Confronting racism, injustice, and inequality: BARC report and next steps

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Dear Members of the Gettysburg College Community,

In a recent College podcast, Bruce Gordon ’68, a Gettysburg College alumnus and former president and CEO of the NAACP, observed that “the role of colleges and universities is disproportionately large in terms of the sustainability of [the] change movement” to address the structures and assumptions that permit racial injustice to persist. I agree. It starts with the education we provide our students, both in understanding those structures and the history of systemic racism, as well as in equipping students with the tools to engage in what John Lewis called “good trouble”—the instinct to get engaged and to bring about necessary change.

But we must also hold a mirror up to our own community—the history and structures here at Gettysburg College, the assumptions that underlie our programs, and the way we treat one another. We have heard pained, and painful, testimony from current and former students about their experiences here. We know that much work yet remains if we are to create an environment where every student is an authentic member and has full claim to this College.

As I have said on multiple occasions, this is essential work—and it begins with each one of us.

Committee Charge and Recommendations Process

To advance this community-wide effort and commitment, in June, I charged our Bias Awareness and Resource Committee (BARC) and Campus Climate Study Implementation Group (CCSIG) to join together and deliver to me recommendations by July 31, 2020, on means of improvement for the following:

  • The tools and resources we provide faculty to educate, mentor, and advise an increasingly diverse student body.
  • College protocols for bias incidents between all constituencies—on campus, in the local community, and beyond.
  • Campus programming and events, noting specifically whether they are inclusive for underrepresented populations and prove intentional in their education on social issues and their commitment to bridging difference through open and honest dialogue.
  • The ways in which we enhance awareness and understanding among students, faculty, administrators, staff, and senior leadership at the College, and whether to establish a required bias incident education module.

This work was led by Jeanne Arnold, Chief Diversity Officer; Brent Talbot, Associate Professor and Coordinator of Music Education at the Sunderman Conservatory of Music; and Divonna Stebick, Associate Professor of Education. The commitment of the community is reflected by the evolution of the committees’ membership: by the end, dozens of people with no prior affiliation with either BARC or CCSIG attended committee meetings or otherwise got involved in the work.

The expanded group sought to learn broadly about experiences on campus and to solicit suggestions about how we might make progress. It drew upon letters, thoughts, and experiences shared by members of our College community in recent months. It also solicited feedback through a campus-wide survey, receiving more than 1,250 responses (880 students, 130 faculty, 129 staff, and 112 administrators). This is a remarkable response rate, especially for a survey administered over the summer when the College is not in session. It reflects a depth of community determination that is both encouraging and a necessary precondition to the effort ahead. Yet, I acknowledge—as does the committee—that some members of the community, particularly our most vulnerable members within BIPOC populations, may not have felt comfortable or empowered to share their voices and perspectives through this process. As we move forward, we must ensure that every voice at this College is respected and heard.

I have now received the committee’s final report (download PDF - the “BARC Report”), entitled “Recommendations for Confronting Racism, Injustice, and Inequality.” I am enormously grateful for the evident care with which the group undertook its work. The report represents an invaluable contribution to the conversations we must have as a community and, more importantly, to the steps we must take, both individually and institutionally, to advance racial justice both at this College and in society.

I will not attempt here to summarize the report’s findings and recommendations. The report is written to be accessible to the entire community and different aspects of the report will speak to people differently. Simply put, the best way to understand the report is to read it in full.

It is also as much a call to action as it is a compendium of specific reflections. As Professor Talbot has said to me, a central goal of the report is to help community members see themselves in the work of creating a more inclusive campus. It is inevitable that not every person will agree with every recommendation. And some of the ideas would require further study to gain a deeper understanding of existing conditions, while others may prove infeasible when further examined. This is an inherent part of the process. But it should not prevent each of us from finding recommendations that speak to us and that we can help advance. Nor should it prevent us from using the report as a springboard to other ways we can help this College, and our society, to address the structures and behaviors that stand in the way of true racial justice.

