asked for in 2020, who will hold them accountable––it feels like it will get watered down if it’s not acted upon.”

In light of this, the CSA released a resolution to the committee, which can be seen in the image below, highlighting their concerns and requesting that the committee complete more frequent communication with the CSA and expand their plan to include the experiences of international students and other marginalized identities on campus. 

How did other constituent groups react?

Jevon Robinson ‘22, a founding member of the Ujamaa Collective, shared his concerns regarding the committee as well, echoing many of the CSA’s sentiments.

“I am disappointed that the IDE Steering Committee did not seek to include more voices from the students in the collective while they were developing their strategic plan and goals,” Robinson said. “It’s been two years, and we still haven’t had a campus-wide discussion on moving towards an equitable institution.” 

According to Robinson, much of his dismay has come from a general sense that the administration has not had an adequate response to the Ujamaa demands as a whole.

“While the most updated document shows that the college may agree with us on some of our recommendations, the urgency to implement these changes seems to be where the collective and the administration have disagreed,” Robinson said. “I think we should be transparent that we have been meeting with the administration since May of 2020, and it was not until Carleton alums drafted an open letter in August 2020 that we received word that the board of trustees endorsed the idea of creating a plan for IDE concerns.”

Specifically, Robinson pointed to the lack of a center for resources for Black students that exists in many of Carleton’s peer institutions.

“Members of the collective have firmly and repeatedly advocated for the creation of a center that would house resources for Black students; this already exists at many of Carleton’s peer institutions like Swarthmore and Grinnell,” Robinson said. “The IDE goals instead call for increased funding to existing offices that do not meet this need.”

Black Student Alliance (BSA) President Aiana Whitfield agreed with many of Robinson’s notes but added: “I do appreciate the breadth of the plan in comparison to our previous president. I know I had talked to other leaders of student groups and they felt that, while it was, timing-wise, important to prioritize the experience of Black students, they had fallen short of the other POC and other minority and diverse populations that Carleton does have,” Whitfield said. “So, I know they have different groups focused on different student experiences, and that does sound better to me.”

Whitfield added that she hopes that the community of people of color (POC) on campus is able to stay united regardless of the school’s actions but also hopes for transparency from the administration.

“I hope that our community of POC stays united in spite of what the school does or does not do. We all agreed it was a good idea to have more interconnected events between different cultural organizations,” Whitfield said. “As for the school, I hope they try to prioritize transparency, because a lot of the time, there are a lot of hopeful headlined things that they put out without any actual plan of following through, and I think that only detriments the trust that we have within the institution.” 

Adding to this sentiment, Director of International Students Liz Cody shared that she hopes to see international students represented in the plan. 

“Being given the opportunity to speak with the Carleton Board in October, with the consultant last April and the IDE working group in December shows that there is a desire to learn more about and improve the experience of international students at Carleton on a broader scale,” Cody said. “Throughout this process, I’m really happy to see that so many Carleton students, staff and faculty are here to advocate for the international community.”

According to Cody, the goals and objectives are only half the plan, and the execution will be the ultimate testament to the effectiveness of the plan.

“I believe that the goals and objectives are all strong and aspirational guiding points, but with any strategic plan, it’s all about the execution,” Cody said. “I’m excited to see the ways in which Carleton creates action based on the goals and objectives.” 

How did the IDE Steering Committee respond?

Committee co-chair and classics professor Chico Zimmerman stressed that while the goals may lack specificity, there will be clear strategies to come in the next stage of the plan. He also emphasized the role of data collection in the decision-making process, specifying that the first year of the plan was spent on data collection. He hopes that there will be a final draft of this progress to present by February.

“People want specifics, that’s exactly what the next part of the plan is going to present, and that’s not because we were forced to do that, that was always the plan,” Zimmerman said. “These are high level goals and objectives, this is not the plan itself. The plan itself will be these goals, these objectives, and then under each objective 5-6 very specific, measurable, time-bound strategies that we’re going to use.”

As a result of this, Zimmerman shared that while some recommendations were taken from the CSA, he felt that the resolution was largely based on a misunderstanding. McGee seconded this, sharing that, from a logistical perspective, the CSA does not govern the committee.

