On Dec. 2, Steven Healy, managing partner of consulting firm Margolis Healy hosted a conversation in the Villard Room at 7 p.m. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff gathered to debrief the official report administration emailed to the student body over Thanksgiving break.
Reiterating the information in their evaluation, Healy cited several major concerns the firm had with Vassar’s Safety and Security department. The first of these, said Healy, is leadership. He said he believes Security is “severely fractured” and, given the vacancy for the director position, it is an opportune time to reform policy from the ground up.
“It’s absolutely fundamental for the department to have operating guidelines,” said Healy, noting that because of gaps in policy, officers are left to their own discretion. Other issues included an ambiguity about Vassar’s status as an open campus and the lack of opportunities for students to have positive interactions with Security officers.
He stated that these issues have enabled racial profiling on Vassar’s campus. Though there is no hard data to demonstrate a pattern of racial profiling, maintained Healy, it is an evident problem the College needs to resolve.
A student asked, “Why is data being held higher than firsthand accounts?” Healy responded, stating, “It really doesn’t matter if you have the data or not. The narrative is there and it’s clear that there’s a problem at Vassar.” Nonetheless, he continued, “Collecting data is a way of creating accountability.”
During the question and answer portion of the conversation, students brought up issues of marginalization, racism and belongingness on campus.
Teresa Stout ’18 said, “I wish what I would have learned when I got here was that I was going to feel really bad on campus every day as a person of color.” She added, “I’m constantly reminded that Vassar gave me money to come here…giving me the ALANA Center isn’t enough.”
Responded Healy, “Hopefully the people who can enact those changes are here and listening. It’s on them to turn your words into action,” emphasizing that these larger issues of campus climate and diversity are outside Margolis Healy’s purview.
Students turned to the senior officers present—President Catharine Bond Hill, Dean Christopher Roellke and Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity Ed Pittman—demanding answers. A student stated, “I want to know how you feel, as administration that there’s a large part of the school saying that it’s hell for them.”
Hill said, “I feel terrible and I think the other admins feel terrible. We are committed to making this a welcoming place and it’s clearly not working.” She continued, “We have been more successful at diversifying the student body…but have not done the work to make it a supportive place.”
Returning to issues of Safety and Security, Zakiyyah Hanan A Salahuddin stated that, as the chair of their union, officers had previously requested diversity training and were thwarted by higher-ups. “We stated that we wanted it to be in our package…management told us, ‘Hell no,'” she stated. She added that they started a petition to say that officers never had any problems with undergoing racial profiling and sensitivity training. “You’re saying one thing and doing another. I want to know what this is—is this a joke?” she asked.
Students and staff echoed her disappointment and skepticism about Margolis Healy’s report.
“You’re up here performing, but the stakes are too high,” said Associate Professor of English Kiese Laymon. “We have failed these kids.”
Others emphasized the need to see these issues of racial profiling within a larger framework.
One student said, “These suggestions seem like band aids to a bullet hole.”
Full coverage in this week’s print edition of The Miscellany News.