October 29, 2018
Dear students, staff, faculty and alumnae:
At Smith College, we are committed to an inclusive, diverse and equitable community. That commitment was tested last summer when a Smith employee called Campus Police about a student of color, and questions were raised about whether the call and police response were motivated by racial bias. Today, I write to share the conclusions and recommendations of an independent report into the events of July 31, 2018, so that we can better understand what occurred, learn from the experience, take restorative action and chart our way forward together.
I encourage you to read the report in its entirety. Rather than summarize it, I have chosen to share it with you directly, redacting only those elements that would violate confidentiality commitments we make, as a matter of policy, to those interviewed in an investigation.
The report’s findings are important in two respects. First, they provide a foundation for potential reconciliation and healing for those involved. Second, they include recommendations about Smith’s future, a future in which we recommit to ensuring that every member of our community feels welcome and valued.
I know members of our community will have a range of reactions to the report. Yet, it is my fervent hope that we can come together to share our feelings, concerns, and ideas for creating a more inclusive Smith College together. As a start to the process of change, I am opening Helen Hills Hills Chapel at 12 noon today for students, staff and faculty who want to gather in community. There will be no formal program; rather, this will be an informal opportunity for reflection and conversation. The Student Affairs team, including residence life, religious and spiritual life and multicultural affairs, as well as the Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, are additional available resources.
In concert with this email, I have reached out to the co-chairs of the Unity Organizations to schedule a meeting, so that I can hear directly from students of color and seek their advice on next steps for our community. I have also reached out to Staff Council and Faculty Council for their feedback and help as we move forward.
BACKGROUND ON THE INVESTIGATION
Smith College engaged attorneys Anthony Cruthird and Kate Upatham, both of whom are experienced in matters of education, discrimination and civil rights, to conduct an independent investigation. Their charge was to investigate the incident and offer recommendations to our community. During four visits to campus, they conducted in-depth interviews with 11 individuals; visited the site of the incident; and examined policies, protocols and training in relevant departments and programs, including Campus Police, Facilities Management, Dining Services and our Summer at Smith programs for high school girls. I want to thank all of those who participated in the investigation.
With regard to the employee’s call to Campus Police, the investigators found gaps and conflicting information in individuals’ recollections of events. There were questions and concerns raised, but also plausible non-discriminatory explanations. Weighing these accounts in the context of their overall fact-finding, the investigators ultimately concluded that “the Caller provided a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for calling the Campus Police on the day of the Incident.” (p. 23) Further, “the Investigative Team did not find sufficient information that this decision was based on the Reported Party’s race or color, or violated the Policy.” (p. 23)
At the same time, the report validates and affirms the student’s lived experience, notably the fear she felt when approached by a Campus Police officer. I recognize that this event has been painful for the student, and that the publication of this report will bring this pain to the forefront again. It is clear to me that we need to foster the capacity for person-to-person conversations—on our campus and in our wider communities—thereby preventing unnecessary escalation involving the police.
After reading the investigation, I suspect many of you will conclude, as I did, that in investigations like this, as in our daily interactions, it is impossible to rule out the potential role of implicit racial bias. Let us begin with this recognition as we embrace the work that lies ahead.
The report identifies two areas for improvement regarding employee policies and trainings as well as policies and trainings specific to campus police, all with the aim of reducing the likelihood of bias-related incidents. These recommendations are closely aligned with suggestions we have received from the student. I want to assure you that the college will pursue these recommendations; in fact, relevant departments on campus have already begun to design and implement new procedures. I will keep you updated on the progress of this work.
FRAMEWORKS FOR CHANGE
The findings of the investigation represent an inflection point because the report helps to illuminate the areas in which Smith can improve. Education, our primary mission as a college, lies at the heart of prevention and intervention. We have a number of trainings planned for all members of our community, including identity and inclusion workshops, a critical conversations initiative, and online training, each with the goal to build our capacity to engage with differences among us. At the same time, we must continue to work with focus and intention to diversify the student body, the staff and the faculty. The search for our next Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity will be important in that effort, as will the Target of Opportunity Program I launched last year to increase the representation of faculty of color, especially at the senior ranks. Most importantly, we must commit to changing our culture—reassessing the assumptions and practices, large and small, by which our community functions. Importantly, culture change is an impetus for the work of the newly-formed Residential Experience Working Group.
We recommit to the goal of inclusion in the context of profound racial, religious and political division in the United States and around the world. I remain hopeful that Smith can foster the critically important conversations that will make us a standard-bearer in the work of inclusion, diversity and equity—this must be our steadfast goal. I believe we are called to use this moment, as activist and educator Loretta Ross has said, “to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” as we build bridges together. This is the most important work of our time.
President, Smith College