Around 40 College of William and Mary students and faculty members met Thursday at the Commons to discuss the future of the College’s diversity.
As part of the first Conversation on Reconciliation and Equality of the semester, a panel of College Provost Michael R. Halleran, Hispanic studies professor John Riofrio and biology professor John Swaddle answered students’ questions on subjects ranging from diversity in department curricula to the College’s hiring practices.
“Look at a college catalogue from 1950, or from 1900, and you’ll see that things were very different,” Halleran said. “If you look ahead 50 years to 2060, it’s going to be different from what we have today. The question is, ‘What do we want it to be?’”
Bailey Thomson ’10 said that certain programs and majors at the College should be reworked to emphasize the global nature of academics.
“What concerns me most about what we have at William and Mary is this ‘othering,’ especially with things like [general education requirement] 4, because you have ‘outside the Western tradition,’” she said. “And names like ‘women’s studies’ add to that othering.”
According to Swaddle, the College also lacks student, faculty and curriculum diversity within certain disciplines.
“I don’t think there’s a single African American science professor at William and Mary,” he said. “There’s not a single African American biology major … We need to talk about things other than Darwin and Mendel and his peas. There are other important people out there.”
While most attendees agreed that efforts were needed to increase the College’s academic and social diversity, Riofrio said that traditional practices would be difficult to overcome.
“I think that inertia plays a huge role in hiring,” he said. “A professor of French leaves, and we need a new French professor. A professor of Spanish leaves, and we need a new Spanish professor.”
Swaddle said that, ultimately, creating a more diverse College would largely be based on the actions of students.
“They don’t have to accept it,” he said on the lack of diversity. “They can fight against it, because that’s what we expect students to do.”