Amidst Complaints, Hampshire College Officials Pledge Diversity Initiatives - Higher Education

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Amidst Complaints, Hampshire College Officials Pledge Diversity Initiatives

by Dana Forde

As part of an ongoing effort to create a more inclusive campus climate, officials at Hampshire College have pledged to implement new diversity initiatives.

  

Although students and the college administration have not yet finalized exactly what the new plan will entail, Elaine Thomas, the college’s director of communications, says that the 38-year-old Massachusetts institution will remain committed to providing funding for various minority-student organizations and faculty diversity training.

Announcement of the new plan comes amidst recent student claims that the Massachusetts college hasn’t done enough to create faculty positions in studies about people of color and organize diversity-related events. According to several media reports, more than 300 Hampshire students recently skipped classes to stage a walkout in front of President Ralph J. Hexter’s office to denounce the school’s inaction. Fifteen percent of Hampshire’s faculty are people of color, while minorities make up 13 percent of the student body, according to the school’s Web site.

Many students who participated in the walkout are demanding an “actively inclusive” campus, says Thomas, who adds that students submitted a list of 17 demands to the school administration. The activists’ list of demands includes such items as re-establishing a dean of multicultural affairs position, additional faculty positions in studies about minority groups, and “mandatory anti-oppression training” for faculty and staff, according to The Associated Press.

Though Thomas declines to go into detail about the demands, she notes that school officials and students are still in discussions.

“We’re deeply concerned about questions relating to race,” she says, adding that the college’s president has had an ongoing dialogue with students surrounding diversity-related issues since May of last year. “We’re all proud of our students for raising these issues and we are having an ongoing dialogue about these issues.”

Thomas notes that college officials expect to release conclusions of these meetings in upcoming days.

According to information posted on Hampshire’s Web site, officials will also continue working with the school’s campus-wide diversity committee, which was established last fall. The committee — which includes faculty, staff and students — analyzes the college’s progress in areas such as student admissions, employee hiring and retention and multicultural education.

The school’s office for diversity and multicultural education is also scheduled to conduct an official study of the campus’ social climate by the end of this semester.

“This study will assist us to identify our intercultural competence, from which point we can design programs and activities oriented towards our personal and communal growth,” said Jaime Davila, special presidential assistant for diversity, in a recent statement.

Additionally, school officials recently created an online resource for students to report concerns and/or grievances.

In recent months, Hexter, who was unavailable for comment, has also expressed his commitment to change and creating a more inclusive campus environment.

“I want our college’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness to be woven into the very fabric of our daily lives here,” he said in a statement. “Specifically, I will expect this commitment, and steady work to turn such a commitment into reality, at every level of the institution, including the board, the senior leadership of the college, the faculty and the staff. It is we who set the example for students, and it is we who create the environment in which a diverse student body can thrive.”

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