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Council on Equity and Inclusion gathers feedback

The Council on Equity and Inclusion has received feedback from the St. Olaf community through an online form released in a Jan. 15 email and scheduled to close Feb. 20. The Council created the form so the St. Olaf community would join the Council in “developing a vision for equity and inclusion,” the email read.

The Council has received mixed responses to this form, faculty member of the Council Anton Armstrong ’78 said.

“We’ve gotten from folks who say, ‘why hasn’t more been done right now?’” Armstrong said. “We’ve gotten from the other end of the spectrum ‘please be careful that you don’t change our college too much.’”

“There is some skepticism, both from those who doubt the aims and utility of the effort and from those who want to see the college advancing faster than they feel that it is,” Chair of the Council Marci Sortor wrote in a Feb. 26 email to students, faculty and staff. “Overwhelmingly, however, contributors express support for the work of equity and inclusion and shared ideas for advancing.”

Sortor attributes this diversity of views in part to community members’ different conceptions of what equity and inclusion mean and how these ideas should be realized.

“Some of you approach equity and inclusion from the perspective of the college’s mission and St. Olaf’s distinctive history and Lutheran tradition,” Sortor wrote. “Others bring personal experience, and still others bring a scholarly approach.”

In her Feb. 26 email, Sortor also discussed how the Council continues to meet with other groups on campus who work to facilitate equity and inclusion, such as the directors of To Include is To Excel, Student Support Services, the Center for Advising and Academic Support, TRIO McNair Scholars Program and the leaders of the GE Task Force.

Sortor announced that members of the St. Olaf community would soon be invited to speak with a member of the Council and provide feedback on a draft of the Vision for Equity and Inclusion – a “vision statement that will guide the equity and inclusion plan.” Sortor also wrote that the Council will be seeking community members’ advice on the plan for equity and inclusion later in the semester.

Board of Regents Chair Larry Stranghoener and President David Anderson ’74 established the Council on Equity and Inclusion on Aug. 27, 2018, following the Working Group for Equity and Inclusion’s recommendation that such a group be established.

Stranghoener and Anderson charged the Council to develop a plan for equity and inclusion at the College and help implement the recommendations issued in the Working Group’s May 2018 report.

The report received scrutiny from A Collective for Change on the Hill, the Student Government Association and some faculty members, who said they felt the report’s recommendations might further bureaucratize and delay the process of addressing racism on campus.

The Council is under pressure to succeed, both in light of this criticism and given its charge to create a plan for equity and inclusion to be approved by the Board of Regents and implemented at St. Olaf for the next several years.

The Council emphasized that it does not seek to further bureaucratize the handling of issues of equity and inclusion but said that the effects of the coming plan may not be immediately visible for all members of the St. Olaf community.

“Once we establish what we see as the framework for the strategic plan, the implementation of that might not be affecting certain groups of people for a long time,” staff member of the Council Wenie Lado `16 said.

The Council declined to comment on any specific policies it might recommend in the coming plan. King said, however, that members of the St. Olaf community deserve to see change soon, and that certain members of the Council have skin in the game.

“We’re not exempt from both feeling the pain and hearing the pain that comes from the community around issues of how hard it is to be here,” King said. “I’m an African-American from Chicago, I’m a gay black man here, and when I think about what my life is like and things I’d like to see changed, I think we’d all want to see things happen, whether it is hair products or greater opportunities to get to the city.”

irwin2@stolaf.edu