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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

An Update on Our Blog...

Last Thursday, the first student occupiers moved into Fanning Hall to demand accountability from the Connecticut College administration about the unequal treatment of alleged bias incidents. Five days later, some students remain in Fanning still unsatisfied with administrators’ responses, while others have chosen to focus on their final exams or leave campus for the summer vacations. Nevertheless, our collective dissatisfaction and frustration with the Katherine Bergeron administration endures.

Sprouted from the physical occupation of Fanning Hall, the Occupy Fanning blog itself has now taken on a life of its own beyond students’ physical presence. While the blog remains integrally connected to the aims of the occupation and exists as a platform for those continuing to occupy the building to voice their discontent, it is also broadening its focus and reinforcing its own commitment to continuing to expose the widespread administrative incompetence and failures at Connecticut College into next semester and beyond.

The blog is currently administered by a small group of five members of the College community who are not physically present in Fanning Hall. We invite students, faculty, staff, recent alumni and parents of Conn students to be in touch with us at our e-mail address with stories that we will investigate and feature in the weeks and months ahead.

We look forward to continuing and diversifying our commitment to call the Katherine Bergeron administration to task for their failures and thank all of those who have already have shared their stories.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Racist & homophobic bias incidents ignored and farmed out to Student Life

We received the following testimony from a student leader:

"I have filed 3 major bias incident reports in the past two years. They have all been met with some combination of negligence, incompetence, and intimidation. All of them have been made private, and made to be as if they are conflicts between individuals. I have concluded that filing them is a waste of time and a useless endeavor."

In evidence, the student leader submitted the following two incidents:

1. "I was a floor governor in Fall 2015. Around Halloween, I was in the bathroom when one of my residents entered wearing a “Pocahontas” costume. I asked her about it, and she responded with anger and defensiveness. I filed a bias incident report and was contacted a few days later by Dean David Canton in order to meet about it. We were able to meet, but the student who wore the offensive costume was not present, apparently because she was not invited. Dean Canton seemed unsure how to deal with the issue. He said he would meet privately with the student in question. I never heard anything more about it. The incident is missing from the CamelWeb bias log."

2. "Another time that semester, I had to call Campus Safety because one of my residents (who was a queer person of color) had gotten dangerously drunk and had hit his head. Campus Safety used intimidating and racialized language, harassed him, and one of them used excessive force with him. It was determined that my resident would need to go to the hospital, and so despite his physical resistance and lack of consent, members of Campus Safety and others dragged him into a stretcher, strapped him down, and loaded him into an ambulance. Fearing for his safety, I accompanied him to the hospital.
I filed a bias incident report detailing these events. I was never contacted by Dean Canton, and the incident is not in the CamelWeb bias incident log. 
However, I was contacted a few days later by South Area Coordinator Kelsey Gamble requesting a meeting to discuss the incident with her and Director of Residential Education and Living (REAL) Sara Rothenberger. During this meeting, instead of addressing the incident, I was notified that I had been given a warning letter, the first step in the REAL staff firing process, because I had left my on-call post to accompany my resident to the hospital. With regard to the incident, Rothenberger told me that there are accountability processes for Campus Safety that already exist, and that I should trust in those processes. She told me that there is “a lot of turnover” and she sees problematic “faces” go away over time. I left the meeting feeling defeated, drained, and intimidated. I never heard anything of the incident again from the administration. The Campus Safety officers who spoke intimidatingly, including the one who assaulted my resident, are still here. I continue to be traumatized because of that night."

Why has President Bergeron placed the students under the tyranny of Student Life staff while the administrators who are supposed to represent students of color, queer people, and other marginalized groups
1. are not sure how to deal with issues
2. do not update the bias log
3. do not contact students when reports are filed
4. generally seem to either not be qualified or have no power
5. are not accountable to students?

What kind of educational institution fails so badly to educate people about racism, homophobia, and other displays of dominance by the majority group?

The student leader ended in the following way:
"I don’t file bias incidents because they are a waste of time. The focus is on interpersonal conflict resolution, which functions to skirt around any substantive accountability for structural racism. In addition, under this administration, there is a climate of negligence, evidenced by missing incidents from CamelWeb, and a lack of timely response, if a response at all, from those who should be responsible. I am not alone in this; there are many people with similar experiences. There are very few people I know who would file a bias incident report if they experienced a bias incident. There is a widespread and justified lack of trust in this administration’s care or competence regarding the structures of domination and violence that students encounter on this campus."

