SASsy SAS Update: An open letter to the Scripps senior staff - Diversity, inclusion, and microaggression at Scripps

By Stephanie Park ‘13SAS Multicultural Relations Chair

Hi Scripps! I’m Stephanie Park, your SAS Multicultural Relations Chair. Officially, my role is to “represent the interests and concerns of underrepresented students to SAS and administration, and facilitate community dialogue around issues related to diversity.”

Diversity is a hot topic for Scripps College right now. Last year, our WASC reviewers wrote that “much work remains to be done” with regards to diversity at Scripps. Now, Scripps is in the process of writing a new Strategic Plan for Diversity, which will provide the framework for how we look at and engage with diversity in the years to come. As MCR Chair, I’ve been asked to gather qualitative data on student experience and opinion for the school in order to inform this plan.

As I began gathering this data, I saw that isolation, exclusion, and devaluation are very real experiences for the students of color, low-income students, LGBTQQIA students, and disabled students on our campus. At the same time, I realized the utter lack of opportunity for people to come together at the community-wide level to have these kinds of conversations.

I have written this open letter to the Scripps senior staff in order to let you all know what I’ve found in my investigations so far, and invite you all to join the conversation.

I also challenge you all to do something about it. With the writing of the new strategic plan, we as students have enormous potential to affect the direction our school takes in the upcoming years. Don’t let it go to waste.

Student concerns regarding diversity and inclusion on campus fall 2012:

  • The racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, ableist, and generally privileged attitudes that pervade our campus, and the ways in which they become apparent through acts of microaggression

For those unfamiliar with the term, microaggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward minority communities. Microaggression usually involves demeaning implications and other subtle insults against minorities, and may be perpetrated against them due to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability status.”

When students discuss problems they’ve encountered regarding issues of diversity at Scripps, they almost always give evidence of microaggressions that they or someone they know has experienced. They range from racist comments made in class that go unchallenged, to one-offs made by everyone from students, staff, and faculty; but they pervade every level of our community.

Navigating microaggressions is difficult because most would not qualify as bias-related incidents, as they are more subtle than “expressions of hostility” that have qualified as bias-related incidents in the past. Whether Scripps needs to take a look at the way bias-related incidents are defined or address microaggressions in a different way, it has become increasingly clear that this is one of the most pressing issues we face if we seek to address “diversity” within our community.

For more information on microaggressions and the various forms they can take, please visit: www.microaggressions.com/about.

 

  • The presence and facilitation of “difficult dialogues” in Core I

Core I is meant to act as the foreground to all Scripps students’ intellectual endeavors, yet it instead has become a site of conflict and problems.

Students last year raised three issues with Core I:

  1. The Core curriculum, “Western-centralized,” fails to prepare students to discuss important issues in a global context.
  2. Throughout the past years, students of color have felt uncomfortable, silenced and/or attacked (implicitly or explicitly) in Core discussions. While we acknowledge that students bring their own views and stereotypes into the classroom, it is the role of the professor to intervene and facilitate these discussions.
  3. Professors are underequipped tohandle offensive, racist, classist conversations in classrooms (as demonstrated by the recent incident of a student’s report of racist comments in her Core that caused Emergency Intervention Procedure).

I must first point out that these issues remain just as relevant now as when they were voiced last year. Since then, a presentation called “Difficult Dialogues” that is meant to engage first-year students with dialoguing about difference in the classroom in a respectful manner, has been implemented. While students generally appreciated the implementation of the “Difficult Dialogues” talk for first-years and faculty, it had more to do with the idea of such a talk than the content of such a discussion. In the future, students would like to see a different facilitator or facilitation method used, one that is tailored to the specific issues we face at Scripps.

We must also acknowledge, however, that no one talk can ever fully prepare us for the myriad ways in which difficult dialogues arise in the classroom, and that this cannot be a “one-and-done” conversation. While students appreciate Core I liaison Matt Delmont’s willingness to talk with students, they would like to see a more proactive stance taken on these issues by all of the Core faculty. Since Core I is the academic introduction for all Scripps students, it sets a precedent for students and faculty; it should embrace the opportunity to explore diverse topics and truly work through challenging discussions of privilege, power, and difference as they affect us in very real ways at Scripps.