In short, reflect upon both the notes and the music of the document. In the “notes,” you may discover specific suggestions of actions that you can take to make this a more inclusive community. In the “music,” you will find that the report is fundamentally about an orientation—a forward-leaning commitment to creating an environment in which every member genuinely feels and knows they belong, and one that helps our students to see the world in all of its complexity, including the many ways institutional structures can perpetuate injustice. As the report notes, “[i]t is our aim that [the recommendations] serve as a departure point for conversations among constituent groups and ultimately inspire College leadership in determining which recommendations become prioritized in future planning.”

Next Steps

Since receiving the report, I have spent considerable time reflecting upon its underlying message and contemplating our potential paths forward. Clearly, we have important work before us. As president, I take seriously the responsibility I have been entrusted to address systemic racial injustices and inequities on our campus and to create deep and lasting transformational change at this institution. This is work I am fully committed to undertaking. It is work that must be engrained into everything we do and all that we are as an academic community. This will demand a shared commitment—at all levels of the institution—to reflection, renewal, accountability, and a relentless pursuit of self-improvement and collective growth.

It will require time for the College to fully assess the report and to ensure that its observations inform other institutional activities and commitments, such as our impending strategic planning process. But there are steps that the College, institutionally, can and will take now, including the following:

The Curriculum: The curriculum is the central tool for shaping the intellectual growth and journey of our students. We are undertaking the first comprehensive review of the curriculum in 16 years and that review will frame the fundamental structures of our educational objectives for the foreseeable future. As I noted in my June 8 letter to the community, it is, therefore, “critical that the review process goes back to first principles and reimagines how the Gettysburg curriculum will help broaden students’ understanding of diversity, racism, and marginalization.” The BARC Report reinforces the vital nature of that work.

To that end, I have spoken with the Provost, who will co-chair the curriculum review. He has left no doubt about his commitment to an in-depth examination of the role of the curriculum to address issues of race, racial justice, and inclusivity. The Provost has determined that, to help shape the Curriculum Review Committee’s thinking, an early session will be devoted to a discussion of the BARC Report guided by Professor Talbot, Professor Stebick, and Dr. Arnold.

The curriculum is established by the faculty, and individual members of the faculty will have important perspectives on how our academic structures can best be designed to address issues of race and systemic racism. Please engage with the Curriculum Review Committee to ensure that it, and we, have the benefit of the widest range of views as the committee refines its work and comes to recommendations over the course of the coming months. I am assured that students, too, will have the opportunity to offer perspective on how the curriculum should be structured, including on the issues at the heart of the BARC Report.

Resources for Faculty: The curriculum speaks to the overarching structure of our academic programming; the specific courses that faculty teach and the manner in which those courses are constructed bring that structure to life. As such, how faculty conceive of their syllabi and pedagogy directly bears on what and how students learn. When it comes to questions of equity and inclusion, faculty understandably bring to this work differing levels of experience and expertise. I have, therefore, asked the Provost, along with the appropriate faculty committees, to assess the professional development programs, expectations, and opportunities the College has in place. I will make additional resources available, including to JCCTL, as appropriate. I have also asked the Provost to work within the faculty governance structure on the interplay between issues of diversity and the faculty evaluation processes and academic department action plans.

Divisional Plans: Just as the BARC Report stresses that every member of the community should reflect on how they can help the College make progress, it is also essential that each of the administrative divisions likewise does so. With the BARC Report as guidance, I have asked each of the Vice Presidents, working with Dr. Arnold, to prepare a plan for how their division will advance the work. The first set of plans are to be submitted to the President’s Council no later than the end of November, and will be made available on the Diversity & Inclusion webpage. Thereafter, as part of their annual goal-setting, each Vice President will be expected to update their plans and identify new opportunities for their division.

