Dear Vassar Alumnae/i and Parents,
This is a very challenging time for our community. Within an intense and heightened national context, a number of important issues are being raised related to the climate on our campus. There have been several online articles in recent days that reflect the frustration and pain of individuals in our community. They address issues of race and class as well as sexual assault. There also continue to be tensions on campus stemming from different viewpoints about the Middle East. These issues are extremely troubling for me and for all of us at Vassar who are working to build a community that supports every student, faculty member, and staff member. We will do all that we can to achieve that goal. I have heard and share your deep concerns in response to members of our community stating that they feel unwelcome, unsafe, and unsupported. Our priorities are to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone on campus. Racism, discrimination, harassment, and sexual assault are not acceptable. As part of our ongoing efforts to build an equitable and supportive community, we have taken several steps over the past months and plan a number of others. And we will not stop until we get it right.
- We have amended our policies against discrimination and harassment to include the prohibition of profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin. This stronger policy, as well as forms to report incidents of profiling, has been added to appropriate college websites.
- We also have strengthened our Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) to assess events on campus that may involve bias. The team meets weekly to do this work and reports to the community the incidents it has considered.
- We have completed the search for a replacement for our Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention (SAVP) Coordinator and our new coordinator started this past Monday. The email to our students introducing the coordinator included the SAVP resources and reporting process, as well as names and contact information for other support services. The SAVP Program is committed to a victim-centered approach and works in a variety of ways to prevent and respond to sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, stalking, and sexual harassment. For more information, go to the SAVP website at http://savp.vassar.edu/.
- In response to serious concerns about continuing racial profiling in campus safety and security, the college has contracted with Margolis Healy, a national leader in that area, to further assist us in a thorough review of our campus safety and security policies and practices, including the department’s structure, operations, and relationships with students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i and other visitors to campus. Steven Healy, co-founder of the firm, presented the group’s findings and recommendations to campus earlier this week, in a town hall meeting that, amidst challenging discussions with many of those present about the study and broader campus climate issues, resulted in a better understanding of the steps we must take on these issues. When the Margolis Healy report is finalized, it will be posted on the Vassar website and we’ll make the url available to the community. A matrix of the recommendations and a timeline for tracking implementation will be included.
- Working with Margolis Healy we have now identified a top-ranked higher education search firm, Spelman & Johnson, to coordinate the search process to replace our head of Safety and Security, who recently retired. The search will begin promptly with the goal of having a new director in place by the spring.
- The Dean of the College Office, which oversees the Office of Safety and Security, has created a new Safety and Security Advisory Council charged with reviewing current campus security policies and procedures and making recommendations for their improvement. The new council has as chair Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Officer Julian R. Williams. It also includes faculty, administrator, and student members. This council, plus other key administrators in the Dean of the College area, senior administrators, including me, and two additional students, will comprise the group that will facilitate and monitor the implementation of Margolis Healy's recommendations, as well as other important campus initiatives in this area.
- We know there is a broad range of issues on students’ minds related to campus climate. Dean of the College Chris Roellke and I will be making specific hours available to meet with small groups of students, beginning immediately. We have been meeting throughout the semester with members of the sophomore class in groups of 10 to 25 and this has proven to be a productive model for hearing student concerns and questions, and for students to listen to each other about their concerns. In addition, on Monday, December 8, the Campus Life and Diversity staff will host a facilitated dialogue for students on campus climate.
- We also will hold a series of town hall meetings on specific topics in the spring semester. Some of the topic suggestions have come from the meetings Dean Roellke and I have had with sophomores, and others have been on students' minds more broadly. Among the topics we plan to address are Title IX policies and procedures, sexual assault prevention, a campus safety and security follow-up, the allocation of resources for student services, and campus climate issues related to identity.
- I have made funds available through the President’s Office for campus programming on the topic of working across differences. We have received a number of proposals for programs that will take place starting early in the spring semester. We also have had training this semester for a number of members of our community on working across difference and having difficult conversations, with more training planned for January and February. Senior officers will participate in a training session on these topics in mid-December.
We know we have work to do in the coming months and beyond around these serious challenges. I think that our ongoing campus discussions, where we can listen and speak with one another frankly, and search for solutions that work for the community, are the only way to assure that we can make progress. We must make changes to guarantee that all members of our community and visitors to campus feel welcome, free from discrimination and harassment. As a residential educational institution, it is our responsibility to ensure that what happens in classrooms, dining halls, student living spaces, and extracurricular activities helps students and community members rise to the challenges that our country faces in creating a society that is fair and equitable for all. We must do all we can to ensure that all our community members feel safe and supported – and we will. Thank you for your work on behalf of the college and for your concern about the important issues affecting Vassar.