An Update on Diversity and Inclusion at Bates (2015)

Dear Bates Alumni, Parents, Students, Staff, Faculty, and Friends,

It’s been some time since my last communication, and given the amount of progress we’ve undertaken on behalf of the college’s goals to ensure that Bates’ historic commitment to diversity and inclusion is fully embodied in all aspects of the college, I thought it an appropriate time to provide an update as well as some added context to President Spencer’s recent letter to the community.

The Puddle, at dusk, on a summer's evening.In March 2014, I outlined a series of goals and actions, including the reallocation of existing resources to facilitate a staff reorganization; streamlining the reporting lines to ensure that we are supporting a unified vision for diversity and inclusion work on campus; strengthening our focus on multicultural alumni engagement; and relocating the Office of Intercultural Education (OIE).

I’m thrilled to report that we’ve accomplished each of these goals in addition to several others — all in partnership with a broad array of students, staff, and faculty. My aim in this year’s letter is to review our major accomplishments and, in doing so, to outline salient aspects of our future work. Given the broad, institutional scope of our work and the many valuable and important partnerships we’ve created across the campus, in the interest of space and time I will focus today’s update on areas I see as most pressing: faculty development, and student and alumni engagement.

Faculty Diversity

In an increasingly interconnected and pluralistic world, a faculty body that reflects our historic principles and convictions will be an important and distinguishing factor in the excellence of a Bates education. In the coming decade, we forecast that nearly 30 percent of our faculty will be eligible to retire. This allows us to think strategically about the excellence of the faculty, the strength of the academic program, and the reinvigoration of the intellectual life of the college for future generations of Bates students.

To support this goal, we are very fortunate to have received two major grants totaling $1.4 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will allow us to recruit and support a more diverse faculty who will continue to contribute to the college’s excellence. Combined, these two grants provide us with important and necessary resources. You can read an in-depth story about the grants here.

Staff

In July 2014, we welcomed three dynamic team members to the Office of Intercultural Education — Julisa De Los Santos, Lexie Mucci, and Jessica Perez — to support a host of student needs. They have brought new energy, enthusiasm, and optimism to the Office of Intercultural Education.

Julisa works on developing major programs within the OIE and across the campus, broad campus outreach, and direct student support, delivering on her training as a student advocate and social worker.

Lexie, who also has a background in counseling, oversees the use of the OIE’s new facility, development of in-house student programs, and our newly envisioned SPARQ! platform supporting LGBTQ+ identified community members.

Jessica, reporting to both Student Affairs and my office, mentors and coaches students and works closely with faculty to ensure that students receive the academic and social support they need.

Our fourth team member, Kristina Powell, associate director of multicultural alumni and parent engagement, works in close partnership with the College Advancement team and is charged with developing a more robust alumni engagement program as well as developing pathways connecting alumni to current students.

Relocation of the Office of Intercultural Education

In preparation for the relocation of the OIE to Chase Hall, in spring 2014 we engaged a group of students in conversations with college architects about their goals and dreams for the new OIE. With student hopes leading the way and with extraordinary creativity and fiscal constraint, the architects created a remarkable new student space located in what many of you will remember as the mid- and low-ceiling areas of Old Commons in Chase Hall. You can read a story about the OIE move here.

The new OIE is multidimensional and vibrant, a space students use for studying, club meetings, and hanging out and cooking. It is also a space that a broad group of faculty, students, and classes use. Activities in the OIE have included: faculty/student get-to-know you dinners, alumni panels, movies, themed conversations, visiting lecturers and artists, departmental parties, game nights, art nights, waffle nights, and the list goes on. It is an exciting place to be, bolstered by the tremendous sense of warmth, inclusivity, and community that the students foster. The success of the OIE has been hugely important in so much of the community-building work we’ve undertaken this year.

Programs

Broadly, our programming philosophy is to design holistic programs to ensure that students’ social, intellectual, and cultural identities are nurtured. As a result of the team’s hard work, the amount and quality of OIE programming have significantly increased — and the qualitative and quantitative data suggest that these efforts have resulted in much stronger student satisfaction rates.

In 2014-15, the OIE hosted more than one hundred programs and collaborated with more than a dozen departments and numerous faculty members across the institution. And because of the expanded programming and our focus on ensuring that more people undertake the work of creating a more inclusive Bates, we continue to see significant growth in the number of students and community members engaged with the OIE.

The OIE’s newly defined mission statement counts among our goals to: (1) provide students with a sense of belonging in their intellectual and social communities; (2) elevate students’ awareness of their personal power and effectiveness; (3) catalyze and educate allies among students, faculty, and staff; and (4) serve as a community hub that harnesses and celebrates “the transformative power of our differences.”

Following are major four programs that represent our comprehensive agenda, although they don’t by any means fully represent the great many programs we host throughout the year.

Bobcat First! First-Generation-to-College Student Programming

This program supports students who are first in their families to attend a four-year college. When completely developed and implemented, the program will span matriculation to graduation and will include first-generation dinners for students, faculty, and staff; a cohort program; an early arrival program; and retreats, webinars, and activities throughout the year, including the incorporation of first-gen alumni and parents in specific programs.

