The following message from Executive Vice President Alicia Caudill and Chief Diversity Officer Rénard Harris was sent to the campus community on Dec. 6, 2017.
Dear Campus Community:
As the semester comes to a close, we write today to provide you with an update on several initiatives we have been working on this semester in an effort to create a more inclusive campus community.
Our community was impacted by the incident that occurred around Halloween. While the act did not constitute a violation of our Student Code of Conduct, pain was felt campus-wide. Our Student Code of Conduct allows us the opportunity to use other official interventions or resolutions when circumstances create harm to members of our community. One strategy includes facilitated dialogues between members of the community who complete acts of harm and representatives of the community who experienced harm. The goal of these dialogues is to promote healing and to determine a productive path forward.
Last week, the College brought in facilitators from the Skidmore College Project on Restorative Justice to lead such discussions, which included representatives from: Student Government Association, Honor Board, Black Student Union, the Office of Institutional Diversity, the African American Studies Program, the Dean of Students Office and the Division of Student Affairs.
For those of you who are not familiar with restorative justice, it is a philosophical approach that seeks to help individuals make amends for any harm caused, help aggrieved parties heal from the trauma, resolve interpersonal conflict, and bring back into the community any people who have been marginalized. An integral part of the process includes all parties (as noted above) participating in a discussion and identifying key needs of the community. Needs that were identified in this process included safety, empathy, sensitivity, understanding, accountability, healing, transparency, broad communication and prevention.
We attended and participated in these dialogues, and we found them valuable and impactful. Restorative justice is beautiful and ugly. It’s hard to be in the room – choosing to be vulnerable, truthful, hurtful, having to decide immediately when to be defensive or when to concede, deciding when to ignore or acknowledge tears, pain, smiles and gestures for fear of responding with the wrong message: “I am your friend?” “I am your enemy?” “Are we making progress … together?” We want the community to know that the experience is like running the gauntlet with a rose at the end. That being said, these difficult conversations served as yet another reminder of how amazing, thoughtful and mature our students are.
This process of restorative justice does not mean we, as a campus, are fully healed. These dialogues are another step we are taking to further our commitment to being a more inclusive and diverse community. Our foremost responsibility as a college is to educate our students – both in academic coursework and in how to be people of character. We must help individuals learn from their mistakes and challenge preexisting attitudes and beliefs. This is where the real work of a university is done: shaping empathy and teaching students to be people who value others.
To this end, we continue to make progress on the diversity initiatives recommended by students and endorsed by President McConnell in early November.
- The Office of the Dean of Students continues to gather feedback (a process that began last summer) to update and revise the Student Code of Conduct. This semester, the Student Government Association and the College’s Honor Board reviewed and shared feedback. In the spring, additional focus groups – targeting a broader selection of the student body – will provide input. We anticipate that a revised Student Code of Conduct will be implemented for fall 2018.
- The Division of Student Affairs and the Office of Institutional Diversity, in partnership with various faculty, staff and student groups across campus, have been working closely with the Education Advisory Board (a national organization that specializes in higher education) on training, benchmarking, best practices and creating timelines for implementation of a Bias Incident Response Team, which is an advisory group made up of faculty, staff and students who review and make recommendations regarding bias-related incidents on campus. In January, we will hold open sessions in order to receive feedback as we shape our campus definition of bias. We plan to implement this initiative in the spring semester.
- The Provost’s Office has taken the lead in creating a diversity training experience for all new students prior to and/or during their first semester at the College. Based on the research work being done now, we will have this program in place for the next fall semester. The provost, in partnership with Institutional Diversity and Student Affairs, will be creating a task force to work on the content, design and implementation of this training.
Combined, these initiatives lead to a better College of Charleston – strengthening our institution’s commitment to diversity and helping us to become even more welcoming and inclusive to all.
We look forward to providing you more updates on these initiatives in the new semester.
Alicia Caudill, Executive Vice President
Division of Student Affairs
Rénard Harris, Chief Diversity Officer
Office of Institutional Diversity