Community Gathering: Sour Student Sentiment

At 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6th, Kaul Auditorium was filled to the brim with students, faculty, and staff. The administration was hosting a meeting which would allow students a place to talk in small groups with staff and faculty about personal experiences on campus, so that we can create a more inclusive campus for immigrant students, international students, and students of color. This event came after days of student protests towards the college’s response to the racist behavior of Professor Paul Currie.

Dean of Faculty Kathryn C. Oleson stepped up to the mic and began by thanking everyone for attending. The prior week, it had come to the college’s attention that the faculty, staff, and administration are not in touch with student experiences of bigotry. Oleson noted that it’s important that we have these discussions so that the campus may become a more inclusive place. According to the recent Campus Climate Survey, only about 63% of students of color felt like they mattered in classes while the rest felt as though they didn’t matter. “You matter. I am telling you that you matter, but these are just words and it cannot be just words.” Words can’t mean anything if they’re not backed up by actions, Oleson followed by reading out Reed’s Anti-Racism Statement.

While students have been trying to make the change, acknowledged by Oleson, change couldn’t be made without the help of faculty. Oleson commented that the gap between students and faculty is prominent and is something that needs to be worked towards bridging in the long run, adding that making Reed a safe campus will depend on the trust students and faculty have towards each other. 

Interim Dean for Institutional Diversity Tony Boston next stepped up to the mic. Boston was delighted to see how many students, faculty, and staff chose to come and share their stories. Boston then talked about how the forum would be structured. Students, faculty, staff, and administrators were all scrambled at different tables around the auditorium. Everyone would be able to talk to the people at their table for a total of 45 minutes. While he recognized that there was the possibility of an imbalance of power between students and faculty/staff, Boston stressed that it was important to be honest and not to mask any opinions.

These were the forum questions:

  • In what ways do you feel like you belong here? In what ways do you not feel like you belong?

  • What is affecting your sense of belonging that is exacerbated by the Reed culture and environment?

  • What actions or behaviors might we (faculty, staff, students, administrators) be displaying at Reed that cause our community to question its commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism?

  • What is hindering the college’s ability to create a culture of belonging, equity, and anti-racism? Where are we stuck?

  • In what ways can faculty, staff, administration, and students hold ourselves accountable to the commitments and actions we set?

Boston spoke about the importance of recognizing that there would be emotions surrounding people’s experiences of racism and xenophobia, and encouraged all to be empathetic as the conversations continued, to hold judgements in, and to strive to understand different points of views from different people. He noted that it was important to recognize that, “Change happens at the speed of trust.”

After group discussions, the rest of the time was spent discussing in a large group setting. Different students stood up to share what their tables talked about and anything else they were not able to share or wished to share to a larger group of people.

The first student to stand up was very thankful to have this conversation with both students and faculty, and happy to see that so many people were willing to talk more about their experiences. But they were disappointed that they had to spend so much time worrying about the issues around campus rather than their classes. They hoped that faculty would be able to voice their opinions more as the process continued. It took them so long to sit down and speak to their advisor about Paul Currie. The student felt as if it was one of the best conversations they’ve ever had.

The next student to speak described how they had expected to be able to question administration about their response to Currie’s actions, and said that none of their questions were answered. They, as well as others, wanted a timeline on how Paul Currie’s case was being handled and questioned the administration’s decisions. The student asked why, instead of real action students had been waiting for, the college was instead holding forums that don’t fix anything with Paul Currie.

The third student to stand mentioned how the best conversations they’ve ever had were when people treated them like a person. They iterated that the students aren’t dumb and they know what they want; What they want are answers, and not giving students answers is disrespectful. The individual said that showing students some respect would help the administration earn some trust from the students, adding that there is “no such thing as diversity without equity.” 

The fourth student commented, “This is a comically sinister event,” pointing out that the tables had nice red tablecloths, and that there was coffee, tea, and food outside. He added that it was a great event that the administration could point to later to say that they did something about racism on campus.

The fifth student stood up and informed the crowd that it takes 4 years for a professor on tenure to get removed for discriminatory behavior. The Quest was unable to verify this claim.

The next student brought some problems to light: If a student had a complaint, where should they go? They said that the power structure of the school was hanging by a loose thread, and that no one really knew who is holding who accountable. Looking at the crowd, the student declared, “Be aware that they don’t deserve your trust. They really don’t.”

When the seventh student stood up, they started by saying that they didn’t want to delegitimize anything, but that the faculty are trying. To say it’s “too late, whatever you do isn’t enough,” isn’t fair in the long run. Faculty and administration are trying to an extent. “I wanna believe in a world where trust is possible.” This statement was followed by quieter applause.

The eighth student stated that, while Reed has a mission to be a more diverse place, that mission hasn’t been working. They noted that five years ago, Reed hired more faculty of color to create a more diverse and inclusive campus, but today only a couple of them are left. The student added that the administration should be spending more time making a welcoming environment for POC students rather than leaving that job to Professors.

The last student stood up to first point out how great it was to hear so many people’s voices amplified during this forum. But they questioned why it mattered when no administrators, staff, or faculty were listening to the students. “If there is no one listening and doing something with it then it’s pointless.”

With that, Vice President for Student Life Karnell McConnell-Black ended the forum. He made sure to let everyone who attended know that the points students made were indeed written down. The ending followed with students talking over Karnell, “can you answer our questions?” Mentioning, “how are students supposed to trust administration when Admin aren’t even staying the whole conversation,” referring to President Audrey Bilger, who had left at 4:00 p.m. sharp, when the meeting was scheduled to end. 

The Monday following the Kaul Forum, Dawn Thompson sent an email out to the student body with a message from Bilger. In the message, Bilger made it clear to the student body that, “My leadership team and I took note that those who spoke at the conclusion of last week’s event were generally critical of the format and emphasized the importance of centering the experiences of people of color.” The email included a PDF of a jamboard with points people had made during both small group and large group conversations. 

The email ended with Bilger announcing that by April 29th, the student body would receive formal plans to make campus a more inclusive place. 

While the forum gave many students time to finally sit down and have a conversation with the faculty, staff, and administrators of this school, it did nothing to answer their questions. Students who entered the forum with questions only left with even more questions. Students are left hoping that the April 29th email will bring more news on how Reed could change for the better.

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