Diversity and inclusion task force findings released

Last semester, a task force of students, faculty, and staff worked to study the state of “diversity, inclusion, and equity” at Colby. The Task Force aimed to evaluate Colby’s diversity policies and culture, identify problems, and begin looking at possible solutions. Recently, the Task Force released a 53-page comprehensive report that found a variety of issues throughout the Colby campus.
The Report delves into issues ranging from the effects of athletic teams on campus diversity, to the effectiveness of the International and U.S. Diversity distribution requirements. Overall, it makes clear that the Task Force has found many systemic issues throughout Colby. The Report identified critical issues on campus and offered recommendations as to how to approach these problems.
Dean of the College, Karlene Burrell-McRae ’94, worked with issues surrounding campus diversity for many years in her previous role as Associate Dean of Students and Executive Director of the Center for Identity & Inclusion at the University of Chicago. Burrell-McRae felt the report highlighted current positive efforts on campus to increase diversity and inclusion. Burrell-McRae commented that she was most optimistic about the Report’s findings that the community has been dedicated to improving dialogue on campus.
Colby has grown to be more diverse over the years. The number of students who identify as Caucasian has dropped from 75% in 2006 to 63% in 2015. Currently, Colby is made up 53% female and 47% male identifying students. In addition, geographic diversity has also increased in recent years. The College, however, has failed to increase the number of first-generation college students, as that population declined from 16% of the student body in 2011 to 8% in 2015.
The Report found that the increased diversity of the College has, in fact, led to more conflict around issues of multiculturalism. The Report attribute this shortcoming to the overall student experience, encompassing experiences in the classroom, on the weekend, within clubs, and on athletic teams.
The Report highlights the College’s scattered efforts to combat issues of diversity and inclusion. It identifies the lack of collaboration between departments and organizations and the absence of reliable data on the topic as significantly contributing to the ineffective College response. The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid collects comprehensive demographic data, however, there is currently no data that tracks student’s personal experiences and feelings on the subject. In addition, the task force found a lack of an overall “college-wide structure of accountability” and identified a distinct lack of awareness by key personnel. As a result, it recommends that a campus climate survey should be one of the first steps undertaken by the College to measure the current status of diversity, inclusion, and equity on campus.
The Task Force identified central issues concerning our campus culture throughout the Report. It states that Colby reflects the “dominant culture of the United States,” normalizing affluence, whiteness, masculinity and heterosexuality, among other things. The Report also characterizes the overall culture as “unhealthy” and states “many students, faculty and staff do not feel safe, respected, valued, or enabled to reach their full potential.” In addition, the task force writes that they believe the Colby culture implicitly keeps certain groups from receiving the necessary help they may need. As a result, the Task Force recommends “revising college policies, procedures and practices” to better satisfy the needs of the entire Colby community.
The Report details specifically the many ways groups can feel marginalized on campus. One critical component to this was academic performance. According to the Report, despite programs specifically aimed at recruiting and helping student minorities — such as Posse, CAPS, and Faculty Allies — students of color represented nearly 57% of those viewed by the Committee on Standing, which handles academic probation (and removal from it), warnings and dismissals. In addition, 72% of those viewed by that committee were men.
The Report also examined athletic programs at the College, concluding that athletics has had both positive and negative effects. Athletic teams have led to the creation of student programs like Mules Against Violence and Party with Consent, which the Task Force feels have indubitably helped campus culture. However, teams have also influenced several cases of violence in recent years, including cases of sexual assault and discrimination.
The Report also identified that a disproportionately high number of athletes on campus are white. The Report also states other “exclusive” groups, such as underground fraternities, have contributed to the marginalization of minorities on Campus.
In addition, the report outlines continued issues with sexual assault and a culture that the Task Force believes “promotes male dominance, misogyny and unhealthy forms of masculinity.” A college-wide survey found that 18.3% of women are sexually assaulted during their time at Colby, and 38.7% of women and 13.6% of men are harassed. The Report also found that alcohol usage at Colby is higher than all other NESCAC schools, which could be a factor as well.
In terms of academics, the Task Force claimed that the available International and U.S. Diversity courses, which satisfy distribution requirements, have generally not achieved their goals. Through discussions with faculty and students, courses offered little additional educational value. The Report highlighted that students often failed to realize they were taking courses that fulfilled those requirements. The Report also addresses underrepresentation in female faculty members in certain departments, such as Economics and Government, but also states that this underrepresentation is not unusual at American colleges. Colby aims to be in the top third of NESCAC schools in the area of recruiting underrepresented faculty over the next decade.
Overall, the Report exposes many issues that, while sometimes discussed on campus, do not have immediate solutions. While the Report may make some individuals upset that these problems have not been addressed in their entirety in the past, it also exhibits a great deal of effort on the part of the Task Force and shows the community is focusing in on critical issues of multiculturalism. While much of this engagement is still in an early stage, the Colby community will continue to see change throughout the year.

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