By Cassy Sottile
A new diversity statement for Washington College has been crafted in a joint collaboration between students, faculty, and staff.
The Diversity Committee, led by Professor of Hispanic Studies Dr. Elena Deanda-Camacho, has spent the past two years revising the statement.
“We want for all students to know it, to pledge for it, and to provide us with ideas to make it a reality,” Deanda-Camacho said.
According to the Diversity Committee minutes, there is an urgent need to send a message that provides current and potential students, faculty, and staff with a moral compass with regards to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“The current statement is not comprehensive enough. It needs to be more specific in naming the social and cultural identities that may be underrepresented at WC,” Assistant Dean of Students, Director of Intercultural Affairs, and Interim Director of Student Engagement Dr. Jean-Pierre Laurenceau-Medina said.
The current statement says that the College “strives to be a place where all students, faculty, administrators, and staff are able to live, study, and work in an atmosphere free from bias and harassment.”
The proposed statement expands upon those aforementioned ideals and specifically calls for the College to “believe in the worth, dignity, and safety of human beings of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, gender identities and or expressions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, cultural backgrounds, cognitive or physical abilities, emotional and behavioral characteristics, ages, and educational levels.”
The last reformulation of the diversity statement was 13 years ago, in 2006.
“Based on feedback we’ve been collecting on the current statement, we felt that it was time to move forward,” Laurenceau-Medina said.
In drafting the updates to the statement, the Diversity Committee compared it to peer institutions’ statements about equity, inclusion, and diversity.
“The committee took time to consider an ample amount of previous comments, things students felt should be reflected, and took time to construct such a well thought out and passionate statement for our institution,” said Paris Mercier, member of the Diversity Board.
According to Laurenceau-Medina, the statement has already been approved by the faculty and the Student Government Association.
“The next step is to socialize the statement across the campus,” he said.
A survey link to endorse the updated statement was sent in an email to students on April 15, along with a copy of the proposed and current statements. The deadline to complete the survey is May 1.
Laurenceau-Medina hopes for the statement to potentially be discussed in classes or printed on syllabi to familiarize students with its contents.
In the future, the Diversity Committee plans to align the updated statement with the Honor Code and synchronize it with the programs of the College, such as Title IX, Bias Response Protocol, Safe Space Training Programs, Unconscious Bias Training, and Discrimination and Harassments Policies.
The goal of the updated diversity statement is to empower all members to contribute ideas, ask questions, contest assumptions, and revise points of view through civil debate. It will encourage alumni, parents, visitors, guests and the larger community to respect and embrace the values and behaviors the College embodies.
According to Deanda-Camacho, the updated statement is strategic for recruitment, retention, and as a way of holding each other accountable for our intentions and for our actions.
The new statement must be approved by the Board of Visitors and Governors at their next meeting in May. The current plan is for the statement to be implemented with the launch of the diversity website in August.
According to Laurenceau-Medina, diversity is the collective responsibility of WC.
“Ideally, we’d like to see it as an agenda item of student organizations — how are we as a college going to discuss it and what responsibility do we all have with it?” Laurenceau-Medina said.