To: The Wellesley College Community
From: President Paula A. Johnson
Re: Follow-up on Wellesley 4 Black Students’ Demands
Date: July 2, 2020
Deans Sheilah Horton and Joy St. John and I had the opportunity to meet with a small group of students representing the Wellesley 4 Black Students movement to follow up on the set of demands that they have shared with the Wellesley community. We had a productive meeting in which we discussed progress to date and a plan for moving forward. As I said previously, I affirm the experience of our Black students and remain committed to addressing the issues they have presented. I want to briefly summarize our discussion and our planned path forward.
It is clear that we need to develop a new model of campus safety that includes unarmed campus safety officers. The vast majority of calls to the campus police are for situations that do not require armed officers, such as lock-outs, rides across campus, and non-emergent health issues. We agree that we should reevaluate our model of campus safety and that a task force composed of students, faculty, and staff should consider the recommendations of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) based on their review of the Campus Police department.
We listened to our Black students discuss their experiences, and we agree that armed police should not be regularly in student spaces such as dining halls, social spaces, and residence halls. Dean Horton will work with the Residential Life team to redirect lock-outs and other similar types of complaints, such as noise, to the onsite Residential Life staff, including RAs. Dean Horton will also work with Dr. Robin Cook-Nobles, director of Stone Center Counseling Service, to develop a new strategy for addressing mental health emergencies that doesn’t rely on the police. The Residential Life team will develop a program to integrate restorative justice into residential life and Honor Code Council disciplinary and conflict resolution procedures. We will also explore the reallocation of certain student jobs from the Campus Police department to other areas on campus.
The students presented several demands regarding the endowment. I shared that I concur with the view of the Board of Trustees that Wellesley’s endowment is not a vehicle for political engagement, and I believe that Wellesley, through its scholarship and community activism, can take a stand against human rights abuses around the world, beginning with the United States. Our Investment Office is committed to exploring ways to increase the diversity of our portfolio managers.
We agreed that members of Wellesley 4 Black Students will meet with Debby Kuenstner, our chief investment officer, to discuss how the College makes decisions regarding our endowment, which remains a critical source of funding for our operating budget and financial aid. Debby will also share details about the process established by the Board of Trustees through which members of the community can submit a request for endowment action to the Subcommittee on Investment Responsibility (SIR). SIR, part of the Board of Trustees governance structure, is a subcommittee of the Board Investment Committee composed of trustees, faculty, staff, and students, and it is responsible for advising the Investment Committee on proposed actions related to shareholder responsibility.
We also discussed that Wellesley College is a nonprofit organization, which does not make donations on a large scale to other nonprofit organizations. The main goal of our endowment and any funds received through fundraising is to support the College, including students, the academic program, and our campus.
The administration agrees that the College’s multicultural requirement should be restructured. Three years ago, recognizing the need to rethink and update it, we undertook a process to review this requirement. This review was put on hold in order to include it in the work the Liberal Arts Strategic Planning working group is doing to define the strategic direction of the curriculum. In the next academic year, the Committee on Curriculum and Academic Policy (CCAP) will plan to revise and rename this requirement after the College has developed and adopted the strategic plan.
In our previous meeting with the Wellesley 4 Black Students, we discussed the Quantitative Reasoning requirement and the students’ view that it has the unintended consequence of holding students back in STEM and other fields. After this meeting, Dean Horton and I followed up with Dean Megan Núñez and Provost Andy Shennan, and we considered a number of changes that we will work on with our student leaders and the QR faculty.
Dean Joy St. John outlined the steps the Office of Admission and Financial Aid has been taking since 2015 to increase the Black student population on campus. These efforts have resulted in enrolling 10 percent Black students in each of the last four entering first-year classes, using the prior federal government definition for Black students (all domestic students of African descent). The Office of Admission continues to work to enhance the Black student population as it is currently defined by the federal government (domestic students who identify as racially Black without any other racial identity and who do not identify ethnically as Latinx).
Since 2015, the Office of Admission has taken the following steps to improve Black student recruiting:
- formed a specific team that primarily focuses on diversity recruitment
- paid for membership and actively engaged in the Ron Brown Scholars program
- increased the budget for travel grants to allow prospective students with financial need, including from underrepresented groups, to visit campus
- hired a consultant to conduct focus groups with prospective Black and Latinx students to identify the issues of greatest importance to them in considering applying to colleges like Wellesley
- hired a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant to assess Admission office culture and conduct anti-bias training for all staff members, and application readers in particular
The results of these efforts has been a 60 percent increase in Black applicants and, in the last two years, a record number of Black applicants being admitted to the entering first-year class. A challenge that the Office of Admission must still address is the yield rate (percentage of admitted students who enroll) for Black students, which is currently the lowest of any racial/ethnic group. The department will devote considerable time during the next two recruitment cycles to determining the cause of the lower yield rate and testing solutions to address it.
5. Student life
During our meeting, we also discussed several issues related to Black student life, Black student housing and leadership training, and ways to make progress on these fronts, including:
Reinstating a Harambee House-led orientation that focuses on the needs of Black students. Dean Sendoya and Dr. Tracey Cameron will work with students to implement this program in the 2021-2022 academic year.
According to the students, identity themed housing has already been explored with residential life and Dean Horton will follow up on these discussions.
Systemic bias and transformative justice training for the Wellesley community, including student leaders of organizations will be explored and developed over the next academic year.
There were a number of issues that should be addressed by College Government, several of which extend beyond organizations focused on Black students. Addressing these issues will require that a student bursar be named. Dean Horton agreed to work with College Government to address these concerns.
While the counseling available at Wellesley surpasses many of our peers, we would like to increase the diversity of our counseling staff and to improve the accessibility of mental health services for Black students.
We look forward to working through the summer and during the fall to make progress on a number of the issues raised by Wellesley 4 Black Students.
On this Fourth of July holiday, I ask everyone in our community to reflect on the hard work that remains to be done both here at Wellesley and across our nation to confront racism and to rededicate ourselves to realizing the ideals of equality, liberty, and justice for all.