Salvaging a Campus Conversation

After the Movement released its demands, the overwhelming majority of students made it clear that they disagreed with the list. And with good reason—the demands were so radical that they could easily have been mistaken for satire.

But despite the fact that a significant amount of the material is over the top and unfeasible, we shouldn’t ignore the entire document. There are points in the demands that, if not overblown, would have been reasonable—namely the racial statistics, appointing a dean of diversity and the health center demands.

As a largely liberal-leaning student body, the vast majority of students here want to make Hamilton a welcoming and inclusive place. One of the ways to achieve that is to consciously work against institutional racism. The problem, however, is that institutional racism is by definition hard to notice since it is built into the fabric of the institution in non-obvious ways. As a result, working to break down pervasive biases requires a certain amount of blind faith that the small corrections that are being made are actually beneficial.

The ability to see how each racial demographic is performing and how well-represented they are in various departments can replace that blind faith with actual data. A potential problem is that the departmental statistics may run afoul of FERPA (the student information privacy laws) in small departments. Even campus wide statistics, however more blunt, will be useful. In addition, monitoring the data will allow for changes to our campus’ strategy in order to figure out what is and isn’t working.

The reason the statistics, instead of a diversity course requirement, should be implemented has to do with the fact that what the campus is combating is woven into society through norms and biases. Building a campus environment that will reveal to (future) students their own biases has to be done slowly and carefully.

A forced course requirement, especially in an area as politicized as race, would have to be implemented perfectly at the outset. Otherwise the courses will alienate a large group of students, who may have agreed, against the fundamental concepts. Polarizing the idea of inclusion is counterproductive to the campus’s current desire to break down institutional racism. 

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that any change to the fabric of Hamilton’s society will happen after the current class of students has graduated. As a result, Hamilton should appoint a college professor as a dean of diversity, separate from the dean of multicultural affairs. A dean of diversity will be able to take advantage of both the turnover of students and administrative power to work towards building the culture we want.

The reason a professor should be appointed as a dean of diversity is that the college’s career administrators have shown their first and foremost goal is the continuation of the Hamilton College brand. The brand overlaps significantly with the actual Hamilton College experience, but is distinct from it.

The poor state of our health services (with the exception of HCEMS) is a stark example of this. The Counseling Center sees nearly a quarter of all students, yet is relegated to the attic of the health services building.

Professors, by virtue of their degrees and positions, have demonstrated that they care about student affairs and not just the college brand. A proven example of this is Dean Orvis, who has demonstrated a strong care for students’ well-being.

The Movement’s list of demands was ludicrous, but there is truth buried in their material. It will be more beneficial for the campus if instead of antagonizing the Movement’s members we forgive (but not forget).

As full time students, our job is to learn, and in the process of learning people are going to make mistakes. Most mistakes don’t bring unflattering national attention onto the campus, but it would be hypocritical if we called ourselves an inclusive community but alienated the makers of the mistakes.

The fact of the matter is that a group of students felt Hamilton was so pervasively racist that traditional avenues of discourse failed them. However wrong their views may be, they are still part of our community and should still be approached with compassion rather than hostility.

Reconciliation is, of course, contingent on the Movement not repeating this mistake again. If the Movement continues to radically co-opt the campus’s views, their willingness to participate in this community should be severely questioned.

Guy Fawkes Mask, created by Jake Dunham  | from the Noun Project