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Cinco de Mayo debacle

Cinco de Mayo is an annual ritual at Conn, but not the kind that you might expect. Instead of using the event to educate the community about Mexican - American culture and history, the event is a staging of cultural domination. Inevitably and every year a bunch of white students will use the event as an opportunity to “play Mexican.” Fliers will be posted around campus and emails sent basically inviting others to “Bring your sombrero! Bring your poncho!” The message is, come be Mexican for a few hours.... let’s drink margaritas, eat tacos, do some salsa, and perform our parochial illiteracy.

This happens every year. Some people host the “costume party” and others from MECHA -and their allies- protest, complain, and file bias reports. The administration responds, annually, in the same way, with an invitation to dialogue. Dialogue means we create a safe space for the offending party, provide psycho-babble to couch the explanation of their offense so that they don’t feel bad....and we labor and endure for their benefit.

No matter how hard we try, the words cultural appropriation do not enter the administrators' vocabulary. We are asked, every year, to educate the admin, the staff, students etc. We even point out the patterns, namely that this happens every year, and even with other identity groups for other holidays and yet administrators and the white students who are their presumed “clients” act surprised. They might even issue an apology, if we push hard enough, but no learning happens....and all this at an institution that is really only here for one purpose: to provide an education.

Strangely, we ask for education and public announcements, all in hopes that next year we won’t be doing the same thing again. Instead, we are made to labor, explain, relive the trauma, and educate the dominant culture. This is diversity in action, folks. Bring in those “others” to campus so that the dominant group can benefit, so they can learn....and we do this every year. 

The Associate Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion this year told students that she would organize an open forum in which they were to educate white students. Do we really need a Dean to "organize" a forum in which we do the educating? Competent and trained administrators with the freedom to implement policies and programs that achieve more than just making the College event calendar seem packed are necessary for next year's Cinco de Mayo to be any different.

Mishandled sexual harrassment bias case

Please note that this post contains references to sexual assault.
We received the following email from an alum, testifying to a grievance from Fall 2014 when the Office of Student Life handled cases of “bias.” 

       “My main grievance is actually about a bias incident. A group of drunk (I think drunk?) kids tried to break into my dorm one night.  I had locked my door bc it was a weekend night and all, so I was physically safe.  But they basically wrote a rape threat on my door. To report the bias incident I needed a photo, so I took a photo once it was safe to leave my dorm and I reported the incident.  Until the incident was addressed, I kept a file of the photo. Unfortunately, administration "lost" my bias report for a month, meaning I had to keep that terrifying photo for a month.  The neglect and having to keep the picture of the threat for so long honestly messed me up a lot...since the administration was so late in responding the only thing they offered as help was to change my dorm location, which didn’t really address the issue at hand.”

What does this tell us? The Office of Student Life grossly mishandled this bias case, they recommended a room change as the solution for gender-based harassment. 

  • Since this was one of many such cases, concerned students started asking why the Office of Student Life handled bias cases at all. Why weren’t bias cases instead assigned to people explicitly trained in issues of power and difference, discrimination, structural inequities, and harassment? Such a question was asked numerous times even by concerned folks at the Women’s Center and the LGBTQ Center, amongst others.

The College has never had separate senior diversity officer in Fanning. The Dean of the College in 2014, Carolyn Denard, was doing double duty as senior diversity officer. 

She resigned (understandably) just prior to this incident. President Katherine Bergeron (by her own admission at the March 31, 2015 open forum) publicly stated that she forgot to appoint an interim in the year after Denard's resignation

Further, President Bergeron ignored a mass faculty memo (signed by 60 faculty members) asking her to reconsider the job description for the new permanent senior diversity officer which would have resulted in hiring a more qualified person for the job.
That this student’s bias file was lost was indicative of larger problems. The President needed to be told over and over again for a whole year that bias, discrimination, and harassment are not to be handled by whoever happens to be around. Further, forgetting to appoint an administrator trained with expertise in structural inequities was not comforting.

The President’s decisions, or more precisely inability to make decisions, forgetfulness about decisions, and negligence affects everyday experiences of students - not just in banal ways but in potentially threatening and violent ways.

It was precisely because of campus wide discontent that we demanded a new Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion. As we have learned now, this person is being coerced and silenced by the Office of Communications. 
Instead of providing us a DIEI with adequate training and institutional power, President Bergeron has appointed two new Deans in the Student Life division who will start next semester. So instead of adequate handling of sexual harassment, all we can look forward to is a far more efficient room change process.

Endangered Africana Studies Program


In the summer of 2015, the Africana Studies Program, which has been unfunded until then, was promised funding. This was a hollow promise. Funds were simply reallocated from other departments affiliated with the Africana Studies Program. Because the Program has been used in the college’s self-promotion as a symbol of diversity and thus provided tangible benefits, this method of funding shows the exploitive attitude of the President and Dean of Faculty towards Africana Studies, and also reflected the general lack of institutional support for interdisciplinary departments and to faculty of color. A faculty member demanded equity and transparency in the funding process.

