SPIDIE Issues Recommendations on School Diversity

Louis Krauss, News Editor

Looking to revamp the College’s policies on diversity requirements, the Strategic Plan Implementation Committee for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or SPIDIE, will present its recommendations to general faculty for approval Wednesday. The hope is that administrators will begin discussing the recommendations if general faculty groups respond positively at Wednesday’s meeting, but SPIDIE members remain unsure if that will happen.

This early draft of recommendations outlines, in broad terms, how the school can increase compositional diversity in the student body and faculty in upcoming years, as well as how to better support marginalized groups on campus. Some significant changes proposed include hiring a chief diversity officer as a part of the new president’s senior staff, as well as administrative monitoring of all department hiring and the ability to intervene if diversity standards are not met. In addition, the recommendations state there should be an increase in financial aid to students. Student Senator and College junior Jesse Docter said he was impressed with the document but was also unsure how the policy of monitoring department diversity would work.

“I asked [Associate Dean and SPIDIE member] Pablo Mitchell how we would do this, and he said we’d prioritize voluntary ways for faculty hiring processes to incorporate diversity,” Docter said. “That’s great, but I don’t know enough about Oberlin’s constitution to know if the administration will be encouraged to make those changes happen.”

This lack of specificity extends to many of the recommendations, which give deadlines for policy implementation, mostly by fall 2018 with some by 2019. Although the document will be presented by SPIDIE members to the general faculty committee on Wednesday, the next steps for implementation remain unclear.

“The next step will be to kind of approve it, but not really,” said junior Thobeka Mnisi, Student Senate chair and SPIDIE member. “It’s going to just sit there unless somebody wants to discuss it. We’ll consider it passed unless someone says otherwise.”

Earlier in the semester, SPIDIE had planned to send out diversity reports to show how much some departments lack diversity, but instead decided to write recommendations as a preliminary measure. Mnisi believes these types of reports could still happen down the road.

“We wanted to start by getting diversity reports from all the different departments,” Mnisi said. “It is important and I think will happen, but now we have recommendations. The idea is that we’ll see how bad it is, and departments will see how bad their diversity is, and they will do something about it. So it’s a very soft nudging-you-in-the-right-direction type of approach. “

Mnisi is unconvinced that the document in its current state would have much of a foothold and believes that the committee would most likely be disbanding after distributing its recommendations throughout the community.

“I’m not confident that the document, as it stands, without any support from someone pushing it, will achieve anything,” Mnisi said. “That’s not because of a lack of specificity in the document, but there’s no work that will just do itself, and this needs someone enforcing it.”

With the notion that a new diversity officer would work with senior staff, Mitchell suggested that once the new College President is hired, they could take up the document and put it into action.

“I’m proud of what we’ve put together here and obviously will be disappointed if it doesn’t go anywhere,” Mitchell said. “Besides the General Faculty, I think the primary person to pick this up and move forward with it will be the new president.”

Docter, also one of two student members of the Presidential Search Committee, said he saw this as an opportunity to shape the profile for finding the outgoing Marvin Krislov’s replacement.

“I intend to use it in the Presidential Search Committee to frame the task of the next president of Oberlin as implementing a pretty radically progressive diversity policy, since there’s an expressed community desire for it,” Docter said.

For Mnisi, however, the lack of clarity in future steps to achieve the committee’s suggestions is still difficult to ignore.

“Specificity was what we wanted from the beginning,” Mnisi said. “Even though it’s up to admissions to decide what those numbers should be, [SPIDIE members] literally don’t. There’s still nothing in this document that anyone can be held accountable to, even though it is generally a strong document.”

Comparative American Studies Professor Shelley Lee and Africana Studies Professor Meredith Gadsby abruptly resigned from the committee in November. Lee had similar feelings on the document, pointing out that the suggestions lack weight unless there is a clear way to know that they will be taken seriously by administrators.

“It has good suggestions and an important underlying vision, and, as the authors note, much remains to be worked out,” Lee wrote in an email to the Review. “A skilled, enlightened administration can certainly help to ensure excellent and diverse candidate pools, but the ‘how’ matters as much as the ‘what’.”

Since SPIDIE completed the document in early March, the group has held six listening sessions to gauge response from students and faculty, though attendance has been sparse with around five students and 10 professional staff members showing up. Following the presentation Wednesday to General Faculty, the committee may continue meeting to discuss how to enforce the policies and push administrators to work it into actuality, but Mnisi said it seemed more likely for the group to simply disband.