Thursday, November 20, 2014

Diversity and equity: White men “just don’t get it”

O. Nigel Bolland

Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology and Caribbean Studies, Emeritus

When I arrived at Colgate in 1972 it was in the throes of becoming a more diverse and equitable institution. For most of its history Colgate had been a very exclusive place: only White and Elite Male Protestants need apply. When women were first admitted in the 1970s they were viewed as an experiment. There was also a handful of non-White, non-Elite, and non-Protestant male students, but Colgate remained a distinctly WEMPy place, and proud of it.

   As an undergraduate at Hull University in England, a graduate student at McMaster University in Canada, and a faculty member at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, I had not encountered an institution like Colgate and I found it hard to understand. I was used to sharing classrooms with women, and with students and faculty of different ethnicities and nationalities. In fact, I thought that such diversity was an essential aspect of a good environment for higher education, but at Colgate this was still considered a novel experiment. I was puzzled by the answer given to me when I asked, in all innocence at a fraternity dinner, why students chose to live in a fraternity. “We want to live with people who are just like us,” I was told. That sounded to me like the antithesis of what a college environment should be.

   Diversity is not just a numbers game, as the recent demonstrations at Colgate have reminded us. What diversity should be about is seeking and appreciating differences, as a way to learn about and grow in the world we share. In a powerful column in today’s NY Times (11/16/2014), Nicholas Kristof writes, “Those of us who are white have a remarkable capacity for delusions,” and “one element of white privilege today is obliviousness to privilege.” More specifically, I would add, one aspect of elite-white-male privilege is that we don’t have to understand “others’ in order to get on. Standing, as we do, on the shoulders of our privileged ancestors, the view looks good, and we have no need to “get it,” but from any other standpoint people need to figure out how to succeed, and even to survive, in what is for them an alien environment. That was true for the first women and people of color among the students and faculty at Colgate in the 1970s, and some of that has not changed, or changed enough.

   When Douglas MacDonald wrote, “Obviously, a female cannot by the definition of identity politics understand the difficulty of being male in capitalist America,” I think he has missed the point that all people who are in a socially inferior status need to understand those who are in a superior status - but the reverse is not true. Elite white males don’t have to “get it” in order to get on. They can just be themselves, but everyone else must understand them, or else…

   So, is there a problem of gender equity at Colgate, as MacDonald suggests, or is the problem just the result of one’s viewpoint? In 1983 male college students outnumbered females in the US by 12,465,000 to 6,441,000, or about 2:1. Since the late 1970s, females outpaced males in college enrollment nationally, as in many other countries also. In 1994, 63% of recent female and 61% of male high school graduates were enrolled in college the fall following graduation. By 2012, the relevant figures were 71% for women and, still, 61% for men. The preponderance of female students in higher education now prevails across all types of schools. The US average in 2008 was 43.62% male and 56.38% female undergraduates. In private schools the ratio is  about 40-60, which is a more extreme ratio than Colgate's. There are many reasons for this shift, and there has been a lot of discussion about it, but one reason is surely not a “prejudice based on gender,” either in the personnel or the decisions in Colgate’s Admissions Office. So I suggest that this is perceived as a problem of equity only from a particular viewpoint, in this case, perhaps, a viewpoint that considers it normal for Colgate to be a largely male institution.

   The perception that Elite-White-Males are losing their predominant position in society often results in charges of “reverse discrimination” because such people “just don’t get it.” We should not be surprised that at Colgate, with its long WEMPy tradition, there are still people who feel somewhat endangered, but it is really only their exclusive claim to a privileged position that is threatened by change. Colgate has, throughout its history, been an exclusive and inequitable institution, and we should be clear that we understand that its social function was to reproduce the elite of society. As that function, the social reproduction of a privileged elite, became less acceptable and defensible in the later twentieth century, Colgate, like similar institutions, began to change. Like all institutions, however, Colgate defended its traditions and was reluctant to change, and we need to remember that, as a privileged institution, it had substantial resources to defend itself.