Up until the summer of 2015, Africana Studies Program has been listed in the College catalog as a program that has existed for more than fifteen years, but in reality has not been operational for over ten of those fifteen years, since it lacked a director and a curriculum in those years. No information regarding the Africana Studies Program’s budget was known and therefore not used to inform any current budgetary allowance.

During the summer of 2015, the Interim Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion and the Director of Africana Studies were assured by the Dean of Faculty that money would be reallocated to fund Africana Studies but were never told exactly how that money would arrive.

In the fall of 2015, the Dean of Faculty sent out an email requesting a permanent re-allocation of funds from departments offering courses housed under the program instead of funding the program directly. The email from the Dean of Faculty asked departments in which faculty are affiliated with the Africana Studies program toreallocate—permanently, ideally—$200 of their operating budget to provide Africana Studies’ operating budget,” rather than providing the program its own budget - like every other program on campus has. No other program or department at the College has been funded through this kind of “diversity tax.” This plan reveals how the College perceived the Africana Studies program as, to quote one faculty member, “a charitable enterprise and the pet project of… invested colleagues” even as it continued to use Africana Studies to advertise its own diversity credentials.
This funding scheme was exposed only when chairs of some of the “donating” departments expressed concern about such a procedure. Even though a committee had completed an audit that would have made information about the procedure and results of college-wide funding readily available by fall 2015, the administration claims that the results of this audit have yet to be revealed due to a desire to allow the faculty to focus its energies on current efforts for curricular revision.
This lack of institutional support reflects a pattern of bias and exploitation in the name of the same “diversity” from which the College profits, basically through uncompensated and even disparaged labor….. All at the same time that the college sells its credentials of “full participation” and “inclusion” to gain new clients.

Faculty members requested three simple solutions:
“(a) the need for institutional support of interdisciplinary programs;
“(b) the need for institutional support of faculty of color, and;
“(c) the need for institutional support of Africana Studies.”

Concerned faculty further insisted that a meeting with administrators only take place “only when the Dean of Faculty office is willing and able to:
“(1) provide transparency for how all academic programs are funded;
“(2) come up with a plan for practicing full participation in terms of department and program equity; and
“(3) present a radically new plan for recognizing and compensating and decreasing identity-based labor that does not simply subsume this under the category of ‘service.’”
Instead of meeting these demands for structural change, the President bought temporary silence by offering $4000 from the President's office for two years so that she could ignore the demand for structural conditions for equity. Best to plug a hole and hope the problem goes away rather than to invest in long term education, right? One would think that Africana Studies could have been championed and made a centerpiece of the new curriculum which touts full participation, but instead after decades of civil rights upon decades of segregation and slavery, the administration decided that we know all we need to know about Africana Studies. Now, unsurprisingly, the director of that program is leaving the College to go to another small liberal arts college where they have allocated resources to build a program. What a great idea.

The Tale of Three Emails: A Case Study in Surveillance

It has come to our attention that this regime at the College resembles an Orwellian nightmare.

Do Conn administrators, who make hundreds of thousands of dollars, have the freedom to write their own emails and to think for themselves?
Why can David Canton not be allowed write an e-mail about an an incident that falls under the purview of his own office?

If he cannot write emails on his own, why does his position exist at all? Whom does it legitimize to have a person-of-color Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion who has no power? (Hint: the President)

Why did the administrators -- led by Vice President of Communications -- take 10-12 hours to draft any email communications?


At 2.30 pm Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion David Canton wrote the following (all-campus) email responding to the demands of Occupy Fanning. Students had asked that he outline clearly what constitutes bias and which biases merit all-campus communications, state a timeline for the release of the much overdue new bias protocol, and promise to establish a review process to bring accountability to his office.

EMAIL 1 - DAVID CANTON WRITES ON HIS OWN (written in 40 minutes)

"On Thursday, May 10 I sent an all campus email about the mock eviction notices that were posted in a number of residence halls. I sent the all campus message in the evening and many students viewed this as intimidating. My message was not designed to intimidate, single out any students, or prevent constructive dialogue. I sent the campus wide message to inform the campus community about the steps my office was taking to examine, not what the poster states, but where they were posted and its impact on some students.

The bias protocol committee policy group meets next week on May 19th to discuss the Bias Protocol Draft. The committee will disseminate the draft to the Bias Protocol Committee on May 20th. The Bias Protocol Draft Committee will incorporate the edits and send the draft to the President for review. The Bias Protocol will be completed by May 31st and placed in the student handbook in August.

