VASSAR COMMUNITY OUTRAGED AT MARGOLIS HEALY REPORT, DEMANDS ANSWERS FROM ADMINISTRATION

Courtesy of the ALANA Center
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On Dec. 2, the Vassar community gathered in the Villard Room to discuss Margolis Healy’s report on Safety and Security. (Photo courtesy of the ALANA Center)

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.

11 Comments

  1. The Vassar community decided that they wanted to pay for a consulting firm (Margolis Healy) to objectively examine the entire issue of campus security and racial profiling. The report found that there were really not black and brown bodies cowering behind every bush, fearing for their safety, as Kiese Laymon would have you believe. Now the activists at Vassar are expressing discontent and outrage with the report, merely because the facts, as uncovered by Healy, do not fit their narrative. Vassar, on the one hand believes it is a protector of human rights and freedom of speech and, on the other hand, demands conformity of thought and feels threatened by any diversity of opinion despite the facts. Individuals or groups on campus make claims based on unsubstantiated facts and when, on the rare occasion when those facts are questioned, they express moral outrage and resort to talking about bias or hurt feelings.

    President Hill is correct when she says “We have been more successful at diversifying the student body.” Vassar tops the list of most economically diverse colleges and 42.4% of the class of 2018 are people of color. However, Hill joins the race-hustlers when she buys into the argument that Vassar is not a “supportive place.” In the four years ending in 2012, Vassar experienced about one thousand disciplinary referrals for liquor law violations, about 300 disciplinary referrals for violations of campus drug laws, 16 offenses of arson on campus, 32 forcible sexual offenses, 1 case of robbery, and 34 cases of burglary. There were no cases of hate crime of any prejudicial type, including race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability.

    • Your comments fall upon deaf ears due to the immense groupthink taking place. How can you expect to have a debate when pseudo intellectual students ask questions like “Why are you collecting data?” You could show them any truth, but if it doesn’t fit their preconcieved narrative then it is immediately rejected. Meanwhile students getting a free education complain about ‘unsafe environments.’ If these upper middle class students really feel that oppressed at Vassar of all places, the real world is going to be even more of a wake up call. Only then, there won’t be an administration to scapegoat for their unhappiness

      • SILENCE ALL – A white man has spoken.

        You hear that? You don’t experience profiling, or injustice, or oppression.

        You are not allowed to name your experience.

        WE, as white people, will inform you when you do or do not experience these things, and the appropriate way to speak about them if/when you do.

        Also, you should be fucking grateful we even LET you get this education, you poor, non-white, less-than bastard, because you certainly didn’t earn it.

        Is that about the gist of it, Chris?

        • Evan — Trying to use racial classification in order to silence other people is pretty messed up. And more importantly it doesn’t make what you are saying any stronger.

          Chris above argued two points:

          1. That analyzing data is important (and the corollary that people who ignore or devalue data are pseudo-intellectuals with preconceptions and must not be looking for the whole picture).

          2. That it is difficult to truly characterize something persecution when the benefits being bestowed by the persecutor so massively outnumber and outweigh the negatives.

          The first point stands. Any plea to use data to study a problem should be applauded not decried. People who want to totally ignore data driven attempts to problem solving are not being serious about tackling the problem.

          The second point is interesting because it asks us to broaden our perspective and to look at a bigger picture. But it doesn’t make a strong point. Not everyone persecuted receives a scholarship. And, even if they did, the fact that someone is being given huge financial assistance from the college probably shouldn’t have any bearing on how they are treated by college staff. To accept that state of affairs would be to institute a class system where those with scholarships are effectively second class students — and that fact alone would undermine the vision for society that the scholarships seek to enact in the first place.

          I thought all of this through without unfairly putting words in Chris’ mouth and without questioning him based on a tiny avatar photo. Maybe this tendency to take the argument to an extreme — mischaracterizing what Chris actually said into some kind of crazed race-domination point of view is part of what he means by ‘groupthink’.

          There are many important considerations in running a school, and there are many ways that Vassar can improve. But it won’t improve properly when those pushing hardest for improvement are so enraged that they fail to acknowledge even a modicum of value in the thoughts of others. I’m sure that there is a diversity of constructive opinion about how to best govern Vassar College. Lets take the time to solve the puzzles and hear people out.

  2. All I hear about is Racial Profiling and how bad it is on campus BUT know one can give me any facts to support and profiling at all ? It seems kind of strange that my fellow students yell it but can’t prove it. Its very upsetting that I have to use a different e-mail address so I am not harassed about what’s going on. I hear about these body cameras that Security Guards will wear. I feel that’s the best thing ever. I bet all the complaints drop right off as soon as they start to wear them. I also bet people will be angst them wearing the cameras . Mark my words THEY WILL BE.. THEY DON’T WANT THE TRUTH TO COME OUT !!. That will be a very interesting study to look at because when I researched it on line every police department that had complaints dropped right off down to hardly nothing at all. My fellow students need to stop saying things that are not true and if that was the case we would not be were we are right now !!

  3. They used to teach us to read critically at Vassar. The officer asked for his faculty ID? Not likely, but a good way to get that “provocative” photo at the top of the piece. It was 3 years ago and he didn’t say anything about it in the meantime? This is someone who accuses people of being white supremacists to their faces.

    It would be nice to see a vertebrate somewhere in the VC administration and faculty to stand up against this type of racial profiteering.

    Don’t think I’ll send you a yearly check to pay for a consulting firm to investigate micro-aggression on campus.

  4. Vassar students always have a tendency to make everything overblown. From my experience at Vassar, the biggest problem with the security department also happened to be its greatest asset. It was casual. It was lax. It was generally trusting. I don’t know anyone who was genuinely afraid of the security personnel. I witnessed more of their behavior than most monitoring all of their radio calls as a member of campus patrol. They tended to be more helpful than anything else. They certainly weren’t often malicious or aggressive. Of course, that isn’t to say that everybody on security has never been malicious or aggressive or racist or any number of other undesirable things — just that it wasn’t the norm.

    Vassar is a place that benefits greatly from bringing a bunch of super smart people together and giving them super wide reign in doing what they please. And, as the statistics show above, it isn’t perfect. But it works out pretty well. I’d bet it works out very well compared to most comparable institutions.

    So reform is great. And lets certainly go after proven rapists and racists. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater and get so protocol heavy that the attitude has a fundamental change. After all, casual attitude created the gray areas that made Vassar feel so much more free — so much more fun and so much better than the outside.

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