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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Harvey Wilhelm
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Opinion: We demand Grinnell College policies safeguard Black students. Here’s how.

Concerned Black Students members meet to discuss a plan of action, with over 70 people attending, in 2015. Photo by Jenny Chi.

By Raven McClendon and Errol Blackstone

A white professor’s use of the n-word, inappropriate regardless of context, has prompted outrage among students. That professor’s choice to use the word was racist and using academic freedom as justification for their actions insults Black students. Errol Blackstone ’20 and I (Raven McClendon ’22) were disgusted by the privilege on display. A white man’s “right” to academic freedom should never be more important than the outcry of harmed students.

We are tired of battling racism while merely trying to learn. We are disappointed that Grinnell College has a history of bringing Black students here for diversity without ensuring that the campus and its policies are actually inclusive. If Grinnell College cannot honor its Non-Discrimination Clause, then it might as well be removed because, currently, the clause feels dishonest.

Disgusted, Errol sprang into action! He created two Google Forms. One form is titled “Testimonies Against Racial Injustice At Grinnell College;” use this if you have had a harmful encounter with a racist professor. If you are without testimony, but you know that racism has no place in the classroom, please fill out the form for support. If you agree that white professors should not say, write, or sign racial slurs, support us in any way you can.

While we believe that no professor who has committed racist actions should be shielded from the possibility of termination, we recognize that an anti-racist Grinnell College will require more than firing professors. As long as professors remain our professors, they can hold themselves to our standards. It is imperative that Grinnell College policies safeguard the academic and mental success of the most disrespected demographic. Our faculty should adhere to the standards that students set for them.

Our demands will alter the Grinnell College Policy as well as student/faculty/staff handbooks. Our demands center the well-being of Black students, healing, and harm reduction.

Read our demands. If you want to see our changes implemented, if you care about reducing the harm done unto Black students, give us your support. We will need it.

We demand:

  1. The removal of the current Academic Freedom and Integrity clause. This clause should be replaced with a new Racial Slur Clause.


  1. Viable and meaningful consequences for faculty who perpetrate racism.


  1. Grinnell College funds an anti-racist task force comprised solely of students.


  1. The SEPC Coordinator, the VPAA and select SEPC members are added to the advisory board. See Dismissal Clause.


  1. The SEPC Coordinator or SEPC members may observe and evaluate professors/classes either randomly or at a scheduled time.


  1. All classes begin with an acknowledgement of Indigenous land, and the first five minutes of every class, throughout the school year, should be dedicated to Black Lives Matter.


  1. The length of professor contracts be common knowledge.


  1. Removal of punitive attendance policies.


  1. Grading by professors and by student graders is done in groups of two or three to alleviate explicit or implicit bias.


  1. The collection of demographic data on students who receive Academic Progress Reports. The data should be reviewed by the Chief Diversity Officer.


  1. Professors must communicate with students one-on-one prior to sending an Academic Progress Report.


  1. The collection of demographic data on all the students a Campus Safety officer interacts with. The data should be reviewed by the Chief Diversity Officer.


  1. The Grinnell College Student Handbook be rewritten with the assistance of SGA Cabinet/Senators.


  1. The implementation of an age discrimination policy that protects students from ageism.


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  • L

    Lesley WilliamsAug 13, 2020 at 9:52 am

    Can you point us to some info about the incident with the racial slur?

    Can you clarify what the roles of SEPC and VPAA are?

    It sounds as though some of these demands would violate tenure requirements which would set a terrible precedent. There needs to be another way to discipline and hold faculty accountable for making racist comments. A “Racial Slurs” clause would be both overly specific (is that the only racist behavior to be addressed?And what about say LGBTQ or misogynistic slurs?) and overly imprecise (would reading a text from say Dick Gregory with the N word count as a slur?).

    A similar incident occurred at our local high school; a teacher used the N word in class as a demonstration of racist attitudes, and was rightly chastised and disciplined with a suspension. He apologized, he now has a better understanding of why using that word, even with good intentions is harmful. The school retained an otherwise excellent teacher.

    Many of the demands about grading policy, Academic Progress, and the anti racism task force sound excellent. But pro forma requirements like doing a land acknowledgement and racism discussion in every class will quickly become meaningless rote exercises. Making people say certain words over and over does not lead to change. Doesn’t work with the Pledge of Allegiance; won’t work here.

    To echo Sharon’s suggestion: Grinnell could commit to a racial equity audit and toolkit with the help of an organization like the Government Alliance on Race and Equity. All policies should be examined for racial bias or disparate impact: admissions, grading, housing, discipline.

    Lesley, African American alum, ‘82

  • J

    Jan VoelkelAug 6, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    As the parent of an incoming black student, I would like to know what issues have been raised that specifically pertain to Black students at Grinnell.

  • S

    Sharyn ObsatzAug 5, 2020 at 2:29 pm

    One suggestion would be to have Grinnell professors and staff participate in a series of Zoom training workshops specifically targeted at helping them understand institutional racism and power dynamics in higher education. For example, CORA offers a powerful Black Minds Matter series that is free and viewed by thousands of teachers and professors.
    A professor who completes these trainings would realize why using a racial slur in class and in correspondence causes harm. They also would better understand how the difference in power between professor and student adds weight and damage to their actions.