Presidential Task Force Holds Forum
Issue   |   Wed, 05/04/2016 - 00:48
Sophia Salazar '18
President Martin addresses attendees of the open forum held by the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion in Cole Assembly Room on Friday April 29.

Faculty, staff and students met for a discussion and a question-and-answer session hosted by the Presidential Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion on April 29 in Converse Hall. The event was the first time the group had addressed students in an open forum since it was created earlier this semester in response to Amherst Uprising.

The mission of the task force, which met every Friday since its founding, is to identify potential changes in response to student demands and to make suggestions to other decision-making bodies in the administration. The task force includes representatives from major bodies such as the Committee of Six, the College Council, the AAS, the faculty, Amherst Uprising, president Biddy Martin and dean of the faculty Catherine Epstein.

“[The task force] is intended to be an accountability force on campus,” Epstein said. “The [task force] is there to check in with all the other groups to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s an oversight committee about whether we’re doing what we say we’re doing about diversity.”

Lerato Teffo ’18, who represents Amherst Uprising on the task force, describes meetings as thorough and covering a broad range of campus topics related to inclusion on campus.

“We’re still speaking a lot about what needs to be done,” Teffo said. “This whole semester, every meeting has been going through different parts of campus and different aspects of Amherst College life that could see some improvements.”
Attendees received a list of 13 major initiatives that the task force had discussed.

“Some of these things on the list sound quite small — for example, planning for affinity programming for homecoming 2016,” Epstein said. “These are the kinds of things that were specifically asked for by students. The purpose of this list is to say that some of your particular demands really were addressed.”

Among the major initiatives examined by the task force are faculty diversity workshops and hiring initiatives, strategies for inclusive pedagogy, changes to first-year orientation, development of new protocols for responding to bias claims and various reforms to the admissions office, career center, IT and other programs. These initiatives are largely still in preliminary or planning stages and would be implemented by the relevant administrative departments, not by the task force itself.

Epstein also noted the importance of the chief diversity officer (CDO) in formulating a strategy. The college is currently in the process of searching for a new CDO.

“I don’t want to pin everything on the CDO, but the CDO will help us to formulate a strategy,” Epstein said. “The CDO will not be in charge of implementing the strategy — that’s on everyone, that’s on the campus — but the CDO will help us coordinate all those initiatives.”

In addition to taking charge of planning and oversight, the task force also met with the external advisory committee on diversity, inclusion and excellence, an outside body headed by Harvard professor Danielle Allen. The committee met with the task force as well as students and faculty to conduct an independent assessment of diversity issues.

One area of particular focus for the task force was diversification of the faculty. President Martin noted the importance of hiring diverse faculty at all levels.

“It’s a mistake to only bring more assistant professors who one-by-one will be faced with that additional work, and for whom going through the tenure process would be an additional burden,” Martin said. “You need people who are in a position where they can assume leadership positions immediately.”

The task force’s work has often occurred with limited engagement with the full student body. Teffo noted that this lack of engagement was the biggest barrier to success facing the task force.

“I do think overall it has been very successful,” Teffo said. “But we need to find ways to make ourselves more open to the student body and faculty. And that could be in the form of more open-forum meetings, posting in the daily mail and even the newspaper. That’s been the only setback.”

The task force is expected to meet once more this semester and to resume its work in the fall. Martin stated that minutes from all task force meetings will be released shortly.