The Board of Visitors recently decided upon several measures to address the racial climate here at the College, all of which were taken from a more comprehensive list of suggestions put forth by the Task Force on Race and Race Relations. Three were chosen to be implemented immediately: allocating one million dollars toward the hiring of new diverse faculty, renaming the two Jamestown residence halls after notable African Americans with ties to the College and hiring an external consultant to address the working conditions of the Facilities Management staff.
With regard to the first suggestion, all I can say is that I hope the money is spent wisely; one million dollars has the potential to effect an immense amount of change, but making sure the change is lasting will require going beyond throwing money at a problem. The other changes, which seemingly address two different concerns, are actually quite related – they make visible certain parts of our community that all too often go unseen.
The decision to rename the Jamestown residence halls was met online with what one would expect any sort of change to be met with online. There were of course many positive comments, but I saw some dismiss it as a purely symbolic gesture with no meaning. To that I say yes, it was a symbolic gesture, but not without meaning, and certainly not without effect.
There were of course many positive comments, but I saw some dismiss it as a purely symbolic gesture with no meaning.
There are reasons for memorials and memorializing – they elicit a sense of belonging and solidarity, of purpose in a broader community. I do not mean to suggest that African American students cannot look to the statues of the Founding Fathers for a sense of American camaraderie or heritage. But the present state of our nation, as well as its broader history, is marked with racial issues. We are not yet a post-racial society, and what does a whitewashed campus topography tell any student that is not, well, white?
Secondly, and likely more important to the immediate well-being of our community, is addressing the concerns of the Facilities Management staff. It should not be taboo to discuss openly and plainly the potential effects of having what appears to be a service staff divided along racial lines. Is it any surprise that they report unfavorable working conditions and unequal treatment? Before the recent Flat Hat article detailed the reports of unfavorable working conditions for black staff, I had not heard or seen anything address this issue. Both the report and the decisions of the Board of Visitors are bringing it out into the open, where the College can address it candidly.
It would be wonderful if the overwhelmingly white memorials and the overwhelmingly black service staff had no effect on anyone’s morale, student or otherwise. However, imagining myself faced with these realities produces no other conclusions than the ones I have drawn above. The College should continue to make well-founded and researched changes, and the comprehensive final report of the Task Force and the actions taken by the Board of Visitors show a promising start.
Email Thomas Briggs at firstname.lastname@example.org