On Allegheny College's Response to the Death of George Floyd
***The response we received from President Link is copied at the bottom of this section***
Dear President Link and Dean Dukes:
We write as alumni and former students of Allegheny College to ask that you issue a more substantive, trustworthy, and actionable statement regarding racial injustice and police brutality targeting Black lives. The work to make campus a “safer place” begins with revisiting your “Statement on Recent Racial Injustices” issued on May 31, 2020. As former students, our hearts go out to the Allegheny community, particularly Black students, faculty, and staff, who look to you for leadership. We expect a revised statement which more fully supports Black members of the Allegheny community, explicitly voices that Black lives matter, and takes responsibility for addressing anti-Blackness at Allegheny.
We join you in your grief and heartbreak, but urge you to additionally express outrage. Your statement should name not only George Floyd, but also Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, and Tony McDade as Black lives recently murdered by police officers. It must also acknowledge the state-permitted extrajudicial murders of Ahmaud Arbery, James Scurlock, Nina Pop and countless other Black people at the hands of white supremacists. And it must address the ongoing police brutality against protesters throughout the country which is sanctioned and promoted by mayors, governors, and the President of the United States. These examples of racial injustice against Black people should and do inspire anger. It is not enough to “hurt alongside” the students; you must voice unconditional support for students risking their bodies and freedom by protesting.
We trust you will further acknowledge that these racial injustices are only the latest in a centuries-long history of anti-Black racism which continues to plague our nation and educational institutions. As you speak on behalf of an institution which is over 200 years-old, we urge you to examine and confront Allegheny’s own history of racism and segregation. From its founding and through its first 70 years, Allegheny was a whites-only college; it wasn’t until 1915, a century after Allegheny’s inception, that Ethel Mae Gillespie became the first Black woman to graduate. As former students, we know that Allegheny has never meaningfully grappled with the continuing legacy of white supremacy and racial inequities existing at a white majority residential college.
Your statement that community members must work with you to create an institution where all “feel safe and heard” does not explicitly name, own, or give direction to that work. Our concern stems from past efforts to achieve racial justice on campus which placed the burden of ending centuries of racism on students of color, particularly Black students, while failing to engage white community members in the work to dismantle white supremacy. It is the ultimate responsibility of the college administration, not of the students seeking a liberal arts education, to facilitate the anti-racist work needed to create a safe learning environment. Such work should center and uplift BIPOC students, staff, and faculty without exploiting them.
Finally, and most importantly, we ask you to articulate an action plan for addressing anti-Blackness at Allegheny and affirming that Black lives matter. This plan should include but not be limited to: hiring an outside organization to conduct an equity audit of institutional practices, publicly publishing the findings, and committing to implementing recommendations; committing to financial aid policies and scholarships based on racial equity; adopting a curriculum and campus culture that centers anti-racism as a necessary and ongoing process; committing to the elimination of racism in disciplinary proceedings; hiring, supporting, and advancing Black faculty and staff (particularly in underrepresented fields and in the counseling office); engaging with the Black community in Meadville; divesting from racist institutions; and providing anti-racist professional training for staff including security, counselors, faculty, and administrators.
Alumni and Former Students of Allegheny College
*When signing, please include your class year or affiliation with Allegheny in the comment box.
**This letter is the product of collaboration between a number of Allegheny alumni and intended as an advocacy tool for change from the perspective of former students (not necessarily graduates). We recognize it cannot fully encompass each individual's thoughts, feelings, and experiences. As you share this petition across social media, please take the opportunity to express yourself, including further ideas for change, and tag Allegheny.
After emailing this petition to President Link and Dean Dukes, we received this response from President Link:
We are writing to acknowledge that we have received and read with interest your emails as well as the petition. We appreciate you sharing your perspective on the College's initial message and potential steps going forward to address systemic racism at Allegheny. We want to reiterate that Allegheny College unequivocally condemns racism in any form. We acknowledge that the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others alongside racial violence against other Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC) are examples of systemic racism, anti-Blackness, Eurocentrism, and White supremacy that are deeply ingrained in the fabric of the United States from its founding.
We recognize the role of higher education and Allegheny College in sustaining these systems, unwittingly or not. We recognize that even unintentional actions and inaction can have a detrimental impact on minoritized and marginalized communities. We stand with and support all who have been marginalized, oppressed and traumatized by these abhorrent actions and the systems that have perpetuated them. We also recognize that words alone will not suffice. The College has significant work to do in actively confronting racism and supporting our Black community members in tangible ways.
