Hamilton Student Group Joins National Conversation - Hamilton College
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Days-Massolo Center
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Hamilton Student Group Joins National Conversation

Race Relations Among Issues Being Questioned

Posted December 2, 2015
Tags Days-Massolo Center Hamilton Headlines Students

During a time of intense discussions about race relations and a range of other issues on college and university campuses across the nation, similar conversations and demonstrations are occurring on the Hamilton campus.

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, Hamilton’s Days-Massolo Center sponsored the first of a series of “crucial conversations” about students and faculty of color, inclusivity, intolerance and offensive social media posts. About 85 people attended. A follow-up conversation is planned for next week.

The next afternoon, students marched from the Kirner- Johnson Building to Burke Library and Buttrick Hall, where the President’s office is located. On Tuesday, Dec. 1, an anonymous group of students calling themselves the Movement sent a list of demands to college administrators. That afternoon about two dozen students came to the regularly scheduled monthly faculty meeting; some read from the Movement’s demands and others asked questions or made statements. The meeting was peaceful and discussion was civil. 

Dean Reynolds responded to questions by speaking at length about the College’s commitment to hiring a diverse faculty.  Faculty recruitment was also the subject of a well-attended follow-up discussion that evening, facilitated by Associate Dean of Faculty Sam Pellman and Interim Director of Diversity and Inclusion Phyllis Breland.

President Joan Hinde Stewart spoke at the faculty meeting about Hamilton’s and her own long commitment to enrolling and supporting a diverse student body. She reviewed actions taken over the past few years to support that mission, including the adoption of need-blind admission, the opening of the Days-Massolo Center, the establishment of the Student Emergency Assistance Society and the First-Year Forward Program. In 2005, 14% of the Hamilton College student body was comprised of domestic students of color; a decade later that figure is 23%.

In remarks at the faculty meeting the president and dean said that there was more to be done to support Hamilton’s growing diverse population.
 

Note: Note: Hamilton student comments can be found in the Dec. 3 issue of The Spectator.

Comments

Thank you for the update on the response to the students' list of demands. Will the President or any administrators plan to send out an update to alumni? Many of us are looking for the written response from the College to the students' requests.

Thanks again for your attention to the many important issues that are enumerated in the students' requests.

Warmly, Marielle Matthews '09

As a reference to readers, the list of demands may be found here: https://docs.google.com/document/u/2/d/1OSo1bYvTjeawn0VyylV1zXQptDOlYIU7z2FoCkTO6Q0/pub

There's much about this document that could make many Hamilton alumni proud. The administration now has an opportunity to publicly take a lead on this national movement by actually engaging in constructive dialogue and taking action. I hope it happens!

Some people have attacked the grammar and writing quality of the document, which is just an easy way to disengage from an uncomfortable topic. Acknowledging the presence of real grievances, and taking action to address them by making one's community more inclusive and accessible can be hard. But it's better in the long run to do so than to dismiss inspired idealism because of typos. Let's actually engage instead.

Theophilos Collins '08

The best development is unmasking the students calling themselves The Movement. Hiding behind a mask -- and the mask of a terrorist at that --shows a weakness of character that is unworthy of membership in the Hamilton community.

I applaud the administration's efforts at civil discourse with all students who have grievances, but none of these issues is new or novel. In the fall of 1983 classes were cancelled for the first time in history (not due to weather) so students, faculty, and administration could engage in meaningful, civil discourse about tensions on campus between (primarily) student groups whose opinions clashed over politics and gender-equality issues. We called it Community Values Day. I was a student discussion group leaders. We spent the day airing concerns and grievances with each other and the College and we succeeded, somewhat, in reducing tensions.

I suggests today's students with grievances keep history in mind. At the College's founding no women were admitted or hired, never mind people of color. Their suffering is real but it is neither new nor novel.

Paul Gillespie President Class of 1984

Is the problem that Joan Hinde Stewart and her legions of administrators have avoided conversations with activist students? I think not. Indeed, the trustees themselves have bent over backward to converse with activist students who have demanded their attention.

Years ago, a subcommittee of the board was formed to "converse" with "The Social Justice Initiative." A divestment group showed up at the door of the investment committee, was allowed in, and permitted to converse. President Stewart has made clear to anyone who will listen that she will converse with the leaders of "The Movement" at a time and place of their convenience.

I have been at Hamilton for 35 years. I have seen no dearth of conversations by Joan Hinde Stewart or her administrators when it comes to having conversations with groups with what might be called a progressive agenda. She intends to claim "diversity" as one of her greatest legacies of her Hamilton presidency. She has no intention of being stand-offish to those who claim to be acting for the benefit of historically underprivileged groups.

As for the responsiveness of this administration and the trustees to students with a right-of-center bent, say, libertarians, neoconservatives, conservatives, that is quite a different matter. They seem to be unworthy of conversation.

I was initially embarrassed to read about "The Movement" and its 83 demands in the "Only in America" segment of "The Week" (the 12.18.15 edition of this weekly news magazine). "Only in America" offers examples of American behavior that lead one to wince in disbelief and think "You can't be serious." I was relieved however after I tracked down and read the Movement's document. 38 years after graduating I am well-removed from Hamilton life, but I have learned a few things about the larger life for which Hamilton tried to prepare me. The campus (and larger life) realities that produced The Movement are not silly as "The Week" implied. Created by intent or obliviousness, discrimination and oppression are visible and damaging everywhere and the Hamilton campus cannot be exempt.

At Hamilton I learned that just about any problem could be engaged with a rigorous commitment to fully and respectfully understanding it first. Since then, I've appreciated that there is no end to that understanding process. I truly hope the campus climate of dedicated and respectful understanding still exists in Clinton, and that The Movement and The College can engage this work on the meaning and impact of "different-ness." It is work that will probably have no end point. As I go now to write "The Week" I wish you all good luck. tjp H'77

Cupola