Change and Accountability

Outlined in President Biddy Martin’s letter to the community on August 3, 2020, these are the measures the College will take and the ways we will hold ourselves accountable for them:

  1. Biennial Alumni and Student Testimonies. We will organize and participate in biennial sessions for Black alumni and current students to share their experiences and perspectives with members of the senior staff and the board of trustees. A detailed summary of proposals for change will be made available to all participants within a month of the testimonies. The first such gathering will take place in the summer of 2021, and testimonies will recur every two years thereafter.
  2. The Board of Trustees is committed to racial and generational diversity among its members and will report further on its deliberations in these areas following the October 2020 board meeting. The board will shortly establish a new standing committee, on par with its other standing committees, focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The committee will be charged with responsibility for oversight of the College’s progress toward these goals, which will also be taken into account by the board in its annual evaluations of the president. Other board standing committees, such as the committees on instruction, human resources, and student life, have aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their portfolios and will increase their attention to these goals, as well. The board is resolute in its support of my intentions and commitments in this letter.
  3. The Senior Staff. We will increase the racial diversity of the senior staff as positions become available. In the meantime, the president’s task force on diversity and inclusion will become a standing committee made up of faculty, staff, and students, and alumni, including representatives of the Committee of Six and other major governance committees. This standing committee, co-chaired by the chief diversity and inclusion officer, Norm Jones, and a member of the faculty, will have responsibility for reviewing progress of the three-year diversity, equity, and inclusion goals of each major unit of the College. The committee’s assessment of progress will inform the annual performance reviews of the senior staff. We will create a website on which divisional goals and other commitments made in this document can be tracked for progress.

    Members of the senior staff will meet at least once a semester with the leadership of the Black Students Union and with representatives of other student organizations.
  4. Faculty Diversity and Development. We will continue increasing the racial diversity of the faculty, building on the progress that the provost and the chief diversity and inclusion officer have made over the past several years. All search committees for new faculty hires participate in anti-bias workshops and all candidate pools are submitted to the chief diversity and inclusion officer for review and approval. These measures will remain in place.

    Of the five senior faculty FTE’s requested by the president and approved by the board in 2015 to diversify the faculty, only two lines have been filled. Together, Provost Epstein, CDIO Jones, and I will urge our academic departments to step up their efforts to identify and recruit outstanding Black and Latinx scholars for these approved positions. Those departments that have made progress toward racial diversity using existing lines or have filled one of the open new lines will get preference when the president and provost review recommendations from the Committee on Educational Policy for searches going forward. We are committed to making new funding available, based on demonstrated success. Our goal is to have the faculty that reflects the diversity of the student body.

    Pre-tenure faculty rightly note that many departmental practices are opaque at best. Success in recruiting, retaining, mentoring, and tenuring outstanding faculty from a wide range of backgrounds requires greater clarity and transparency in departments. Over the course of this academic year, all academic departments will be required to document their policies and practices in departmental handbooks; these will be shared with the provost by the end of the spring 2021 semester. The provost’s office will make available best practices and scholarship in creating truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive working and learning environments. All departments will be expected to participate.

    Given the abundance of evidence of racial and gender bias in teaching evaluations and their significance in reappointment, tenure, and promotion decisions, the president and provost will charge an ad hoc committee with exploring more holistic approaches to the evaluation of teaching that will be used during reappointment and tenure processes. The ad hoc committee’s work should be completed before the end of the spring 2021 semester.
  5. Pedagogical and Curricular Development. Provost Epstein has made curriculum development, with specific attention to race and racism, a priority for the faculty and expects every department to take part in workshops focused on pedagogical and curricular development. CDIO Jones has asked Allen Hart, James E. Ostendarp Professor of Psychology and a faculty diversity and inclusion officer, and Pawan Dhingra, a professor of American studies and likewise a faculty diversity and inclusion officer, to be part of the work of making race and racism more central to teaching. We currently have several inclusivity-focused examples of innovation in teaching and learning that are models of what it means to promote student success. One is already a national model, Associate Professor of Chemistry Sheila Jaswal’s “Being Human in STEM.” A new program promises to be equally successful, the STEM Incubator project, created and taught by Assistant Professor of Biology Marc Edwards and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Chris Durr, and also taught by Assistant Professor of Statistics Brittney Bailey.

    Workshops will begin during the fall 2020 semester.
  6. External Review Board. We will re-establish an external review board on diversity, equity, and inclusion, to be made up of scholars and practitioners with expertise in educational equity and anti-racist work. As was the case with an earlier external advisory team, this board will visit the College every two years and assess progress on the basis of written reports each year they visit. We will seek advice from members of the campus community on the membership of the review team. The board’s reports and recommendations will be submitted to the administration and made available to the entire community and the board of trustees. The first visit of the newly constituted review board will be during the fall 2021 semester. 
  7. Staff Diversity. Just as our faculty should be more representative of our student body, so must our staff, especially in managerial and leadership positions. We will accelerate efforts not only to construct diverse candidate pools for open positions, but also hold ourselves accountable for hiring more Black and Latinx staff in all areas of the College. I will personally hold senior staff accountable for making measurable progress, beginning immediately. For supervisory, managerial, and senior-level positions, we will contract with a Black-owned firm to ensure we are reaching out to all potential Black, Indigenous, and other candidates of color.