Students will work with John Nugent to develop a survey where students can voice their suggestions for improvements and collect the information to share with the new Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion."

As Canton was writing this email, the VP of Communications Pamela Dumas-Serfes began suggesting and finally insisted that the only way to draft an appropriate e-mail response was for him to leave the room along with her and her “team.”  
After students objected to this non-consultative style of shared governance, Dumas- Serfes made the following remarks about Canton on his behalf:

Maybe he doesn’t work well with a lot of people sitting around and drafting. This is an important communication. Don’t you want it to be right?
David, would you feel comfortable stepping out and working on it like we would normally work on-
It’s intimidating [for David] to be sitting here
David, do you feel- maybe intimidation is not the right word. Is it hard for you to work?
[The reason for leaving the room] It’s more the writing process...he’s not a writer.
At this point the students point blank asked Dumas-Serfes who writes all-campus emails and who wrote the one that went out on May 10.

That was a group of people talking about it. It came from David. There’s a conversation that happens.

The takeaway: President Katherine Bergeron has (so generously) created a Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion position, appointed a qualified professor to the position, but cannot have this person writing emails to his constituency about cases of racism, intimidation, bias, or anything else that is his job.

After Dumas-Serfes’ order to the administrators to leave the room, Canton leaves his office for 4 hours, and returns with a “professionally written” an email that the students reject.



"Dear Students,
On Tuesday, May 10th, the Dean of Students, Dean of College, and my office sent an email to all students about the mock eviction notices. I recently had conversations with many students about that email. As a result, I discovered that some students were disturbed by the wording of the email which stated an investigation of the incident and implicated restrictions on their academic freedom.   As a result, my office is looking into developing transparency regarding the process of identifying which reports warrant a campus-wide email.
My office, along with a number of others, have a responsibility to follow on these reports. All students have the right to fill out a bias report. The first step in that  process involves conversations with both, the students who submitted the reports and those who, in this particular case, posted the notices.  This is the process by which we determine whether or not this is a bias incident.

I want to emphasize, as I have throughout the year, that all students have a right to free speech. I encourage all members of the community to share their concerns with me and to continue to engage in more productive and open dialogue.

David Canton
Interim Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion"


"To Members of the Connecticut College Community,

During the last year, I had the pleasure of serving as the Interim Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion. I want to thank President Katherine Bergeron for the opportunity to address equity and inclusion at the College and for her support in hiring outstanding staff in the DIEI division.

One of my goals over the last year was to address equity issues for faculty, staff and students by providing programs and events to encourage all members of our community to express their views freely and openly in a respectful manner. We made excellent progress on that front: my office sponsored and co-sponsored nearly 60 programs, many of which were recommended by faculty, staff and students. You can see the full list of programs here. In addition, I have been in conversation with many members of our community this year to help foster an environment that supports freedom of expression on our campus.

I also want to provide an update on the bias protocol. I have been facilitating conversations on the policy and procedures over the course of this past year. The student component of the student protocol is near completion. The committee will be reviewing a final draft within the next week so that it can be incorporated into the 2016-17 Student Handbook in August. In addition, Dean McNeely Cobham presented the bias protocol at an open forum of the Student Government Association last week and answered questions about it. This year’s work on the student bias protocol will serve as a foundation for the work that will be done next year on the faculty and staff component of the bias protocol.

As the semester concludes, I also want to direct you to a new page on the dean of institutional equity and inclusion website that offers a more complete report of our work in 2016. The progress builds on the longstanding partnerships across campus and represents the collective work of many interdisciplinary programs and centers, academic departments and administrative offices.

It has been an honor to oversee the new Office of Equity and Inclusion. In the past weeks, I have been reflecting on the work we did together, and would encourage your thoughts about our office and our work going forward. In that vein, we will be working on a survey to gather feedback before the new academic year. You can expect to receive something from John McKnight, our new dean of institutional equity and inclusion, when he joins the office in July.

I want to thank you all for your support and commitment to equity and inclusion. I am grateful to everyone who is working to make this a better college.

-David Canton
Interim Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion"

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Day 3: We Are Still Here

58 hours have passed since the first students began to occupy Fanning Hall. In the course of our time here, our motives for staying have evolved to encompass a call for broader institutional reform. We will soon publish a narrative that documents this evolution. 

Beginning tomorrow, we will also begin posting short narratives of administrative incompetence and failure at Connecticut College. Please continue to get in touch with us to share your stories on our Facebook page, to our e-mail address, and in the comments section of this blog. Again, all entries will be kept anonymous.