WOOSTER, Ohio – On Jan. 24, approximately 350 Wooster students staged a sit-in at Galpin Hall, the college’s main administration building, to bring forward their concerns about a variety of issues related to diversity, inclusion, and the student experience.
Student leaders met with a group of staff and faculty, including Wooster President Sarah R. Bolton, over the course of the afternoon and evening, before ending the sit-in around 10 p.m. In an email to campus last night, Bolton provided additional detail on those conversations, and outlined some of the plans being made to address student concerns. “Everyone present shared one goal,” she wrote, “taking concrete and effective action to make Wooster a better, more welcoming, and more equitable place.
Bolton’s email continued:
The conversations were wide-ranging. Several of the initiatives proposed in the students’ demands had also been part of the College’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan, which was developed with students, staff, faculty, and the board of trustees last year. In those cases, we discussed with students the actions that are already underway and ways to ensure that they are as effective as possible in improving student experience. Other concerns raised by the students were not addressed in that plan, and so we considered new approaches as well.
Here’s a summary of the main areas in which we discussed and developed plans:
Resources: We discussed the resources available to support underrepresented students and the student organizations that provide such support and/or education for the campus on culture, diversity, equity, or related issues. We committed an additional $20,000 to support the work of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) this spring, and we will review CDI’s resource needs as we establish budgets for next year. (CDI’s work includes providing some support for programming put on by student groups.) Campus Council and SGA also are reviewing their budget guidelines to better support such programs. We discussed housing and space needs for these student organizations and will make program housing available (if they apply and meet requirements), as well as reviewing other possible meeting and gathering spaces on campus.
Education and training: Effective education and training for all students, staff, and faculty to create a more equitable and inclusive campus was a central part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan, and is already underway. We will connect student leaders with the professionals who are creating those programs, to be sure that they address the concerns and experiences that students have. We will provide education in cultural competency, including sexuality and gender inclusion, for all students as part of orientation and other required first-year activities. We also discussed the need for additional training for student leaders both in student organizations and in athletics, as well as in key budget-setting areas such as the Campus Council and SGA budget committees. Some work was already taking place in these areas and we are committed to sustaining it over time, and expanding it to include leaders of all student organizations.
Reporting of, and response to, discrimination and bias-related harassment: We discussed current barriers to reporting and ways to ensure that reporting is easily accessible and easy to use. We will make changes to ensure that is the case. We also talked about clarity of process for response. While the response process for Title IX concerns is quite clearly laid out in our website materials, that is less true for concerns around other kinds of discrimination. We agreed with the students that clarity of process for response is important, and we will create materials that lay those processes out. We also discussed staffing, and ensuring that individuals responsible for responding to concerns are free of conflicts of interest, or any appearance of such a conflict. We agreed that the Deputy Title IX Coordinator would not also be the Director of Student Rights and Responsibilities. We also discussed a review of sanctioning guidelines that will be undertaken this semester.
Storage and Translation: We will work on ways for parents and families who don’t read English to access crucial information on the Wooster website, and to enable consistent and affordable summer storage for international students and others who need it, including low-income students with homes far from the area.
Transparency and monitoring progress: We will add reports of bias and discrimination, as well as reports of drug and alcohol incidents, to the existing monthly campus climate report, which currently relays Title IX issues. We also agreed to conduct campus climate surveys every two years, and to regularly assess our training programs on cultural competency and diversity to ensure that they are meeting our goals.
Bolton closed by reaffirming that the college “must be a place where all students can live, learn, and thrive,” and thanking the students for coming together and “put[ting] so much time, care, and thought into finding ways to reach that central goal.”