 

  • The tokenization of students of color and “diverse”-looking students in Scripps promotional materials

Students last year noted that “Students of color are constantly tokenized in Scripps publications to make Scripps look better— [this] fails to recognize or address disparity in the actual number of students of color in the student body.”

Students continue to notice the disparity between the Scripps represented on the website and the reality of lived experience at Scripps. Students report feeling “duped” by the Scripps that has been sold to them via the website and promotional materials, and are confused, depressed, and angered by what greets them once they actually enroll.

We understand the difficulty of trying to represent the valid achievements students accomplish here with over-representing diversity; however, the website and promotional materials should not be how we are “getting” students of color, as has previously been expressed. Rather, we should be finding other ways to attract and, more importantly, support students once they are actually here. We suggest investing more time in comprehensive outreach to minority communities and providing more pro-active, institutional support to students on campus.

 

  • The continued need to examine the relationships between SCORE, SCORE CLORGs, and the student body at large

Students are pleased with the progress the college has made in this area, especially regarding the hiring of SCORE coordinators Victoria Verlezza and Yuka Ogino. However, larger concerns remain regarding SCORE as a place, presence, and purpose on campus.

One of the most pressing student concerns is the lack of support for student groups that are not recognized as official SCORE CLORGs. In fact, multiple student groups have voiced a desire to become a part of the SCORE community to SCORE and have been refused. The very fact that this has happened goes against the SCORE mission of being a “community of people committed to enhancing and supporting diversity” and functioning as a “resource to the community.” If anything, expanding the SCORE CLORG community would only serve to empower more students, and to bring more people into contact with SCORE. The harm, meanwhile, is to delegitimize the experiences, needs, and very identities of those student groups that have been rejected.

Two such groups are Scripps International Students (SIS), and the Disability, Illness, and Difference Alliance (DIDA). While SIS appreciates the presence of Vicki Klopsch, Executive Director of CP&R and Student Affairs Special Services, her role is more technical and focused on career service provision; more important to them is a space to develop a sense of community and camaraderie with other students as part of the greater SCORE CLORG community.

For DIDA, the denial of CLORG status by SCORE is especially devastating because there is no space at the 5-Cs where they can find non-academic, logistic, and emotional support as well as a space to talk about identity and experience as a disabled student. Students from other SCORE CLORGs have no objection to the presence of other groups like SIS and DIDA within SCORE; the decision to give certain organizations “CLORG” status lies solely with the administration.

This conflict also shows that SCORE as a place for student-run organizations has become conflated with SCORE as an official institutional office of the college. The presence and role of both need to be examined, with the understanding that students continue to feel unsupported by current structures and seek change.

 

  • Demand for a Chief Diversity Officer at Scripps College

Whether intentional or not, this particular issue was left unaddressed by senior staff.

Yet it has become increasingly obvious that Scripps needs to take a serious look at how it has structured diversity within the institution so far, and how it plans to shape it in the years to come.

Currently, the diversity initiative rests only among a select group of students, staff, and faculty.

This is part of a pattern in which the duty of diversity advocacy always falls on the same group of people, who are expected to find and identify problems in the community, provide evidence, and come up with solutions to address the problems. This is a school-wide problem that affects all members of the community, not specific to these students, faculty, and staff (nor even specific to Core I), and these issues will not be resolved until they are recognized and addressed as such. Until Scripps acknowledges the unjust and untenable situation it has placed these individuals in, and commits to providing the institutional support needed to make diversity a full-time issue for at least one paid staff member, our so-called commitment to diversity will in all likelihood remain empty rhetoric.

So there you have it. Whether you hated this letter or loved it, the important thing is for you to start speaking out. If we as a college truly intend to examine and improve our commitment to diversity, these issues need to enter the public sphere and happen at all levels within the college. Join the conversation at: microaggressivescripps.tumblr.com.