Annual Reports: I have asked Dr. Arnold to take responsibility for issuing annual reports, available to the community, that assess the progress the College has made toward its articulated goals.

These reports are designed to offer an authentic overview of our campus climate; diversity, inclusion, and belonging progress; and any movement in our reforming institutional structures and practices that stand in the way of progress on our campus. We must not shy away from the qualitative and quantitative data these reports will inevitably capture. Rather, we are all called to lean in, to reflect upon the lessons they yield, and to make the necessary changes to our institutional strategies and behaviors to work in step with our shared vision.

College Diversity Infrastructure: Over the past several years, the College has taken important steps in establishing a network of offices and programs to work with our diverse communities and to advance our commitment to belonging and inclusion. These offices are an essential means by which we seek to create a vibrant and inclusive community. As this infrastructure continues to mature, it is useful to take a step back and to assess whether it might operate in a more integrated way and—through that—further amplify its support of our underrepresented community. I have asked my Chief of Staff, Dr. Kristin Stuempfle, to lead this review through an inclusive process, informed by the perspectives of students, faculty, and staff. Please look for additional information about this review in the near future.

In the meantime, I have allocated a very scarce institutional resource—an incremental position—for Dr. Arnold to hire an additional professional to her office. The work ahead—including the steps illuminated by the BARC Report and the College’s aspirations for itself—in training and infrastructure development warrants this investment. I am confident that the additional capacity will be a critical component in our effort to make tangible progress.

The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI): The IDI is a powerful tool to help foster intercultural competence. Taken privately regarding one’s life experiences, the IDI is designed to provide feedback on both perceived and actual levels of intercultural competence. The IDI also provides a personal action plan that can be applied to build one’s own intercultural competency skills. Having taken it personally, I can attest to its power and insights.

I have asked Dr. Arnold to pursue the necessary steps to ensure that all new administrative and support staff employees hired as of January 1, 2021, and all non-faculty supervisors whenever hired, complete the IDI. I have also asked the Provost to consider the potential use of the IDI as part of the First-Year Seminar program (an issue appropriate for consideration by the Curriculum Review Committee), as a required component of new faculty orientation, and in other faculty development activities focused on enhancing racial sensitivity.

President’s Council Anti-Racist Education: As I have underscored both in this letter and previously, creating the culture called for in the BARC Report is everyone’s work. That said, institutional leadership has certain distinctive responsibilities. To deepen the President’s Council’s understanding and to better prepare us to be effective agents for change, I have asked Dr. Arnold to organize programming for my colleagues and me on the best practices in higher education on belonging, inclusion, and approaches to anti-racism.

Improve bias incident procedure: Finally, we have heard consistent concerns about the bias incident procedures applicable to students. This is an area on which the College has focused but, informed by the input from the BARC Report, it is also one that warrants renewed attention. As I have previously noted, I have convened a group of diverse students to help advise me on the experiences of Black and other underrepresented populations at Gettysburg College. As College Life assesses the committee’s recommendation, I will ask that it work with the student advisory group, and others, on how the existing approach can be improved.

Closing

The steps outlined in this letter reflect only the beginning of all that we can and will pursue. As Gettysburgians, we want to see clearer and to help others to view the world through another’s eyes. We want to listen better and to feel authentically heard and understood. Again, this is essential work—and it is work that we all must own and contribute our best thinking and energies toward if we are to make real progress.

Gettysburg College, in the year ahead, will continue to seek to diversify its student body—as it has committed fully to in recent years—but we will likewise redouble our efforts on diversifying all constituencies who support that student body. This includes our faculty, administrators, and support staff, as well as the College’s senior leadership and Board of Trustees. We will grow stronger only by having new voices in the spaces that define this campus and new perspectives at the table. Together, we are on a journey that requires us to accept our shortcomings and to will ourselves to live up to all that our mission and values demand of us. Indeed, we can and we will be better.

Sincerely,

Bob Iuliano
President