When Charles Glassick became president of Gettysburg College in 1977, he inherited a strikingly homogeneous campus culture. According to Julie Ramsey, who joined the administration as the assistant to the president in 1981, the lack of diversity on campus was marked in ways unimaginable to students today.
“If you asked a student back then what they did,” Ramsey said, “they would tell you their major, their Greek organization, and maybe an athletic team. That was it. There was no Center for Public Service, no Gettysburg Recreational Adventure Board, no Women’s Center. Several majors did not exist, among them the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Africana Studies courses, and almost no one studied abroad. The campus had a very different feel to it then.”
Glassick firmly believed that the best way to continue to uphold the College’s mission of exerting a “salutary influence in advancing the cause of a liberal education,” was to create a greater sense of diversity and inclusivity on campus. In fact, almost a year after taking office, he made the creation of a more diverse student body, faculty and administration one of the long-term goals of the president’s council.
To work towards this goal, Glassick hired an independent contractor to conduct a survey of campus culture and make suggestions based on those finds. Among those suggestions were changes to the curriculum, hiring practices for faculty, administration, and clerical staff, as well as recruitment processes for students and resources to support those students once they were accepted.
These suggestions opened the door to institutions like the Women’s Center and the Intercultural Resource Center, both of which were founded by the College, and ALLies, which was a student and faculty-led organization. These three organizations were founded during the 1988-1989 academic year and are now celebrating their 25th anniversaries.
When the Women’s Center was formed, it was run entirely by students. It wasn’t until 2009 that a faculty director was appointed to strengthen the College’s commitment.
Stephanie Sellers, the first faculty director of the Women’s Center, believes that the student involvement in running the Women’s Center really speaks to the enthusiasm and commitment students felt towards creating a more inclusive environment on campus.
“It was [and remains] a place to have conversations about gender and raise awareness about marginalization,” Sellers said. “Having this space really brought women and gender issues from the margins to the center of attention for the campus community.”
In addition to the programming and advocacy campaigns that the Women’s Center organizes across campus, it also focuses on increasing its partnerships to bring women’s and gender issues to the forefront of those relationships. One prominent example is the inaugural Women’s Leadership Program that the Women’s Center is co-sponsoring with the Garthwait Leadership Center this semester
Other goals include advocating for women's issues and creating programming that brings the College into compliance with new federal laws mandating campus-wide education on sexual assault.
Through these types of programs, Sellers estimates the Women’s Center reaches about 1,300 students or more each year.
H. Pete Curry, Dean of the Intercultural Resource Center since 1997, also notes the importance of a physical space to help students explore issues of diversity and inclusivity. “The primary reason why this office was created was to work with the representation of diversity on campus. The College wanted an office to help students adjust to an environment that was very different from the one they came from,” Curry said.
Even before students arrive at Gettysburg, the IRC reaches out to them through their efforts to work with the admissions office. “We talk to students about how we will support them during their time at Gettysburg,” Curry mentioned.
One prominent example of this strategy is the partnership that Gettysburg College has enjoyed with the Philadelphia Futures for the past twelve years. This program has recruited thirty-five low-income, first-generation-to-college students, twenty-eight of whom have already graduated.
Vasiljon Çobo ’14 was recruited through the Philadelphia Futures program. He noted the importance of the IRC in his transition to Gettysburg, which Çobo described as “a very different world from the one I experienced every day in Philadelphia.”
“I think that’s where the Office of Intercultural Advancement really comes in,” Çobo continued. “They showed me what I could bring to this campus and that I was wanted here. This idea of a sort of reciprocity… really made me feel validated.”
Currently, international and minority students make up about fifteen percent of the student body population, a considerable increase since the founding of the IRC. The retention rate of international and minority first year students is 88.8%, with a 6-year graduation rate of 85.9%, both of which are higher than the student body average, 88.2% and 83.6% respectively. Additionally, Gettysburg College was recognized in 2010 by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education for its high percentage of African American graduates when compared with the national average, which at the time hovered around 45%.
Read about the College's partnership with the Philadelphia Futures in this Philadelphia Inquirer article.
Organizations to support the LGBTQA community on campus were created at the same time as the Women’s Center and the IRC. The Lambda Alliance, a precursor to ALLies on our campus, was a private support group for students and faculty who identified as LGBT. Just one semester later, Friends of Lesbians and Gays (FLAG) was formed independently of the Lambda Alliance. FLAG was open to anyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identification and sought to develop programming to bring LGBTQA issues to the student body’s attention.
Less than five years after the creation of both of these organizations, they joined forces to form ALLies. The momentum ALLies has been building across campus reached a crescendo in recent years, from its partnership with ROTC to discuss military policies affecting the LGBTQA community, to its lobbying efforts that led to the creation of an LGBTQA advising office in 2012.
Erin Duran, the LGBTQA advisor, describes his role as multifaceted. He is the advisor to ALLies and the ALLies spark house, is responsible for institutional advocacy, is a member of the Bias Education and Advisory Council, and advises students who want to talk about gender, sexuality, or LGBTQA issues. However, those roles are just a minor portion of his duties as the LGBTQA advisor.
“The largest part of my job,” he said, “is community education. A lot of people don’t know a lot about LGBTQA issues and they might not realize that they don’t know a lot about it. They don’t necessarily know why it is important or why it’s something to talk about, so most of what I do involves community education.”
One example of the type of community education programming that Duran is involved in is the LGBTQA panel discussion that took place over family weekend last fall. This panel discussion featured Gettysburg alums, including Carson Kressley '91, to discuss important issues facing the LGBTQA community.
Duran continued, “Gettysburg is in a good place and it only stands to get better in terms of climate. We really have the potential to distinguish ourselves from other institutions, particularly in how we attract, recruit, and support these students.”
Annie Skrabak ’15 interned in the LGBTQA advising office this past summer. She said that one of the most notable initiatives led by this office deals with the way prospective students are informed of the LGBTQA presence on campus.
“There were a lot of times this summer when I witnessed prospective students taking a tour of the campus and the tour guides would not only mention the office of LGBTQA advising, but they would also advertise our gender-neutral housing options. It’s a huge statement from the College that we are willing to tell prospective students about this,” Skrabak stated.
“A lot of what you know about a campus culture comes from the administration,” Skrabak continued. “The momentum that has been building on our campus is a sign of an increasingly supportive administration, which will definitely attract students who are looking for that type of presence in a college.”
When looking at the changes institutions like the Women’s Center, the IRC, and ALLies have created around campus, Skrabak feels that the most important contribution they have made are the conversations they have started. “Creating a diverse campus requires someone to start that conversation and open the door. That’s what these organizations have done. They’ve started the discussion.”
Just because these organizations have started the conversation about diversity on campus does not mean their work is done. In September, 2012, President Janet Morgan Riggs declared the progression of diversity, equity, and inclusion to be institutional priorities. In a letter to the campus community, Riggs wrote, “To prepare our students for productive lives in a diverse society, Gettysburg must embed into the educational experience a clear focus on inclusion – actively and intentionally engaging its students with diversity.”
The fact that creating a diverse environment is still an institutional priority makes a strong statement – creating an atmosphere of diversity, equity and inclusion is a job that is never really finished. According to Ramsey, “Even though the College has accomplished a great deal in the past twenty-five years, President Riggs is correct in that there is still more we can do.”
Thanks to the creation of the Women’s Center, the IRC and ALLies twenty-five years ago, Gettysburg College has the resources it needs to start conversations that will aid the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion in all spheres of campus life.