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Board of Trustees creates fund following student protest

Mariah Joyce
Editor in Chief

Following a student-led demonstration, the Board of Trustees has created the Reggie Williams and Dale Perry Fund to promote the hiring of more racially and ethnically diverse faculty at The College of Wooster.

The student demonstration, organized by Chadwick Smith ’17, was in part a response to a trustee’s comments about faculty diversity at the Student Development Meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Campus community members lined the hallways in the Scot Center prior to the Board’s meeting with President Sarah Bolton on the morning of Oct. 21, holding signs with slogans including #BlackFacultyMatter and “Cultural Competency is needed now.” Later that day, an email was sent out to the campus on behalf of the Trustees announcing the creation of a fund to support the hiring of faculty of color. The initial endowment of the fund was $1 million, half of which came from new gifts from trustees.

“Before I was even informed of the Board of Trustees’ decision, I believed that the protest was very successful,” said Smith. “When I saw the amount of folks who arrived before I had even got there, I was overwhelmed with joy because it hit me that folks were very concerned about this issue and were gonna put action towards their concerns. I am very proud of the Trustees for moving toward their ‘Zacchaeus moment’ to respond to folks’ concerns about the comments that were made,” alluding to the biblical parable that he referenced in his address to the trustees at the protest.

Chairman of the Board Bill Longbrake said that while increasing faculty and staff diversity has been a mission for the Trustees for several years, the conversation between the Trustees and Bolton following the demonstration was the first opportunity Bolton had to address what specific resources would be instrumented in achieving this goal.

Longbrake said that during Friday’s meeting, board members asked which measures were needed to make rapid progress on the issue of faculty and staff diversity. Bolton discussed some options that can supplement standard recruiting strategies to expand hiring of diverse faculty, and she told the Board that these approaches require more financial resources.

“The board unanimously agreed that it is imperative for the College to undertake these best practices and decided it was essential to direct specific funding to enable their development and deployment,” said Longbrake.

Bolton has been placed in charge of managing the fund, and she will be assisted by Provost Carolyn Newton, who Bolton says has already been working on increasing faculty and staff diversity.

According to Bolton, increasing diversity in this way usually has two components: 1) Reaching out broadly to recruit diverse individuals and 2) Ensuring that the process of narrowing down the pool of applicants and interviewing finalists is as strong as possible in terms of equity and valuing diversity.

For example, Bolton said that with respect to outreach and searching for faculty in more racially diverse pools, this new fund will enable the College to work more closely with organizations such as the Consortium for Faculty Diversity to bring fellows to campus, make direct connections with doctoral programs, and travel to conferences to make connections with potential candidates.

Bolton said that the fund will also help with the second component of increasing diversity, ensuring an equitable interview process. “In general, search committees benefit from training in the ways that unconscious bias can operate in searches, as well as in the best ways to hold diversity as a high priority in running searches, and national data suggest that strong preparation in this regard result in much more diversity in the hiring outcomes,” said Bolton. “Training of this kind is beneficial for search committees for staff positions as well as faculty positions.”

At the moment, the fund comprises $1 million. Longbrake said that the fund will remain open for more contributions, and the Trustees will continue to monitor its endowment and assess the need for more resources as the work continues.

Although Smith said that he was happy the Trustees established the fund, he emphasized that more remains to be done. “They have to stay in this moment for a while to realize that more has to be done because truthfully $1 million is just start,” said Smith.

“I hope the next steps will be the continued fundraising of additional funds to add to this Williams and Perry Fund, a creation of a committee of students, staff, faculty, administrators and trustees who help create the plans for it, and also wider campus recognition that Wooster can’t continue to be a place where students solely experience diversity on their residence hallway but also in their classrooms and interactions with other faculty and staff.”

While it remains to be seen what other steps will be taken toward improving faculty and staff diversity, both Longbrake and Bolton affirmed that this is a high priority for the College.

“We believe that increasing the diversity of the faculty is urgent,” said Bolton. “Having more faculty of color is part of making our college — and our faculty — even greater.”

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