Skidmore College to host Social (In)Justice at the U.S.-Mexico Border series

Skidmore College to host Social (In)Justice at the U.S.-Mexico Border series

I give my greetings to everyone in the Skidmore community.
On the first morning of my first day as Skidmore’s 8th President,
I announced that I would
launch the Presidential Initiative for Racial Justice.
As I explained during a campus visit in February,
I’m committed to building together
a community of trust here at Skidmore,
in which everybody feels at home,
welcome and represented,
and everybody feels safe and supported enough to thrive and be challenged by the education
they receive here.
I came to Skidmore determined to embark on the diversity,
equity,
and inclusion work that
is at the heart of building such a community.
Last May,
the murder of George Floyd set off a renewed national movement for Racial Justice
and Police Reform.
But it’s crucial to note that Racial injustice and inequality has its roots in the very
founding of this nation.
This is what novelist Ralph Ellison has called the American contradiction between the
nation’s noble promise and its longstanding failure to live up to that promise.
Skidmore College is an exceptional liberal arts institution that benefits from the incredible work
and unique perspectives of all members of this campus community.
But with that said,
Skidmore,
like all of us as individuals,
can be better and do better.
I’ve been learning about many areas of pain,
suffering,
anger,
resentment,
and simmering frustration.
And the tangible measures I share today in the initiative for Racial Justice have been informed
by those feelings and those concerns.
When I first announced the initiative until I first,
I noted that it would be presumptuous
and foolish of me to take specific actions without first having open and honest discussions
about what and how we can improve.
I’ve spent much of the summer in meetings and conversations with students,
staff,
faculty,
and community members about this initiative,
seeking to hear and understand the most effective and
meaningful steps that college can take toward these important goals.
Their work and input is everywhere in the document I’m sharing with you today.
Of course,
I will continue to listen and learn from our community in the days to come.
But the goal of this initiative is to launch action-oriented projects that will put us on a path
to improvement now.
In addition to the many voices we’ve recently heard from on campus,
Skidmore has joined the USC Race and Equity Center Alliance and will draw on this National
Institute’s Racial Equity Research and we’re also using data from the college’s
Head’s Diversity and Equity Campus Climate Survey to help inform decisions.
We’ll be responding to both longstanding concerns as well as current and emerging
issues from perceived faculty bias to distrust between the college and the city of Saratoga Springs.
Our work will range from re-examining our bias reporting mechanism and protocols to proposing
new educational processes to gather and hear student concerns about classroom experiences.
We will grapple with past events and situations that continue to divide us as we seek racial
understanding and healing.
And we will move forward with the goal of fostering
an ever increasingly inclusive,
supportive and effective college environment.
Some institution-altering projects are already underway.
We’ve approved and begun the search process
for a director of the Office of Student Diversity Programs and a director of the new center
for inclusion,
equity,
and justice on campus.
These are two key leadership positions in DEI efforts
at the college.
And effective immediately,
the Skidmore Board of Trustees has established a new board
committee on diversity,
equity,
and inclusion,
signaling our commitment to this work at the highest level
of the college’s governing structure.
This is truly institution-altering work of the highest order.
The college will also provide funding and support for speakers,
projects,
and symposia
organized by the Black Studies Program focused on issues of race and justice,
including
student and faculty research projects and collaborations with other liberal arts colleges.
Other departments are also encouraged to grow creative thoughtful projects that show promise
for supporting inquiries and engagements with race and justice.
Strengthening the relationship between
Skidmore and the city of Seratoga Springs is also a priority.
Members of our campus community are
engaging in ongoing dialogues with the city and local law enforcement with a goal of ensuring
a safe and welcoming community for everyone.
I want to make this clear,
we are not simply placing
a bandaid on these issues with the hope that they will go away.
We are identifying wounds and working
to achieve real and lasting healing and change.
In keeping with my commitment that this is a highest
institutional priority,
I’m allocating the resources necessary to support it.
I’ve allocated
much of the President’s discretionary fund for these projects for the coming year.
In addition,
Skidmore has received a significant gift from a generous friend of the college,
specifically for this
initiative and for DEI work more generally,
which includes a challenge and matching grant for the same
purpose.
This is a substantial institutional commitment of resources further reinforcing how crucial
this work is to the college.
It’s also important to note that the work of this race and justice initiative
overlaps with the larger work of diversity,
equity and inclusion at Skidmore.
This initiative is
hardly a substitute for all the other projects,
goals,
aspirations and commitments we have for DEI work
overall.
The more this initiative can overlap with,
learn from and complement our other efforts in DEI,
the stronger and more trusting our entire community can become.
While this is a President’s task to
articulate a strategic priority of the institution,
it is the responsibility of all of us to take up this
challenge.
We’re in the midst of an incredibly important moment in history.
During this COVID-19 pandemic
and time of unrest and division in our country,
perhaps never before have the stark inequalities and
injustices in our society been more apparent.
As we rely on one another to get through this time,
we have a unique opportunity to step up,
take care of one another and be leaders of the change
we wish to see.
I am eager to take on this challenge with all of you together.
Thank you.

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