By Olivia Montes
On Wednesday, Feb. 23, a meeting between members of the Washington College Office of Student Affairs, Black Student Union, Student Government Association, and Public Safety regarding updates to the Letter of Intent took place.
The Letter of Intent was initially released on Dec. 10, 2021, and outlined an overview of the joint meeting that took place on Dec. 6, 2021.
The letter included further initiatives regarding hiring a permanent chief diversity officer; continuing to maintain the Intercultural Center in Minta Martin to ensure safe spaces are available and accessible; improved communication in case of a bias-related incident or safety concern; and improvement of the quality, number, and placement of security cameras around campus.
According to SGA Secretary of Service and Community Relations junior Maegan White, the Feb. 23 meeting was designed “to address some of the issues discussed on how best to communicate with the campus about the progress” made during the 2022 spring semester. This included the recent hiring of Associate Professor of English and American Studies Dr. Alisha Knight as the campus’ new inaugural associate provost of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and senior equity officer, which, according to White, met the letter’s initial goal of hiring a CDO.
“Hiring Dr. Knight was a huge step in the right direction, and I look forward to collaborating with her through the SGA and having an advocate for DEI in the administration,” White said.
Associate Director of the Office of Student Financial Aid and BSU advisor Erneatka Webster echoed this sentiment.
“[The College] appointing Dr. Knight has made me feel like change is coming,” Webster said. “I am not expecting her to fix it all fast and alone because it is not just her issue — it is the whole College’s issue.”
“Having her as the direct support will be very beneficial to the College and more importantly the students,” she said.
According to Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Sarah Feyerherm, the topic of establishing and maintaining a positive, productive relationship between PS and the student body, as well as initiating further mandatory training for PS officers were also discussed.
Training topics will include bias, de-escalation, and mental health, according to Dr. Feyerherm.
According to President of the Class of 2025 and PS Liaison freshman Stephen Hook, PS has also stepped back from attending student-led club and organization meetings, particularly those led by BSU.
“We’re going to work towards inviting them to more events, but right now, [many PS officers] are aware of how students might feel uncomfortable with their presence,” Hook said.
Hook noted that he will be meeting with Director of PS Pam Hoffmann to discuss further plans for incorporating these aforementioned trainings into officers’ schedules for the remainder of the semester.
According to Dr. Feyerherm, updates regarding on-campus security cameras were also discussed. As of time of print, over 15 cameras are set to be upgraded by the end of the 2021-22 academic year. In addition, conversations concerning making lighting more visible on campus crosswalks were also initiated.
Dr. Feyerherm also noted how Director of Student Engagement Antoine Jordan ’12, Director of College and Media Relations Kelly Wallace, and SGA Director of Communications and Marketing senior Liz Hay proposed “a whole new set of policies” for moderating what is posted on email listservs during the meeting.
“I believe that people felt comfortable sharing what they thought was and what wasn’t going well,” Dr. Feyerherm said. “To me, that’s key; you want to hear all the voices, and so I think, [while] nothing changes overnight, but I think it continues to build on trust between administration.”
Other initiatives regarding DEI include the College starting an inclusive pedagogy program; joining the Liberal Arts College Racial Equity Leadership Alliance consortium; advancing an on-campus diversity advocate program; and creating new mandatory diversity trainings for those employed at the College, according to the SGA Minutes released March 1.
Several representatives, including Athletics Director Thad Moore, said that the meeting was “a continuation of a very positive conversation.”
“It was good to recap what we have accomplished, what remains to be accomplished, and then starting to have conversations about how we do go about accomplishing what’s currently left to be accomplished,” Moore said. “[Change] is going to be a never-ending process. It’s just going to keep evolving organically.”
Both SGA President senior Kat DeSantis and BSU President junior Jonah Nicholson echoed this statement.
“I would say it was a respectful conversation,” DeSantis said. “This one definitely had a more calm, cool and collected vibe, which I thought was good and shows that we can make some progress, and that we’re still part of a team that’s trying to make more progress.”
“I would say that progress has been made on a lot of the fronts, and we’re continuing to see those in action,” Nicholson said. “But that doesn’t mean that we still can’t do more to help build the relationship with the students and do more with the Letter of Intent.”
According to Nicholson, continuing to improve communication between all corners of campus is key to enacting effective and efficient change in the future.
“When we are updated…we’re able to move forward and progress forward in the issues that we want to talk about and the concerns that we want to bring up without being held back by the information that we interpret,” they said. “Instead, we’re being pushed forward by the information that we now have in our hands.”
According to Webster, while she said that these accomplishments were “a step in the right direction,” she hopes to continue seeing these changes made toward “becom[ing] a better campus.”
“The meeting we just had honestly made me feel like the College is finally making solid foundational changes,” Webster said. “This time I do not feel like they are making the change for short-term, but [are] thinking long-term.”