Few issues are more important to today’s college and university administrations than allaying growing racial tensions. Vassar College’s own administration took an active position to reconcile racial differences by sending three male Black and Latino Vassar students to Pomona College in California for the 15th Annual Black and Latino Males Conference on Nov. 20-22. Together with Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity Edward Pittman ’82, students Kyle Tam ’16, Matt Ford ’17 and Cristian Ventura ’17 discussed themes of race, class and sexuality with more than 150 other Black and Latino students, faculty and administrators.
The conference, sponsored by the Consortium on High Achievement and Success (CHAS) was attended by students from 26 liberal arts colleges and small universities. Students participated in an array of activities from discussions of coalition politics, masculinity and sexuality, environmental justice and queering racial masculinity to several sessions on making successful applications for graduate and professional schools.
In response to the current social climate across the country, the conference opportuned politically-minded students a place of growth through dialogue. Students were encouraged to transform campus climates from spaces of racism and homophobia fragmenting communities to places of acceptance and inclusion of all voices.
Pittman is a founding member, former president and current steering board member of the CHAS, which was originally founded in 2000. Currently hosted by Trinity College, the consortium includes many of Vassar’s peer colleges and universities, and strives to remove institutional barriers to the high achievement of students of color. The organization also works with presidents, faculty and administrators to develop the inclusivity and equity of their institutions for the benefit of all students. Vassar hosted the conference in 2004 and 2013, and will host the third annual Women of Color Conference on March 4-6.
According to the CHAS website, “The purpose of this annual student conference is to provide a safe space for Black and Latino males to network, learn leadership skills and constructively discuss issues they face as underrepresented students in highly selective liberal arts institutions.” One of the goals of the conference is to foster students with a record of high academic achievement towards improving their ability as campus leaders and continuing their successes. “Students who attend this conference become campus leaders and continue their record of high academic achievement,” Ford remarked.
Ford said the purpose of the conference was to help students learn to navigate and confront white supremacy on college campuses. Ford suggested that the conference specifically improved and enhanced attending students’ understandings and perceptions of the structures blocking students of color from higher education. “I got a lot of warmth and communal respect out of it,” said Ford.
Ford went on to comment, “It was really centered on self-love and self-growth and activism and how we can do our own activism and how we can do our own activism and keep ourselves healthy.”
Pittman had a similar take on the goals of the conference. He stressed the importance of the conference in terms of providing a conducive learning environment where students can grow and learn about their communities. He wrote in an emailed statement, “Ensuring that men of color and, particularly, Black and Latino men, have supportive spaces to engage complex and layered identities is critical to not only their success—but for leadership in their home communities and the colleges they attend. And certainly, promoting academic success and graduate school opportunities is also central to CHAS.”
Pittman discussed why he felt that this conference was so important and what he hoped students would get out of the conference. He said, “My hope was that Kyle, Cristian and Matt would find individual and collective connections to what was important for them and, especially, during the height of campus protests across the country, it’s important to connect with other men of color.”
Another goal of the conference may have been to improve strained communications between Vassar administration and the students. Pittman spoke to this point, addressing what the College hopes students will bring back from the conference to contribute to an ongoing campus discourse. “I believe there is much more that Vassar can do in terms of gender, masculinity and sexuality on campus and it’s even more imperative in contexts for men of color. I’m excited to see what will emerge,” he said.