‘Roadmap’ to address racial injustices

The college announced plans to rectify existing racial injustices within the institution, however, some students remain uncertain.

“I feel like (addressing systemic racism) is not a priority (at the institution),” Benedicte Musimisa, ’21, said. “I do not know where their priorities are, but (racism) is something that is definitely not on the top of their (priorities) list.” 

Musimisa is the President of Black Girl Magic and recalled experiencing racism on campus even in her classes.

The college released the “Roadmap for Addressing Systemic Racism & Racial Injustice at Allegheny College,” in an email to the campus community on July 13, following the initial statement in May. The email was sent out by President Hilary Link and Dean of Institutional Diversity Kristin Dukes. 

“As promised, we have spent the past several weeks finalizing our strategic action plan for addressing systemic racism and injustice at Allegheny College,” Link and Dukes wrote. “We want to reiterate that Allegheny College unequivocally condemns racism in any form. We affirm the inherent worth, humanity, and dignity of all BIPOC, within the Allegheny community and beyond … We also recognize that words alone will not suffice. The college has significant work to do in actively confronting racism and supporting our Black community members in tangible ways.”

The college’s plan seeks to address racial injustices on campus and prevent them from occurring again.

“The plan explicitly demonstrates Allegheny College’s unwavering commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice and represents our explicit pledge to doing the hard work, having the hard conversations, and making the bold changes needed to disrupt and dismantle systems of privilege and oppression that exist within our structures, our programs, and our institution,” Dukes said. “Several of the action steps in the plan are already underway, and many of you have already been involved in these steps. Other action steps are new and will require participation in training or workshops along with programmatic review and revision; more information about implementation will be provided. We ask that you read the plan and that you join us in creating change at all levels of the college.”

The plans detailed in “the Roadmap” have generated different responses from members of the campus community.

“I feel like the school did not address (systemic racism),” Musimisa said. “From where I am standing at and looking at it, the school did not address anything about systematic racism … When we got to campus, nothing changed — the school is not doing anything. Students are the ones that are leading the initiative and I believe that it should not be the students leading this initiative — it should be the administration.”

Students have collaborated with the institution to implement new student-centric changes to help prevent racism on campus. Student representatives on committees and task forces oversee diversity and inclusion efforts. Students were involved in creating the policies alongside faculty, staff and administrators. The initiatives were created as a result of campus community feedback, in particular the students who shared their experiences at the institution, Dukes said. 

All employees had to attend diversity competence training and Racism and Reflection Workshops for employees facilitated by the Inclusion, Diversity Equity, Access, Social Justice Center, Dukes said. The Athletic Department staff also participated in this six-week workshop about the Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism, and Engage in Collective Healing over the summer. During the semester, each athletic team is attending similar workshops. 

“We hope to offer this workshop for other offices across the College throughout the academic year,” Dukes added. “The Administrative Executive Committee has also begun educating itself on a trauma-informed approach, as committed to in “the Roadmap”.”

In addition to workshops, senior leadership staff attended the Trauma & Resilient Communities Conference that was sponsored by several local organizations, including Peace4Crawford and Crawford County System of Care. 

“We recognize that systemic racism and racial injustice are a source of trauma for some BIPOC members of the Allegheny community,” Dukes said. “As senior leaders we have a responsibility to understand how trauma impacts Allegheny community members. These are just a few examples of initiatives addressing systemic racism and racial injustice.”

Students can expect a complete update on the status of “the Roadmap” initiatives soon, Dukes said. Every objective in “the Roadmap” is currently being implemented at the institution, she added.

Despite these actions, students still expressed concern that these actions are only performative.

“I feel like some of the things that we have seen and some of the emails that were sent out, were only sent out because it was brought to the faculty’s attention that, yeah, there is an issue with this,” Rosslin Watson, ’22, said. 

Watson mentioned that she only feels represented by the CILC organizations on campus. 

“(“The Roadmap”) is the college’s public declaration of unwavering support for diversity, equity, and inclusion, in particular our support for BIPOC students and employees,” Dukes said. “(It) is an explicit commitment from senior leadership to take immediate action to address systemic racism and racial injustice at Allegheny College … The initiatives from “the Roadmap” are currently being implemented in our campus community and have a record of improving climate and culture at a number of other institutions … If we all fully embrace these initiatives and the principles of restorative practices and a trauma-informed approach that guide “the Roadmap” and hold ourselves accountable for following through with the initiatives put forth, our campus will experience meaningful and lasting change.”

Following the death of George Floyd and the rise of Black Lives Matter protests, the college announced its support for Black, Ingenious and People of Color, especially Allegheny students, in an email to the campus community, on May 31. 

The original statement reads, “Our hearts grieve for the tragic death of George Floyd. Our hearts grieve for our local community and for our country. Along with you, we are heartbroken and grief-stricken by the repeated racial injustices suffered by Blacks in Minneapolis, in Meadville, in Atlanta, in New York City, and in so many places over the past weeks and months. For our students, we see you, we hear you, we hurt alongside you, and we are here for you. We know we have work to do in our own institution to create a place where you feel safe and heard; we need you to work with us to do that. We have much work to do, but it is work we must do; it is the only hope there is for our campus, our community, and our country.”

