On September 6th, 2017, the St. Olaf student body received an email response from the President’s Leadership Team to the Task Force on Institutional Racism’s email of recommendations for St. Olaf they developed this past summer.
“The President’s Leadership Team thanks the Task Force for its report and the members for their work. When the Task Force was formed, the PLT agreed to respond to its report within 30 days.
President Anderson has exhorted us at the beginning of this school year to give one another grace. He describes this as, while holding one another accountable for our words and deeds, “presuming the best intentions from others, being slow to anger and quick to forgive, seeking understanding, engaging in authentic dialogue rather than rhetoric, looking for common ground, being aware of our own failings, de-escalating, and remaining resolutely hopeful.” It is in that spirit that we offer this response.
The charge to the Task Force was “To consider the demands presented by the Collective for Change on the Hill and the response to those demands from the President’s Leadership Team, and to make any recommendations regarding the demands by September 1, 2017.” The Task Force chose to fulfill that charge through a series of meetings in which members of the Task Force discussed among themselves the concerns raised by students and the College’s response to them.
Based upon those discussions, they issued their report.
As the Task Force itself recognizes, it is time to invite more voices into the conversation. We agree that a Working Group should be formed to listen to those voices, and we therefore believe it is premature to respond to the Task Force’s other recommendations.
The Working Group’s charge should include activities that the Task Force did not undertake. There should be open forums, updates to the community on its work, and opportunities for those with information, experiences or opinions regarding the campus climate to be heard. The Working Group should meet with offices on campus upon whose work it considers. Experts and best practices at other institutions should be consulted.
We will move forward with appointing members for the Working Group and the President will share the group's membership and charge with the campus community as soon as it is formed.
The President's Leadership Team”
This email was sent out two days after the Task Force’s email containing a documentation of their suggested actions the college should take.
We, as The Collective, appreciate the hard work the Task Force has done this summer, and their willingness to devote their time and energy to such an important but complex task. Although our views of some of the demands differ, they have shown themselves to have had extensive conversations about each point, which is necessary for dialogue and subsequent change on campus.
We, therefore, are disappointed in the Administration’s response to The Task Force’s recommendations. We believe that by disregarding the efforts of the Task Force and attempting to create a separate working group does not show an effort towards creating an “authentic dialogue”, as this shuts out those who have spent hours upon hours this summer to present a comprehensive document.
We believe that the college should take the Task Force’s recommendations more seriously, and set up a plan of action to implement them.
The College should be able to properly respond to the recommendations that the Task Force has provided in either agreeing or disagreeing with the recommendations. Instead they believe that by creating a Working Group they will be able to achieve this. By creating their non-transparent working group, they are presenting a lack of willingness to engage in true “dialogue”.
As the Task Force recognizes, it is time to include more voices into the conversation. It is time to act on the recommendation of a Title VI Working Group. It is time to clarify the College's definitions on actions of hate. It is time to take into account the needs of a diverse population, in ways the College has failed to do so previously. It is time to turn discussion away from what the College has been doing to what the College can do better or start doing. It is time for the College to work with those who want change.
The Collective will continue to hold the St. Olaf Administration accountable in how they choose to accept or ignore the advice of the people their actions will ultimately affect.
We will not allow this to be swept under the rug. We will not allow meaningless respectability to precede justice and meaningful action, or for the Administration to take this behind closed doors.