Photo by Elizabeth Stapleton
By Madeline Clark
On Tuesday, March 27, the Student Association (SA) was poised to pass its Executive Board, the 10 individuals appointed to serve as secretaries in nine areas of campus life, but elected to delay the decision after a question concerning diversity sparked controversy.
“Someone asked ‘Why is there only one person of color on the board?’” said Zack Maroon, the vice president of the SA.“Then one of the members of our board said, ‘I identify as a person of color,’ and that spurred controversy.”
The question came during the question & answer portion of the meeting, said Sophie Adams, the president of the SA. Adams said that one of the executive board candidates ended up leaving the room because they were upset by the conversation that ensued. The SA officers ended the session early as a result.“We just wanted to make sure that everyone felt that they were in a safe space and it became apparent to us that that was not the case anymore,” Adams said.
The exact wording of the question was not recorded in the SA’s minutes. “We used to take really, really conclusive minutes…and we’ve kind of switched to a format that’s more of an overview of the minutes, we also don’t record the SA meetings anymore,” Adams explained.
According to Kerri Leach, the assistant dean of students and director of student activities, a student misspoke in the way she said something. “She asked Ms. [Amanda] Greaves how she felt about being the only person of color on the [Fall 2018] e-board,” said Leach. “She admits that she screwed up in how she said that…it was a learning moment.” Leach said the meeting was rough and that she did not think anyone left without feeling “hurt, angry, or triggered.”
Adams said she was glad the question about diversity and representation was asked. “That’s honestly what we encourage and need for people in power,” she said. “The engagement at the meeting was not a bad thing. Maybe some of the wording of those questions wasn’t appropriate…but there was a really strong message to bring from those questions.”
Jake Meyers ’19, president-elect of the SA for the 2018-19 academic year, said that he believed there was no intent during the SA conversation to hurt anyone’s feelings. He said he is aware, however, that the comments offended some people in attendance. Meyers added that questioning authority in most forms is a sign of democracy. For him, this was a learning experience. “It taught me about something called colorism. There is still a lot that I need to know,” Meyers said.
Each year, the president and vice president of the SA are elected into office by the college’s student body. Students can apply for secretarial positions on the executive board, which is chosen by the president and vice president.“You can kind of think of it like when the new president gets elected; how they appoint members to their cabinet,” Adams said. The executive board consists of 10 students who fill nine positions -two secretaries serve together for programming. The others cover finance, student policy, academics, diversity equity & inclusion, communications, athletics, and student life. Adams said the SA opened its applications for the executive board at the end of February, and the candidates had about one-and-a-half weeks to get two letters of recommendation, and write their letter of intent. Following that process, applicants attended an interview at which each candidate was asked the same questions.
“One of the things Branden and Jake [vice president-elect and president-elect respectively] did differently for the selection process was a scorecard system,” Maroon said. “It’s an HR thing to do to prevent bias based off of race.” Maroon said that the scorecards supported the decisions the president-elect and vice president-elect made for their executive board. “If it [the incident] was last year Sophie and I wouldn’t have had something to point to like that,” Maroon noted.
Following the March 27 SA meeting, Adams said she has not seen systemic change in the association.“The conversation opened up conversations for other ways we can make the SA more representative.” She said that the debate related to a larger conversation about diversity that has been happening on campus. “I think we need to be questioning not only the SA, but administration, faculty, and staff on ‘How are we doing this [addressing diversity and racial issues] effectively or ineffectively.’”
The SA meeting held on April 3, one week after the incident, included a review of the executive board hiring process held by Richie Bernache, assistant director of Student Activities. The Executive Board held its final vote at this meeting and approved all the members who were originally on the list for the 2018-19 executive board, Meyers said.
“From the beginning, Branden and I have been focused on diversity and inclusion,” Meyers said. He is attending a diversity and inclusion training for orientation leaders and Kerri Leach, director of student life gave access for the executive board to attend the event.
Additional reporting by Eva Wilton and Nathan Terry