Maddi O’Neill


College President Grant Cornwell has selected a small number of faculty and administrators to undertake a Diversity and Inclusion Listening Study, which will aim to identify problem areas in the campus community with respect to whether the College does enough to support its current level of diversity.

In the past year, the College saw a number of diversity-related problems. At least one black student reported being physically threatened by the occupants of a vehicle on Beall Ave. After Chadwick Smith ’17 appeared on a CNN youth panel and decried the dangerous environment on Beall Ave., a Wooster community member circulated an email suggesting that Smith’s concerns were exaggerated. The College recently installed cameras along Beall Ave. in an effort to reduce instances of street harassment.

Within the College community, diversity issues remain a sticking point among many student groups. A new Facebook page, titled “I, Too, am The College of Wooster” was started in May of this year. The page’s stated purpose is to serve as an “outlet to provide a voice for black students on The College of Wooster campus.”

President Cornwell explained that none of these events in isolation led to the inception of the Diversity and Inclusion Listening Study but that the issue of campus climate is an ongoing topic of concern.

“There was no particular incident or situation that made me feel this next step was warranted,” he said. “I see it more as a dynamic process that always warrants fresh thinking and reconsideration.”

The study will be executed by a five-member committee, including Associate Vice President of Human Resources Marcia Beasley; Senior Associate Dean of Students Carolyn Buxton; College Secretary, Chief of Staff and Title IX Coordinator Angela Johnston; Dean for Faculty Development and Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Heather Fitz Gibbon and Professor of History Shannon King.

“I sought to convene a group of colleagues who are experienced, represent different dimensions of the College, who have themselves given a great deal of time and effort to the questions posed, and who could work efficiently in managing a complex process,” Cornwell said of the committee.

The committee members will meet with various groups across campus, including students, faculty and staff to answer two questions posed by President Cornwell: “Do we do all that we can to create the conditions where all of our students, faculty and staff have equal opportunities to thrive at Wooster?” and “Do we have the right resources and framework both to support the diversity of our community and to encourage all students, faculty and staff to engage our diversity as a central dimension of our mission?”

The questions, which were developed by Cornwell with help from the committee members, aim to pinpoint areas in which the College can improve its approach to diversity.

The committee will spend the next several weeks gathering information from a number of constituencies.

“We will be providing the opportunity for anyone in the campus community to sign up for an appointment, or if they prefer, they may provide a few comments in an online form,” said Fitz Gibbon of the committee’s approach. “We very much welcome requests from groups for meetings, particularly groups representing students from diverse backgrounds. We recognize that issues of diversity and inclusion affect all members of our community. Therefore, we are casting our net as wide as possible.”

Jahqwahn Watson ’17, a member of the Center for Diversity and Global Engagement’s student board, feels that the work of the committee is especially important in light of the fact that Dean Susan Lee, who served as special assistant to the president for diversity affairs and campus climate last year, found a new job over the summer.

“I think this new program will have a similar role [to Dean Lee’s position] and may be a step up because it has a wider scope,” Watson said. “It’s easy for the College to bring students of diversity here, but in some areas they lack the services to support them while they’re here,” he added.

Watson referenced the fact that in the town of Wooster, it is difficult for black students to get a haircut and proposed that the College could drive students to Akron or Cleveland to ensure that they have adequate services.

“Often … it’s difficult to get things up to the administration as a student,” he said. “This program will be helpful to raise that issue and have that go back to the administration.”

Cornwell is scheduled to receive the results of the study in mid-October. Should they expose a need for change, action will be taken accordingly.

“I have no doubt that there will be a wide range of ideas about how the College should be doing things differently, and I do think this research will precipitate substantive changes,” said Cornwell.

“I would hope that they would try to make some changes,” Watson said. “I would hope they would look to the student body to ask, ‘what can we change?’”