Colgate has reason to be proud of the history of faculty, students, and staff who have challenged bigotry and oppression on and off campus, and who have led the effort to advance campus diversity, equity, and inclusion. This history and these efforts have had a lasting impact on the University. The ALANA Cultural Center and Haven, for example, have made profound contributions to the strength and well-being of Colgate’s campus, and these are just two cases of lasting change created through the dedicated labors of students, faculty, and staff. Past efforts serve as the foundation on which current efforts must build.
Many of the advances Colgate has made toward becoming a more inclusive campus have initially sprung from campus advocacy. One of the earliest large-scale efforts to make Colgate a more inclusive campus was led by the Association of Black Collegians in 1968 and 1969. This activism was born out of an incident in which two white students fired a starter’s pistol as black students walked on Broad Street, but quickly expanded to call for a broader consideration of the challenges faced by black students on Colgate’s campus. Talks between the students and the administration led to a joint fundraising effort that created the first cultural center at Colgate, the forerunner of today’s ALANA Cultural Center, which was constructed in 1989, in recognition that all students of color would benefit from the kind of dedicated space for which the Association of Black Collegians had fought in 1969. This early contribution to the strength of the campus recognized that thoughtful and strategic efforts and resources would be required if Colgate’s history as an institution focused solely on the education of white men were to successfully evolve into something more richly diverse.
In the years since, Colgate (like many other educational institutions with similar histories that diversified their campuses late in the 20th century) has engaged in a number of efforts to continue to become more diverse and more inclusive. These efforts were often spurred on by students, and often came about because of some precipitating event, rather than as a result of sustained strategic planning.
Important moments in this history include:
- The work of the Diversity Committee chaired by Prof. Coleman Brown, culminating in a report shared with the campus by President Neil Grabois in 1990. This report offered recommendations on the administration, the faculty, student life, admissions and retention, and the curriculum. These recommendations included elements that were implemented and continue to shape the campus today (including the creation of an Affirmative Action officer position and the creation of a mission statement for the University that would speak to the central importance of diversity) and some that have not persisted (including the call for the Diversity Committee to continue as a standing body “fully integrated into the University governance system.”)
- The efforts led by President Rebecca Chopp (“Bridging Differences in a Diverse World”) beginning in 2003 and leading to a 2005 report and recommendations covering issues of student recruitment and retention, faculty recruitment and retention, and general issues relating to staff. Again, some initiatives contained in this planning effort persist today—the Sio Chair for Diversity and Community was created at this time, for example, and an early push toward cross-group dialogue programs is reflected in the current IGD work being done on campus. (IGD is a robust system for facilitating face to face conversation between members of different social identity groups, striving to create new levels of understanding, relation, and action. It is grounded at the national level in twenty-five years of scholarly research. At Colgate, over 300 faculty, staff, and students have been trained in this system over the past six years.) Others have not (such as the call for “systematic diversity training for all employees,” and for “regular reassessment” of DEI progress, neither of which became part of the regular practice of the University after President Chopp’s tenure ended.)
- The creation of a chief diversity officer position in 2008, under President Chopp. Dr. Keenan Grenell served as Colgate’s vice president and dean for diversity from 2008–2011. In this role, he engaged with inclusion efforts in alumni relations, admissions, and student life, and during his tenure Colgate engaged in a number of assessments of diversity, equity, and inclusion on our campus.
- The student advocacy beginning in 2014 under the banner of “Colgate for All,” in which student activism culminated in a list of action items to which the University began responding under President Jeffrey Herbst. Student activism in 2014 and 2015 helped lead to some important changes (including the launching of Haven and the creation of a SANE Nurse program for Madison County), while other efforts are still ongoing (the meaningful use of knowledge of inclusive communities in job descriptions and performance evaluations, for example).
Despite some meaningful achievements, slow progress on other fronts has been frustrating for many, particularly in the context of student experience, where changes that take more than a few years can have no meaningful impact on an individual student’s time at Colgate. Indeed, a look back at past efforts can be challenging, in that the documentation of this work seems to envision a future level of success that remains persistently deferred:
- 1990’s plan calls for “A University free from unjust discrimination and prejudice based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, class, sexual preference, and physical disability”
- 2005 documents announce that “This systemic and connected approach will then facilitate a collective diversity effort and build community between seemingly disparate programs and will serve as a model to the larger Colgate community”
- 2009 efforts hoped “…to ensure that Colgate can [embody] a higher education diversity best practice [that] other liberal arts universities will use as a benchmark”
Colgate’s history of inclusion victories and setbacks makes clear that the University today cannot indulge in easy hopefulness. There have been too many periods in which the University’s progress has slipped backwards, and structures that could support the ongoing efforts to improve the campus too often have had to be reinvented.
In terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, what Colgate most needs now is a structure designed to persist. If such a structure can provide reason for optimism, it must be public and transparent, assertive in communicating both successes and failures, and insistently part of the regular work of the campus, the rhythms of the school year, the experience of all members of the campus community. It must be felt in every office on campus, and this structure must have built-in accountabilities, concrete goals, and a timeline that extends into the future, and always with a multiyear view of the work ahead. This plan document attempts to begin to lay out a foundation for such a structure.
In the 2016–2017 academic year, Colgate’s new administration under President Brian W. Casey, in consultation with key staff and faculty members, engaged consultants from CDS/IBIS to provide a snapshot of the state of the campus in regard to climate and DEI efforts. This report then informed the work done by the working groups that made up the Task Force charged by the president and provost in the 2017–2018 academic year. The roughly 75 members of the campus community in those groups produced a set of recommendations and shared these with University leaders in the summer of 2018. These recommendations are represented here among the action items called for in the plan. In addition, this plan looked at initiatives called for in previous plans, and at what other leading institutions already do.
Because persistence of effort is of central importance to this work, this plan should be considered a living document, so that it can continue to be adapted and added to as more voices join in this project. It must also, however, represent a means of accountability for continuous effort, and a reflection of a commitment to ongoing, rather than sporadic or purely reactive efforts. Specific action items in this plan (below) attempt to create an ongoing structure for keeping this work in the community’s consciousness, but given Colgate’s history of lulls and setbacks, we might well envision further steps to overcome institutional inertia and resistance to change, some of which may be suggested by our campus as more community members and institutional structures engage with this planning.