Our goals for this ambitious and evidence-based series of programs include fostering a greater sense of well-being, belonging, and self-empowerment among first-generation-to-college students.

One example of Bobcat First! programming is the series of dinners we hosted throughout academic year 2014-15. The dinners connected students to and featured panels composed of faculty and staff members who were first in their families to attend college. Also in attendance were faculty and staff who, while not first in their families to attend college, when asked, expressed keen interest in supporting this population of students. Over the course of these special evenings, students, staff, and faculty shared meals, conversation, laughter, and mutual learning. If you’d like more information, please contact Julisa De Los Santos at jdelossa@bates.edu or Jessica Perez at jperez2@bates.edu.

SPARQ! LGBTQ+ and Ally Engagement

Over the past academic year we have expanded the work done at the college to help support LGBTQ+ identified people and their allies.

The goals of the SPARQ! program — Support, Perspective, Allyship, Representation, Qmunity — are to enhance student support, community development, and allihood across all the constituents of the college. Included in this work are a re-envisioned peer mentor program, progressive Active Ally training, the establishment of a confidential space, and events including a queer summit, pride panel, community dinners, and discussion groups. Our goal is to make significant and positive strides in an area that has had little to no attention. We will use a good deal of 2015-16 to develop and begin to roll out this programming. If you’d like more information, please contact Lexie Mucci at amucci@bates.edu.

The Dinner Table

In summer 2014, a small group of faculty and staff joined forces to develop The Dinner Table, a conversation and prompt-based dinner program meant to help students talk constructively across their social and cultural differences, spark friendships and alliances, and build conversation and team skills imperative to their future success in the world beyond Bates.

The program is predicated on the following format: For three months, students and student facilitators meet around the Sunday supper table (8 students per table) and share personal stories based on a prompt we provide. They then identify and discuss common themes and ideas, and in the process, learn about ways in which they are connected to their peers that may not seem obvious at first glance. The semester culminates in a public storytelling event featuring selected participants.

We implemented a pilot of the program during winter 2015, and students have embraced The Dinner Table with great enthusiasm. Watching students, their bodies leaned forward in acute attention, share stories reflecting the first prompt, “Fish Out of Water,” and later hearing from them how wonderful, surprising, and affirming the stories of their peers were, suggests that this program taps into one of Bates’ enduring treasures: our value of community. This fall, 100 students will participate in the Dinner Table. We’ll host a new cadre of participants in each successive semester so that reflective, community-based storytelling across differences becomes a signature of the Bates education.

Lingua Franca

In collaboration with a group of students who articulated a strong desire to be in conversation with their peers about major social and institutional topics, we’ve developed a new, institution-wide public forum. Lingua Franca’s goal is to provide students, staff, and faculty with a consistent, structured, and inclusive forum for exploring important social topics that impact life at Bates. Forum topics will be determined by polling the entire community.

Our goal is to retain ultimate flexibility with regard to our format for each Lingua Franca forum in order to foster effective conversations between peers. For instance, we imagine that some discussion topics will benefit from initial framing by a panel of experts in the field, and so we may host a short panel prior to breaking into small group discussions. In other circumstances, the forum may be best-suited to only small group discussion. We believe this kind of programming flexibility will allow us to best serve the community and ensure that Lingua Franca remains vital, intellectually stimulating, and a forum in which difference of opinion is nurtured, explored, and valued.

Alumni and Parent Engagement

Building on the commitment to engage alumni, and in partnership with Purposeful Work, we hosted a Working Weekend program that provided students with the opportunity to reflect on, and learn from a diverse group of alumni about developing meaningfulness in their working lives. Working Weekend was a first step toward developing a broader set of engagements between students and alumni. You can learn more about Working Weekend: Making Meaning here.

There is a great deal of wisdom, experience, and good will among our alumni and parents. And students consistently report that their encounters with alumni and parents are formative and positively impact their Bates experience. So we are focused on developing programs and activities that will allow current Bates students to engage with alumni in meaningful ways. Examples of these engagements include the “Negotiating Identity in the Workplace” panel we hosted last year during Homecoming and the series of Chat & Chew programs we’re planning this year that will allow us, through the smart use of technology, to connect students and alumni around a broad-ranging series of topics.

Finally, we have also committed to more actively fostering and developing multicultural alumni engagement through a series of receptions across the country. We started by hosting two alumni receptions last academic year, and this fall we will host receptions in New York (Oct. 15) and Boston (Nov. 17) followed by receptions in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco next spring — dates to come.

In the interim, please be on the lookout for communications from Kristina Powell about these alumni events — we call them “Mosaic” events, also the name of the coalition of campus student organizations committed to allyship, diversity, and inclusion — or feel free to email her at kpowell@bates.edu for more information.

In all, 2014-15 was an exciting year. Looking ahead, 2015-16 promises to bear many fruits as we continue to build a dynamic and happy community of students as well as deepen the major programs I’ve outlined. I appreciate your time and interest in the work of the Office of Equity and Diversity and the Office of Intercultural Education.

Until next year,

Crystal A. Williams
Associate Vice President and CDO,
Professor of English