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Student group protests administration’s diversity policies

Many posters, including this one, could be seen around campus this week attacking the administration’s diversity policies. Photograph by Avery Rowlison.
By Peter Sullivan

A group of students has been postering campus buildings over the past week with concerns about the administration’s handling of diversity issues. Dean of the College Paula Smith sent an all-campus email Tuesday in response, but the students say they are not satisfied with what she wrote.

The group signed an open letter to President Raynard Kington, calling itself “Students Who Are Outraged and Paying Attention.” The letter raised issues such as what it says is a lack of adequate staffing in diversity-related departments, a lack of transparency in decision-making and problems with moving the diversity office under Academic Affairs.

One of the first posters to appear said, “How many years does it take for Grinnell to get a ‘fully staffed and functional’ diversity inclusion department for its students? 167 years (+5 according to President Kington) Congrats to the Class of 2022 for getting to experience it!!!!”

The quotation from the poster came from a Feb. 22 S&B article where Kington said he hopes to have the diversity office “fully staffed and functional” in five years. “Recently, several students have publicly expressed concern about the staffing to support diversity at Grinnell College,” Smith wrote in her all-campus email. “Because their questions relate to one of our most strongly held values, I want to respond in a public way as well, and share information about what we are doing to support diversity at Grinnell.”

Many posters, including this one, could be seen around campus this week attacking the administration’s diversity policies. Photograph by Avery Rowlison.

She announced that the College has renewed its relationship with the Posse Foundation. The College reviewed the success of the program this year before making the decision.

She encouraged students to email Kington at or go to his weekly office hours.

She added that the College is in the process of hiring a Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Dean of the College. The College intends whomever is hired to understand both diversity and its connection to academics.

“In order to support the academic success of our diverse student body we have moved the diversity function directly into Academic Affairs,” she wrote.

Michael Benitez, the Director of Intercultural Engagement and Leadership—who is leaving after this year for a job at another institution—as well as the group postering, have concerns about this change, saying all-around support for multicultural students in areas beyond just academics is important.

“We are delighted that Paula took the time to read and respond to our posters,” the group wrote in an open letter to Kington posted around campus. “However, the content of the email doesn’t address the real issues we have and will continue to raise.”

The letter addressed the shift of the diversity office to Academic Affairs by asking, “Why was there no communication with students and faculty who have been here for years and whom are personally effected [sic] by this change?”

The letter also addressed the staff turnover at diversity departments. Intercultural Affairs Associate Daria Slick left in spring 2011 and Vice President for Diversity and Achievement Elena Bernal ’94 left in spring 2012. Benitez is the latest departure.

“On the issue of stability, why isn’t there a fully functioning diversity department with a supporting staff? Why has the only thing consistent with the office been the overturns of the staff?” the letter said.

Shaquall Brown ’15, one of the students involved with the posters, said there is a disconnect between having diversity and supporting it at the College.

“Grinnell tends to promote [diversity,] but once you have all these diverse students, how are you supporting them?” she said.

She reiterated the letter’s position that Smith’s email was unsatisfactory.

“We didn’t expect it to come from Paula,” she said. “I thought Raynard himself was going to respond.”

She added that more discussion with Kington is needed, and that many students have class or are otherwise not able to go to his office hours.

“I want him to address us himself and have a town hall,” she said.

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  • F

    FredMar 25, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Here’s the truth — everyone on campus is afraid to challenge the president on inclusion and diversity because of who he is — kinda the reverse of assuming prejudice in white/hetero; we all are supposed to believe he is champion of diversity because he is black/gay.

    That’s gotta end.

    Staff turnover and failure to fully staff a critical department pale against the more troubling transfer of diversity/inclusion to academic supervision and away from student life supervision. It implies, so stereotypically, that diversity/inclusion needs to support the academic performance of members of various non-majority groups(get it, we aren’t as smart).

    Even partially staffed, the functional placement of diversity/inclusion under student life sent the correct message that diversity/inclusion was a campus-wide and 24/7 part of the entire campus community — as relevant inside the dorms, athletics, the arts, and everywhere as it is in the classroom.

    This current move by the untouchable president really, truly is setting us back. If the US is going to have a non-white majority by 2042 (when our kids are heading to college), why can’t a such a supposedly forward looking place like Grinnell get it now?

    This emperor has no clothes and its time he was called on it.

  • D

    DavidMar 18, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    I recall having conversations while I was a student with faculty of color and hearing that the lack of diversity in town made Grinnell a less than idea location for they and their families to live. Many non-White professors lived in Des Moines or Iowa City and commuted to work each day. This contributed to challenges finding faculty and staff of diverse backgrounds that were interested in coming to Grinnell. I wonder- is this still the case?

    David Nathan ’01

  • A

    AlumMar 12, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Nice article.