By Peter Sullivan
A group of students has been postering campus buildings over the past week with concerns about the administration’s handling of diversity issues. Dean of the College Paula Smith sent an all-campus email Tuesday in response, but the students say they are not satisfied with what she wrote.
The group signed an open letter to President Raynard Kington, calling itself “Students Who Are Outraged and Paying Attention.” The letter raised issues such as what it says is a lack of adequate staffing in diversity-related departments, a lack of transparency in decision-making and problems with moving the diversity office under Academic Affairs.
One of the first posters to appear said, “How many years does it take for Grinnell to get a ‘fully staffed and functional’ diversity inclusion department for its students? 167 years (+5 according to President Kington) Congrats to the Class of 2022 for getting to experience it!!!!”
The quotation from the poster came from a Feb. 22 S&B article where Kington said he hopes to have the diversity office “fully staffed and functional” in five years. “Recently, several students have publicly expressed concern about the staffing to support diversity at Grinnell College,” Smith wrote in her all-campus email. “Because their questions relate to one of our most strongly held values, I want to respond in a public way as well, and share information about what we are doing to support diversity at Grinnell.”
She announced that the College has renewed its relationship with the Posse Foundation. The College reviewed the success of the program this year before making the decision.
She encouraged students to email Kington at email@example.com or go to his weekly office hours.
She added that the College is in the process of hiring a Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Dean of the College. The College intends whomever is hired to understand both diversity and its connection to academics.
“In order to support the academic success of our diverse student body we have moved the diversity function directly into Academic Affairs,” she wrote.
Michael Benitez, the Director of Intercultural Engagement and Leadership—who is leaving after this year for a job at another institution—as well as the group postering, have concerns about this change, saying all-around support for multicultural students in areas beyond just academics is important.
“We are delighted that Paula took the time to read and respond to our posters,” the group wrote in an open letter to Kington posted around campus. “However, the content of the email doesn’t address the real issues we have and will continue to raise.”
The letter addressed the shift of the diversity office to Academic Affairs by asking, “Why was there no communication with students and faculty who have been here for years and whom are personally effected [sic] by this change?”
The letter also addressed the staff turnover at diversity departments. Intercultural Affairs Associate Daria Slick left in spring 2011 and Vice President for Diversity and Achievement Elena Bernal ’94 left in spring 2012. Benitez is the latest departure.
“On the issue of stability, why isn’t there a fully functioning diversity department with a supporting staff? Why has the only thing consistent with the office been the overturns of the staff?” the letter said.
Shaquall Brown ’15, one of the students involved with the posters, said there is a disconnect between having diversity and supporting it at the College.
“Grinnell tends to promote [diversity,] but once you have all these diverse students, how are you supporting them?” she said.
She reiterated the letter’s position that Smith’s email was unsatisfactory.
“We didn’t expect it to come from Paula,” she said. “I thought Raynard himself was going to respond.”
She added that more discussion with Kington is needed, and that many students have class or are otherwise not able to go to his office hours.
“I want him to address us himself and have a town hall,” she said.