The revised statement replaces the remark “Blacks” with “Black people.” The revised statement on racial injustices can be found on the college’s website under statements and speeches for the Office of the President.

“To me, Allegheny is a school that what you identify as is something they are really big on,” Watson said. “At Allegheny, (students) have the space to identify as whatever they identify as and they respect it wholeheartedly, so for me, it was a slap in the face that (the college) could not have the same energy when it came to people of color. Not everyone identifies as Black, so for me, it felt like (the college) was picking and choosing when to let people identify as what they want to.” 

Students expressed their concerns about the email to Dukes in a meeting on Sept. 26, however, some students still question the sincerity of the institution’s support.

In an email to the campus community on Wednesday, Sept. 30, Dukes and Link addressed the racially insensitive remark “Blacks” in the previous statement sent to the community on May 31. 

“We used the word ‘Blacks’ when acknowledging the racial violence Black people continue to face in the United States and beyond,” Link and Dukes wrote. “We sincerely apologize for using the term ‘Blacks.’ We understand that the use of the word ‘Blacks’ in this context was seen as an objectification of Black bodies and not a full acknowledgment of Black personhood.” 

The email also acknowledged the significance of language and the impact that words may have on the campus community. 

“We recognize the importance of language and are working to be more respectful and inclusive in our communication with the campus community,” Link and Dukes added. “As we reflect and work on our own education, we want to extend the same challenge to all members of the Allegheny community about the importance of the words we speak to one another … Part of an earnest commitment to creating an inclusive campus community and valuing one another is being mindful of the language we use … Regardless of the intent of our words, we are accountable for their impact.”

The email cited a series of resources that students could use to become more aware of the impact that language may have on other people. 

Despite the apology, some students still question the sincerity of the remarks. 

“That email with the apology was not even an apology,” Musimisa  said. “It felt like more of a ‘oh, we have to do this because we need to make them happy because this is what they are asking for’ — to shut us up.”

Dukes explained that the purpose of apologizing to the campus community was to acknowledge that the institution made a mistake and to express that the mistake was unintentional.

“I learned that some members of the Allegheny community were upset and offended by my and President Link’s use of the word “Blacks” when acknowledging the racial violence Black people continue to face in the United States and beyond,” Dukes said. “During that conversation, I immediately apologized on behalf of President Link and myself and acknowledged a request from this group of students to issue an apology to the entire campus community … (The college) agreed that it was necessary to acknowledge our mistake publicly and openly and to apologize to the campus community.”

After the discussion, Dukes shared the student feedback with Link and College Relations. The statement released on May 31 was revised on the institution’s website, and the social media post was removed. 

Musimisa recalled the college using the term “Blacks” previously to collectively describe BIPOC on Instagram in June. Musimisa was referring to Link’s Instagram post from the summer, which included the term “Blacks” when describing BIPOC. Link and Dukes indicated that they were unaware of the students’ concerns regarding the post. Dukes clarified that the initial apology was intended to account for all of the original communications, including any posts made from the institution. 

“The Instagram post in question was developed from our original communication and neither I nor President Link were aware of the anger students were expressing about the post,” Dukes said. “We deeply regret that the post was left up.”

The post has been removed from Link’s Instagram account. 

“Dean Dukes and President Link only sent out an apology, I think, because they were pressured by the students,” Musimisa said. “People commented under Link’s post (on Instagram) expressing that ‘this is not okay’ and ‘this is not right’ — she posted this all the way in June. Why did she just now take down her post in September? Only because students applied that pressure … Why are you waiting on us to put that pressure on you to do something about it?”

In addition to attempting to hold themselves accountable for mistakes, the college hosted a series of open forums covering potential improvements to the campus climate and students’ inclusivity concerns. The forums were held via Zoom on Wednesday, Oct. 7, from 6–7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 8, from 10–11 a.m. and Friday, Oct. 9, from 4–5 p.m..

“Very early in her tenure, President Link identified the need for a more just and equitable college,” Dukes said. “(She) has committed resources for this, including supporting the expansion of the Office of Institutional Diversity with new positions and creating a campus-wide structure for diversity, inclusion and equity through collaboration.”

Link will soon announce that she plans to elevate the Dean of Institutional Diversity position to report directly to the Office of the President, Dukes indicated. The college is in the process of hiring an Assistant Dean for Institutional Diversity as well as a diversity specialist, Dukes announced. 

“In President Link’s first year, my office collaborated with a number of (offices) to release “the Roadmap”, which to my knowledge is the strongest commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion the college has released in recent years,” Dukes said. “Before the March closing, she had worked alongside me to push for change — holding open forums, meeting with the CILC organizations, committing to, investing in and amplifying the voices of those who feel they have not been heard … We recognize we have a lot of work to do but we are actively demonstrating our commitment to the work. We want to hear the voices of those who are willing to share them — in a constructive way — so that we can amplify and support them.”