   I agree with Brian Moore that, “As a community, we have been in denial about our defects for too long.” As an institution designed to reproduce privilege, Colgate has needed to be pushed time after time to take each step towards greater diversity and equity. When the next history of Colgate is recorded it should include, for example, an account of the occupation of the administration building by students and faculty who pushed the Board of Trustees to divest from South Africa. We can now be proud of the decision, but we also need to remember and acknowledge the circumstances in which the decision was made. It was a struggle. Similarly, today, we need to understand that further changes are needed in the community, the curriculum, and the culture of Colgate. The nature of the problem needs first to be openly and widely acknowledged, however, before the cure can be achieved. So long as we “just don’t get it,” and for so long as we try to limit ourselves to sharing our views and lives with people who are just like ourselves, we will remain part of the problem.

The above post does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the AAUP membership or that of its officers, nor does inclusion of the post on this website constitute an endorsement by the Colgate chapter of the AAUP.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Colgate Is Neither Inclusive Nor Equitable

Brian L. Moore

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of History and Africana and Latin American Studies
Director, Africana and Latin American Studies Program

On Monday, September 22, 2014 about 350 students who comprise the Association of Critical Collegians (ACC) engaged in a sit-in at the James B. Colgate building. They were a very diverse group, female and male, black and white, Latino, Native American, and Asian, who believe that enough is enough and they must take a stand for what is just, fair and right.
The underlying rationale of the student action is simple. They are seeking an inclusive, equitable, and respectful intellectual and social environment on this campus. That’s all. Many faculty supported their campaign; and the statements authored by the President, Dean of the Faculty/Provost, Dean of the College, and the Chair of the Board of Trustees were heartening. They all condemned the despicable acts of racial bigotry that several students of color publicly testified to very powerfully and movingly during the sit-in. But were those statements by our administrators enough? Should they not have been accompanied by fulsome apologies to students of color for being given the wrong impression about what life at Colgate would be like? This was evident in the students’ complaints about the entire admissions process which topped the list of their concerns. Colgate needs to atone for many, too many, years of hurt suffered by students of color. A formal institutional apology is the very least we could do to indicate clearly that we are really serious about turning a new page.
And, what about the bigots who continue to make the lives of students of color at Colgate miserable? Have they never been identified? Why has none been apprehended and held to account? They live and/or attend classes on campus! So what are Campus Safety and our administrators doing about them? And, if these bigots are so sure they are on the side of right (no pun intended), why don’t they step forward and own-up to their deeds? Or are they just weak cowards and bullies whose behavior is conditioned by fear that their traditional entitlements are threatened by the presence of students of color on campus?
Those questions make the condemnations of the miscreants seem like déjà vu. This is not the first time students have raised their voices against racism and institutional inequalities at Colgate, but the responses have always been generally similar. This, then, raises the question, what’s new this time? Well, on September 26 the students were successful in pressing the administration to agree to issue a “Joint Message from Colgate University and the Association of Critical Collegians” which not only seeks to address twenty-one specific issues related to chronic institutional inequalities, but very importantly sets clear timelines for resolving many. But why did it have to take a student protest before our administrators committed themselves to addressing these issues? Did they not know that these problems have existed for very many years? So why were they not dealt with before?
It is regrettable that there were some notable voices on campus in opposition to the student concerns. What could be wrong with the principles of inclusivity, equality and respect, one might ask? These opposing voices inadvertently serve to empower bigots on campus who cowardly hide in the shadows and commit their despicable acts of hate. These opposing voices render it very difficult for governance committees to make meaningful institutional changes to overturn historical inequalities and injustices. Why? Some of these folks prefer Colgate to remain as it was and, for the most part, still is: a place where they feel comfortable, but which unfortunately is neither inclusive nor equitable for students, faculty and staff of color; a sort of academic country club with all the familiar restrictions on membership; a place that continues to regenerate the race-class hierarchy of old America. Colgate is not unique in this respect, of course. The liberal-arts-college model is, in part, implicitly designed to do precisely this. But times have changed and we must adapt to those changes.
For many years Colgate has been sending mixed and often misleading messages to our students. “The Thirteen Goals of a Colgate Education” appear fair as policy and promise noble things. Our institutional practices, especially those related to the issue of diversity, however, deliver something quite different. Interestingly, we took (albeit reluctantly) a step towards resolving some of the problems associated with the lack of diversity and inclusivity when, in 2008, the office of Dean of Diversity (DoD) was established, even though it lacked real power to introduce significant change. But instead of empowering it to do just that, the office was abolished in 2011! That decision seemed to suggest that Colgate was merely paying lip-service to the idea of diversity. The September student protest has clearly demonstrated that the institutional structures which have replaced the DoD are palpably inadequate and are not working effectively. A strengthened office of DoD would probably have addressed many of the issues the students have raised and may have made their sit-in unnecessary. It would certainly better aid in the recruitment and retention of faculty of color, an issue that the students also expressed concern about. So perhaps the time is ripe for President Herbst to revisit his 2011 decision to get rid of the office of Dean of Diversity. Let’s start a fresh conversation about that.
