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Panel addresses student grievances

Halie Johnson

Students and administration met to discuss longstanding issues about retaining professors of color and building accessibility for people with disabilities on campus on Tuesday night.

The meeting resulted from a student-led silent protest of the Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 28.

Tension filled the student union, where about 60 people were in attendance, after the moderator was asked to read a statement prepared by the seven-student panel. The statement was a call for direct action of their demands from the administration.

President Janet Holmgren, one of the seven administrators on the panel, said that she felt the statement didn’t leave room to have an open discussion about the materials distributed at the protest.

One student told the story of how visiting assistant English professor Scott Bently, who requires the use of a wheelchair, had to remain on the ground floor of Mills Hall on Monday after the weekend’s power outage because the elevators weren’t working to take him to his office on the third floor. He wasn’t assisted in getting access to his office and missed appointments with many students as he sat in the cold on the first floor, she said.

Vice President and Treasurer Elizabeth Burwell said the college apologized that they “didn’t manage to accommodate everyone who has special needs.” Later Burwell said that, “I thought he was a graduate student.”

Junior Lauren Brown said that when disabled students come to eat at Founders they have to go through the back door and an alarm sounds alerting the entire dining hall of their arrival. “It’s an undue burden, degrading and just a smidge embarrassing while the rest come through the front door.”

Senior Blake Saffitz added that the limited access to buildings is “socially limiting for disabled [people] … and a violation of ADA laws.”

Burwell said that in the next two years Mills plans to spend $5 million to centralize the dining services in the Rothwell Center which will be in full ADA compliance.

Students on the panel were also concerned with the hiring and retention of professors of color, especially in departments like Math and Science where students said they are underrepresented.

Associate Provost Marianne Sheldon said that the college had three hires of color last year, and one of seven new hires for next semester is a woman of color who will join the Biology department.

Sophomore Elyse Rainey said three professors of color have left this year. “Retention of people of color is what’s important to me,” she said. “Being able to make connections [with professors] is a source of power for students of color.”

Ramon Torrecilha, executive vice president for the Office of Institutional Advancement, said that the College has a rigid standard when it comes to screening candidates, including affirmative action forms that each candidate is required to fill out, which are included in the process of deciding new hires.

“In 1990 we had less than 5 percent of professors were of color and this year 25 percent are [professors of color],” he also said.

Student panel members also asked for more student representation and input in the hiring process, and complained that the administration hasn’t been good at informing students how to be included in selecting new hires.

Holmgren said that there is a lot that the administration could do better. “We can let students know who’s up for review and promotion,” she said. “We can let students know who the heads of selection committees are.” But she wanted students to know that faculty had a lot of control over the hiring and merit process for professors.

She also said that students do have a say in the hiring process through the ASMC, which refers students to the administration for participation.

After the meeting, ASMC President Carolina Salazar said, “They tell us with such short notice sometimes that we can’t refer qualified students.” She also said that they’ve been asking the administration for lists of the committees that they are supposed to have student representation on, but they are still waiting to receive those.

Holmgren said that she is aware of the lack of professors of color in specific departments and that “Math and Science are our top priority [for hiring people of color].”

Senior Bonnie-Brooke Bullock said that Holmgren holds ” a lot of power and should send e-mails out addressing racism [on campus],” much like the e-mail she recently sent reiterating the smoking policy on campus.

Students also called for required campus-wide diversity training for every student, faculty member and staff member. They want the training to be a yearly process.

Rainey said, “We have to make sure it [racism and discrimination] doesn’t happen to the students who come after us.”