    In addition, our staff—regardless of their race, ethnicity, and identity—must better understand and respect the lived experiences of the students they support and provide services to students in ways that can meet every student where they are. We will redouble our efforts to provide anti-bias training and other forms of education to all staff, many of whom have expressed eagerness to learn and improve competencies in this important work. We will begin immediately to require bias training for all search committees, to assess whether positions have been too narrowly defined for successful recruitment, and to require that all candidate pools and lists of finalists be submitted to Dina Levi in the office of diversity and inclusion for review.
  8. Senior Fellows Program. In order to ensure that we benefit from the work of the most distinguished voices in the area of anti-racist scholarship and policy, the president’s office will make funding available for visits by distinguished scholars and policy experts in the field. Ideally, this program of visiting fellows would become part of an existing center or unit. Fellows will be asked to be on campus or available remotely for two weeks each year for a period of two years to give a series of named public lectures, hold seminars, and offer office hours. Inaugural fellows will be selected during the fall 2020 semester for visits during the 2021-22 academic year.
  9. Bias, Harassment, and Discrimination. The College is establishing a new anti-discrimination and harassment policy and a bias reporting protocol that will serve all members of the community. In conjunction, the College is developing a single point of entry for all reports of identity-based bias, discrimination, and harassment. A cross-sectional team will review the reports, assess individual and community harm, provide necessary support to all involved persons, and inform those affected of options for resolving the incident and addressing the harm. These changes will be in place early in the fall 2020 semester.
  10. Statement of Academic and Expressive Freedom. The faculty will reexamine the Statement of Academic and Expressive Freedom at its meetings in the fall 2020 semester. The Committee of Six has already begun to address the request made by the Black Students Union to clarify that racial epithets and racial hate are not protected forms of expression.
  11. The Center for Restorative Practices at Amherst College (RPAC). Led by Professor Allen Hart, this year-long pilot focused on restorative practice has involved over 100 faculty, students, and staff engaged in dialogue-based conflict resolution and community-building. A national search is underway for an assistant director to support a center. RPAC will be used over time to strengthen relationships across students, faculty, staff, and alumni communities. The center director will report annually on the activities of the center, and reports will be made available to the community.
  12. Student Code. Also in keeping with an earlier commitment, the Student Code of Conduct will incorprorate policies and procedures for identity-based harassment and discrimination, including explicitly on the basis of race. This work will be complete early in the fall 2020 semester.
  13. Reimagine Policing. For some time, the College administration has been discussing a shift in the overreliance on the Amherst College Police Department in student life. Without a robust after-hours residential program, the campus police have served as the primary interface with students after hours and on weekends. This has created anxiety among Black students, in particular, but also others. We will shift some resources from ACPD, including student staff and funds for mental health services. We will also begin now to shift the supervision of residence halls and other student spaces to residential life and student affairs. A report on the impact of these changes will be available at the end of the fall 2020 semester.
  14. Mental Health Support. Institutional racism takes a toll on the psychological and physical well-being of students, staff, faculty, and alumni of color. We will provide more resources for those who are struggling with the impact of racism. During the fall semester, the Counseling Center will launch a search for another staff member with expertise in racial trauma. The College is also applying to be a campus partner with the Steve Fund, an organization that addresses racial disparities in mental health practices and resources. We seek to participate in the fund’s Equity in Mental Health on Campus Initiative, a comprehensive needs assessment for students of color. The Counseling Center is also working to increase its telehealth resources.
  15. Training and Education. Anti-bias training will be required at all levels, from the board of trustees and the senior administration to each major unit of the College, including all administrative and academic departments. Each member of the senior staff is responsible for ensuring anti-bias and anti-racist educational work in the departments within their divisions, reporting annually on the form that work has taken and the difference it has made. This is not, as some believe, an exercise in what to think, but our need to learn and to gain in self-awareness.

    The College is currently piloting the First Year Connect program for incoming students in an effort to create a student community that has the skills to engage effectively with their differences. Over the course of this academic year, we will develop a comprehensive program of this kind for all students as well as a new orientation program that focuses on race and racism.

    The athletics department will complete a strategic plan to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in athletics by the end of the fall 2020 semester. This strategic plan will include, but not be limited to, ongoing initiatives, including anti-racism workshops for all coaches and the department’s partnership with Allen Hart to train coaches and student-athletes in restorative practices. The department will be held responsible for hiring a diverse coaching staff and coaches will be held accountable for recruiting student-athletes of color. The office of admission and financial aid will be asked to take up the question of how financial pre-reads might help in pursuit of this goal.
  16. Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Effective August 24, 2020, we will introduce the term equity into the office of diversity and inclusion—it will now be the office of diversity, equity, and inclusion and Norm Jones will become the chief equity and inclusion officer. The titles of the faculty diversity and inclusion officers and of Dina Levi will also change: Dina’s title will be director of workforce equity and inclusive leadership. The faculty diversity and inclusion officers will become the faculty equity and inclusion officers.
  17. Iconography and Representation. We will immediately establish a committee charged with reimagining our public spaces and ensuring that they reflect the diversity of our community and the achievements of our Black alumni and underrepresented alumni. The committee will issue recommendations at the beginning of the spring 2021 semester in time for decisions and, hopefully, some changes during our bicentennial year.