Some of the initiatives mentioned in the petition have already been implemented by the College (please see the brief summary below) while others are addressed in the College’s framework for Inclusive Excellence and an action plan to address racial injustice specifically that
has been in development during the past several months; the framework and action plan will be shared with current students, employees, and alumni in the coming weeks. You can also view previous, but relatively recent, versions of the College’s DEI action plan and progress documents here. Additionally, we will soon be launching a more comprehensive and up-to-date website on diversity, equity, and inclusion at Allegheny; please look for an announcement.
Finally, we recognize your passion and dedication to Allegheny College. We welcome continued engagement with the Allegheny community. One group that cares deeply about these issues is the Alumni Council; this governing body is working closely with the College to advance these issues. You should feel free to contact our Office of Alumni Affairs to share your thoughts and learn more about how you might engage in this process. Additionally, the senior leadership team is in regular communication with the ABC Alumni Group, a network of alumni of the Association of Black Collegians/Association for the Advancement of Black Culture.
As noted above, more information will be forthcoming as part of the College’s framework for Inclusive Excellence and an action plan to address racial injustice. We would be happy to speak with you to discuss the initiatives included in this message or in the more expansive plan once it is released. Under President Link’s leadership, unraveling the College’s practices that even unwittingly continue systemic racial injustices is a priority. Even as the College faces drastic budget reductions, these issues will be our focus for investment and attention in the coming years. We commit this to you and all of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. We look forward to you joining us in this commitment.
Dr. Hilary L. Link, President
Dr. Kristin Dukes, Dean for Institutional Diversity
Summary of Ongoing DEI Initiatives
Campus Climate & Equity Assessment
Allegheny College is committed to ongoing assessment of campus social climate for all students, faculty, and staff. In 2018 and 2019 Allegheny administered the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) Diversity and Equity Campus Climate Survey. Several campus open meetings were held to discuss results of the survey and actions/initiatives in response to the findings. The executive summary based on the 2018 findings can be viewed here. These findings were also shared and discussed with the Alumni Council during their October 2019 meeting on campus. All action steps listed in the executive summary have been implemented and/or are in progress. Open sessions for the 2019 survey data, which were to be held starting this past April 2020, were postponed due to COVID-19.
Recruitment and Retention of Diverse Faculty
In 2019 Allegheny launched a new faculty cohort hiring initiative designed to recruit faculty from historically underrepresented groups and to purposefully diversify the curriculum. Our cohort program seeks candidates with expertise in race, gender, and/or social justice who could contribute to the core curriculum in one of these interdisciplinary programs: Black Studies, Community & Justice Studies, or Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. A new Diversity Teaching Fellowship Program was launched in 2018-2019 for early career scholars of color seeking faculty positions at liberal arts colleges and universities. This program will fill visiting appointments and is meant as a springboard to launch early career faculty by providing robust mentoring and support for advancing teaching and scholarship activities. Also, every faculty search committee goes through implicit bias training with the Dean for Institutional Diversity and/or the Provost and all candidates are now required to submit a diversity statement that is reviewed and weighed along with teaching and research statements. Once faculty are hired, we have a year-long new faculty orientation program, providing a broad range of pedagogical and institutional resources and a faculty mentoring program to enhance faculty retention.
Diversifying the Curriculum
As you are likely aware, in Fall 2014 the College adopted three new distribution requirements for all students: Power, Privilege and Difference; Intercultural and International Perspectives; and Civic Learning. Additionally, the College created the major of Community & Justice Studies and enhanced the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program.
Faculty have begun the work of assessing their own courses and classroom with several participating in workshops and seeking individual consultations on auditing the content of their courses for themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion, ensuring equity and access in pedagogy and evaluation of students, and creating more inclusive classrooms.
And just this week, Allegheny launched the Social Justice Seminar Series. The series is an opportunity for students to integrate knowledge across disciplines and collaborate across vastly different backgrounds and perspectives about issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice throughout the summer. The courses are offered at no additional cost to students enrolled full-time and for Summer 2020 are clustered around the theme of “Pandemic Summer.”
Hilary L. Link, Ph.D.
President Link also attached a copy of the 2018 HEDS Diversity and Equity Campus Climate Survey Executive Summary.