Inclusivity is not just a social issue. It relates as well to what happens in the classroom: not only the way classes are conducted and how students are treated, but also what department courses and curricula are designed to do. Curricular issues are, of course, the exclusive purview of faculty. However, item 10 of the students’ demands identified the curriculum as one of their major concerns, though it specifically targeted the Core, especially Global Engagements. But is the Core the only aspect of our broad curriculum that should be reexamined? Shouldn’t faculty be asked to take a serious look, not just at individual courses, but at the content, structure, and orientation of entire department curricula to determine if they privilege any particular intellectual or cultural tradition? If so, does this have the effect of marginalizing students of color in their learning environment? And further, if so, shouldn’t faculty be encouraged to explore ways to correct this so that courses and curricula become more inclusive without undermining their intellectual/academic integrity?
Some departments might respond by saying that they now have courses on a variety of global issues as well as specifically on “other” parts of the world like Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and Asia; and on specific ethnic groups like African Americans and Native Americans. (They might even claim that their faculty is more diverse, even if that means just one or two faculty of color.) This may be all well and good, at least superficially. But a closer, more critical perusal might reveal a very different reality: that students may not be required or encouraged to take more than one or two courses from these “non-traditional” subject areas to fulfil their Major/Minor requirements; or that the teaching resources devoted to these areas are woefully thin. Possibly, then, a mirage may have been generated, while no substantive curricular change has occurred. Is it all smoke and mirrors? So, to clear the air and in the spirit of the September 26 “Joint Message”, even though this is not specifically listed therein, perhaps the time has come for the Dean of the Faculty and the Division Directors to urge departments to examine their curricula critically in order to identify and try to eliminate any exclusionary or marginalizing biases.
Finally, to a matter that may have slipped quietly beneath the radar. As we approach the bicentennial anniversary of Colgate in 2019, we should recall that one of the big items earmarked for the celebration will be a new history of the institution. Wonderful and timely! But it is my hope that this history will not just reflect the glories and achievements of “traditional” Colgate over the last two centuries, but will also offer readers an honest account and appraisal of the challenging experiences and struggles of students, faculty and staff of color, and how these have been dealt with. While a separate chapter (with appropriate pictures of student protests) is certainly required to treat these struggles adequately, it is also very important that Colgate’s minorities should not be written out of, or marginalized from, the main body of its new history. Their accomplishments and achievements must be fully interwoven in the broad historical account if this new history is to be a truly inclusive record that we can all be satisfied with.
The new history should also talk about interdisciplinary programs like the Africana and Latin American Studies Program (ALST) and their impact on the curriculum. In doing so, it should seek to explain why, for instance, it took Colgate fifteen years after the first Black Studies department was established in the country to set up ALST in 1983. That would furnish readers with a good understanding of Colgate’s historical and persistent attitudes to issues of diversity whether in the curriculum or otherwise, precisely what our students have highlighted in their latest protest.
Colgate University is at a critical juncture of its two-hundred-year existence. Certainly at least for the last decade, perhaps longer, it has been in a perennial state of crisis as it has been obliged to adjust to a more diverse world which it has not yet embraced. So every two or so years, an outrage of one sort or another occurs that galvanizes the student body, in particular the “new kids on the block” (students of color), into protest action. Perfunctory condemnatory statements are routinely issued by administrators, but no one is ever apprehended or penalized. Then it’s back to business as usual.
As a community, we have been in denial about our defects for too long. Yet, on the positive side, we can take comfort and assurance from those features of our own history which clearly demonstrate that good results come from greater inclusiveness. Who would argue that the presence of women since the 1970s, for instance, has not significantly improved the intellectual quality and tone of campus life? So now it’s time to take the next step and embrace our expanding ethnic diversity fully. But like an alcoholic, we must first recognize and admit our unwholesome condition before we can seek and identify a lasting cure.
We must, therefore, start by acknowledging the hard fact (perhaps indigestible for some folks) that Colgate is neither inclusive nor equitable. While this admission is implicit in the September 26 “Joint Message”, we must be overt in acknowledging this reality. Only then will we unleash the dynamic forces within our midst that can fulfil the dreams of what most of us believe Colgate can and should be: a place that truly welcomes all regardless of race, nationality, ethnicity, class, religion, gender or sexual orientation; regardless of whether one can trace one’s ancestry back to the “Mayflower” or to the inappropriately named “Desire” (an American slave ship); regardless of whether one’s folks came via Ellis Island or across the Rio Grande.
So, to the ACC, please keep up your campaign and vigilance, and pass the torch to future generations of students. La lucha continua! To our administrators and fellow faculty, we have a lot left to do. So let’s do it honorably, comprehensively and expeditiously. Let’s all do it for a better Colgate.

