An Open Letter to President Kiss and Elizabeth Holder from Students of Agnes Scott College
July 14 2017
Dear President Kiss and Elizabeth Holder,
For a number years, mounting racial tension has stretched across Agnes Scott’s campus. The band has finally snapped and now it is time to deal with the fallout.
Students want our voices to be heard. We feel that this tension is now posing a direct threat to our education and can no longer be pushed aside.
For many current Scotties, the diversity of ASC’s student body drew us in. On paper (and in real life), we see a campus with one of the highest diversity representations in Southeastern private higher-ed. However, once students settle in, they realize a glaring discrepancy in Agnes’ racial diversity:
Where are the faculty and staff of color?
Fewer than 20% of the Agnes Scott faculty and staff are people of color.
For some, this discrepancy is problematic. For others, it’s downright discouraging. Students and professors of color are faced with the reality that those who are leading our education journey do not physically reflect the entire student body. Worse, many claim allyship without actually standing in solidarity with students of color. In other words, they can sympathize, but do not empathize.
Many Scotties of color have stories of instances in which a white professor would nod their head as if they understood a student’s emotional response on a racial issue. Then, once the student finished, the professor would say something along the lines of “I believe you’re misinterpreting this,” or “I think you are thinking of this the wrong way.” For students of color, the rejection and shame we feel after hearing these lines is not due to having one’s opinion challenged. The feelings stem from years, decades, and even generations of being discounted by someone who doesn’t understand. To empathize is to understand and to listen, not turn widely shared fears of invalidity and maltreatment into a talking point.
When the student body continues to hear of professors and staff of color who resign from Agnes Scott or who are laid off, it becomes heartbreaking. We estimate that at least seven faculty and staff of color have left Agnes Scott since 2016, including resignations and layoffs. These abrupt departures often come from beloved community members who did remarkable work to address campus racism and hold space for students of color. Regardless of the “official” reasons given for these departures, this pattern clearly points to the larger issue of silencing and alienating people of color at Agnes Scott. We believe that this is not only isolated within faculty and staff, but also appears in relations with students.
For every woman of color in a powerful position on campus who is laid off or forced out by a hostile work environment, people of color on our campus have one less active advocate. In many ways, it doesn’t matter how many faculty and staff of color there are if students of color are not feeling their impact. Many of the women of color who no longer work at Agnes spent a majority of their time at Agnes Scott advocating for students and pushing for improvements, not acting as activists only when the “call for justice” rung.
The shocking lack of transparency from administration regarding the recent layoffs, issues of sexual assault on campus, and Agnes’ apparent money issues is distressing. Faculty, staff, and students of all backgrounds deserve the dignity of being notified that their futures will be affected by a college decision, such as the layoff of a beloved faculty or staff member. It is clear that the college wishes to avoid the rumors that spread when students learn of these developments through social media; however, when students are not presented with facts, we will attempt to fill in the blanks. Agnes Scott College has hammered its community with the activist’s obligation to fight for the creation of collective, inclusive spaces only until students use their organizing power to shed light on injustices at Agnes itself. What does that say to those in the Agnes community, particularly students of color?
What it says is that Agnes is more talk than walk.
We do not want to be gaslit or chastised any longer. We do not want to feel that our voices matter the least.
In light of the pressing needs of students of color at Agnes Scott as listed above, we have identified the following demands moving forward:
The college must reverse the layoffs of staff and faculty who have fostered safe and affirming spaces for students on campus. If these women of color agree to return to the school, they must be genuinely welcomed back into the community and compensated for the emotional toll of their layoff. The college must issue a public apology for harms done.
Greater efforts should be made to increase, but most importantly maintain staff and faculty diversity. Hiring women of color as staff and faculty members only serves to boost the College’s image if those same women depart and are replaced within a short time frame.
If the college plans on addressing the above through a “diversity audit” students would like a thorough explanation of how it will be conducted and who will be holding the institution accountable.
The College must examine the ways that it supports tenure-track professors at the expense of staff and adjunct professors, especially considering the ways that the tenure-track system currently excludes WOC.
The College must pledge to pay all of its faculty and staff (including kitchen and janitorial staff) a living wage as well as compensating them fairly for their labor. The College must not continue to rely on poorly paid staff and adjunct faculty to teach classes to avoid creating tenure-track positions.
The commitment to anti-racism of white faculty and staff can no longer be assumed, but must be actively fostered through trainings and other learning opportunities. The burden of this teaching should not fall onto students, staff, and faculty of color who are not otherwise compensated.
The College must create a dean position whose primary function is to advocate for students and is independent of the administration, such as the Dean of Students at GSU.
The presidential search should result in a president who will commit themself to addressing the problems identified in this letter. Students want to know what measures are currently being taken to make the position accessible and attractive to applicants of color.
Following an important decision made by the college or in reaction to a “scandal”, The “Who? What? Where? Why? How?” should be answered honestly through immediate official college communications (within legal/privacy compliant parameters). Official communications should not come after rumors and demands for clarification have flooded social media.
When you know better, do better. Until Agnes Scott College addresses the issues highlighted in this letter, it will continue to perpetuate the commitment to whiteness that afflicts institutions of higher education.
We love this school, and we are willing to fight for it. We are fighting for it. Fight with us. Encourage your colleagues to do so as well. If we are in such financial trouble, the school cannot afford to sever the trust of past, current, and future Scotties.
Student Class of 2018, Student Class of 2019, Student Class of 2018, and Student Class of 2020