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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Students push SHAC to hire woman of color

<r their political science seminar “Comparative Social Movements,” a course about the history of social movements and why they happen, Evie Odden ’19, Urmila Kutikkad ’18, and Slyvie Graubard ’18 are working to kickstart the campaign to hire a woman of color at Student Health and Counseling (SHAC). This project arose after another large student push last year to hire a person of color in SHAC, which now has a man of color on staff.

“It is different this year because they finally hired a person of color at SHAC. He is part-time. Before I think it was really striking that the student body is obviously not all white, but the entire mental health support system was white,” said Kutikkad.

According to Graubard, she and Kutikkad had been talking about the lack of women of color in Carleton’s mental health services before the project started, but they saw this assignment as an opportunity to hold themselves accountable to take action.

“As has been articulated a lot in our time at Carleton, mental health is a really important thing that is sort of overlooked here. And the fact that this primarily white institution actively works to recruit people of color and women of color for a lot of reasons, but also I believe in order to up its rankings, and then not provide mental health services, it just feels so evil and wrong and despicable,” said Graubard.

The three students met with Dean Livingston, Vice President for Student Life & Dean of Students, to discuss this issue. “I shared with the students that I absolutely believe that we should have diversity in all levels of the college. And, whenever we have vacancies we create an extensive diversity recruitment plan with Human Resources to recruit diverse candidates.  We have been successful in hiring part-time diverse staff in SHAC but have been less so with full-time staff,” said Livingston.

Marit Lysne, the Director of SHAC, echoed Livingston’s sentiments. According to Lysne, Human Resources assists SHAC with recruitment when a position is open, and the two offices work to find a diverse candidate pool, pulling from a wide range of sources. 

“Unfortunately, in the two most recent searches since our previous female therapist of color moved out-of-state in 2012, we have not had the racial diversity in our applicant pool that we hoped for. We have failed searches due to this lack of diversity, but re-opening the search didn’t provide different results, despite robust recruitment efforts,” said Lysne.

From their research for the course, the three students discovered that, “basically, what we’re seeing is that it seems difficult to get a woman of color hired here but not impossible given the circumstances of other colleges in similar conditions, with similar sizes and similar locations. And, we are interested in what would it take it from being difficult to being possible. We have been getting really opaque answers on that,” said Kutikkad.

Kutikkad cited Oberlin College, with just under 3,000 students in a rural Ohio town, and Beloit College, with about 1,300 students in Wisconsin, as examples of peer institutions with several staff members of color in the health and counselling offices.

According to Odden, Livingston discussed in the meeting with the three students some of the difficulties Carleton faces when trying to hire a woman of color as a counsellor. For example, few women of color enter into the degree programs necessary to become a college counsellor and other career options within the field, such as being a private therapist, pay more.

“It’s definitely just money. They’re just not willing to pay enough to be competitive with the other colleges,” said Odden. She referenced the algorithm Livingston discussed in their meeting, a formula based off of Northfield cost of living, comparative institutions’ salaries and other factors that the college uses to determine employees’ incomes, as part of the problem. “It’s a very quantitative way of looking at this issue when this issue very directly affects so many people on this campus that maybe it should not be all about the economics of salaries, and maybe it should be more about protecting the students’ livelihoods on this campus,” Odden said.

According to Livingston and Lysne, another obstacle is that SHAC is currently not looking to hire any new staff. “We recognize that this remains an important issue that is still unmet. To my knowledge, additional permanent staff hires are not occurring in the near future. Therefore, SHAC is working to determine other options to bring greater diversity to our part-time or adjunct staffing and services, between periods of active recruitment for new or replacement permanent staff,” said Lysne. 

Even if new staff will not be hired in the near future, “I do expect all student life staff to have an advanced level of cultural competency and for almost a year, all student life staff have completed Equity and Diversity Training through the University of Minnesota’s organization Equity and Diversity Office,” said Livingston in a statement to the Carletonian.

For now, the three students– Graubard, Odden and Kutikkad– are focused on raising awareness about this issue on campus. They are currently working to produce a zine featuring stories and art  from people of color who identify as women, trans, femme, and/or nonbinary speaking about their experiences with mental health and the support system at Carleton. They encouraged anyone interested to submit to them soon, as the publication will come out at the end of 8th week.

All three students plan on continuing working on this campaign even when their course is done, moving towards taking more concrete action steps in the future. “This isn’t just about, it would be nice to improve the mental health infrastructure here. I think it is important to note that in our time here, in our four years, we have seen a lot of violence that mental health can do. People are harming themselves, people have left, students are suffering. I feel like that is important about this. It’s not just a class project and it is not just something that feels like it would be a like nice addition. It is about combatting some of the violence this institution is capable of doing to its students,” said Kutikkad.

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