“We did take some feedback, but as a point of governance, we’re not charged by the CSA; we’re charged by the president of the college, and so the resolution really has to be taken in by the president,” McGee said. “We met with them to try and understand the underlying ‘asks’ they had as part of the resolution, and we did take some feedback; what we felt was useful, we did change. The website has been changed and some of the communication has been changed, as an example.”

CSA Vice President Delina Haileab ‘22 shared a common reaction with the CSA senators that the feedback felt dismissed by the administration.

“I think the feedback was pretty negative from the people that the resolution was directed towards. We were told that it was unclear, a lot of defensive rhetoric,” said Haileab. “We had people tell us it was hilarious, which was pretty discouraging, because it felt like they had come to CSA for student input, student feedback, and then we provided our feedback and it didn’t seem like it was taken very well.”

McGee responded to this concern, emphasizing that many concerns were heard from the CSA, as well as other constituency groups on campus, including faculty, staff and alumni.

“I am sorry to hear that they felt like they were not heard, because we did take feedback from them, we took feedback from a lot of constituencies,” McGee said. “I get a lot of emails from a lot of people who have very different perspectives, but just because all of your feedback doesn’t show up immediately in what we’re doing doesn’t mean we haven’t considered what people are saying.”

The student representative for the committee, Maya Rogers ‘22, added that there has been a continued effort for communication from the committee that does not seem to have been as successful as hoped. 

“I’ve been responsible for drafting and editing multiple emails that have gone out to students, they’re on our IDE website. I was helping us brainstorm how we’ll be publicizing these town hall meetings,” Rogers said. “It’s not been as successful as I’ve wanted it to be, because, obviously, people feel like there’s been a lack of communication, but, as I actually got to talk to one of the execs last term, we’ve been doing everything we can.”

Despite this, Rogers highlighted that faculty and staff have engaged with the committee to a higher extent than students have, which may explain some of the flaws that the CSA has noted.

“We continually get feedback forms, we continually get emails, etcetera, we continually get input from faculty and staff in a way that we don’t from students,” Rogers said. “If we’re missing something, it’s not because we’re intentionally ignoring it. Neither group is in the right or the wrong, I would say; I think communication issues are hard.”

How else has the administration responded to the Ujamaa demands?

Carleton College President Alison Byerly highlighted that though it has taken time for the committee to craft a plan, the administration has continued to progress on the Ujamaa demands. This has included searches for two new colleagues in the Africana Studies department, as well as the creation of a space for a suite of studies in the Africana Studies department.

“Though it feels like a long time, it’s not as if nothing has happened in the interim,” Byerly said. “The fact that we instituted mandatory anti-racism training is a fairly big project that we did commit to, that we did undertake; instituting mandatory training of that kind was a big endeavor that was instituted by CEDI. It’s important to remember that you’ve got the work that IDE is doing, the work that CEDI is doing and the work that we’re doing in the central administration.”

A full list of responses to the Ujamaa demands can be found on the president’s website.

What can we expect moving forward?

Moving forward, working groups have been put in place and begun working on strategies to achieve each of the goals and objectives. Haileab is a member of a working group focused on the goal of ‘increasing representation of students, faculty and staff on campus from underrepresented populations.’

“As a member of a working group, I’ve been pushing for there to be more transparency so students can see the different working drafts and give feedback,” Haileab said. “I think a lot of people are in the dark, and I think people really need to see the intermediary steps that are happening in between.”

Rogers shared her hope that students can take comfort in this plan and this process, especially considering the goal is to create an inclusive and equitable environment on campus.

“I want people to feel hopeful, and I want people to understand this process, and I want them to feel like they matter in it,” Rogers said. “Every student perspective matters, and a lot of other stuff matters–some of the logistics, some of the other stuff.”

Byerly added to this hopeful sentiment, sharing that this is not the end of Carleton’s IDE process, and that there will be many chances to add to and amend this document. According to Byerly, not only is this document dynamic, it will also not be the sole document to represent Carleton’s IDE commitment.

“This is going to be a multi-year process that will have a lot of twists and turns to it,” Byerly said. “This is the start of the journey, not the end of a journey, so I think we’ll want to have patience with each other, but I also feel encouraged by the depth of commitment that is represented in the passion behind these conversations.”

Steven Poskanzer declined to comment at this time.

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