The above post does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the AAUP membership or that of its officers, nor does inclusion of the post on this website constitute an endorsement by the Colgate chapter of the AAUP.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What is Equity?

Douglas MacDonald, Professor emeritus
Department of Political Science

Since there has been so much controversy raised by the recent demonstrations on campus over diversity in the Admissions Office, I think we should reflect on what “diversity” means in the existing context of Colgate’s history.  

As we all know, until 1970 Colgate was an all-male university.  By doubling our intellectual gene pool with co-education in that year, we have moved the university from a respected but relatively provincial institution to one of national note.  If one looks at the history, it is the same for many, many formerly male colleges and universities, including Amherst and others.

The early women at Colgate, students and faculty, struggled with entrenched stereotypes and worse as they have changed the institution.  This was all very much a part of similar changes ongoing in American society, in my view almost all for the better.  They were pioneers, that most exalted American appellation, at least until recently.   

But the recent demonstration caused me to look into the situation as it exists in the second decade of the 21st Century.   If one defines “diversity” as a rough parity of “representation” (however defined) of groups as they are roughly represented in American society, then there is a significant bias in the Admissions Office that must be addressed.   

(My personal choice would be ideological diversity rather than cultural and/or racial/ethnic, as I find the latter category rather gooey intellectually; but I understand that is an intellectually minority view, perhaps why I hold it.) 

In any event, if we are going by numbers, the disparity in the Admissions Office is male/female.   Out of a total of 15 personnel in the Office, eleven are female, and a mere four (though including the director) are male.   Would this disparity be so facilely accepted if the gender ratios were reversed?   I think not, and I would hope not.  On its face, then, we need more males in the Admissions Office to add the special male experience in America to the collective experiences of our community.  Obviously, a female cannot by the definition of identity politics understand the difficulty of being male in capitalist America.  Therefore, a majority of women in the Admissions Office is inherently unfair to males, according to Equity and Title IX-style criteria.

Do the statistics of our student body support a prima facie case for prejudice based on gender?   Unfortunately, they do.   The student population at Colgate is: 1,601 female students and 1,326 male students.   This really is a rather significant difference produced by an Admissions Office that is more than two-thirds female.  By the usual Dovidian methods of judgment, this is at the least suspicious, if not ominous.  The class of 2017: 764 enrolled (42% male; 58% female).   Using the typical methodologies of affirmative action and “diversity-counting,” this is also intolerable bias.

My point is that if we are to use a particular methodology to determine possible bias in one area, we should use the same criteria to identify possible bias in all other areas. 

Fair is fair.   Or at least it used to be.

The above post does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the AAUP membership or that of its officers, nor does inclusion of the post on this website constitute an endorsement by the Colgate University chapter of AAUP.