Working Group readjusts recommendations

The Working Group on Equity and Inclusion recently held several sessions of open office hours intended to solicit student feedback and answer questions about its upcoming recommendations due May 1. With the last session slated for 4-6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24 in Buntrock 142, the group hopes to gather last-minute student input as it finalizes the report it will present to President David Anderson ’74.

“We were planning a town hall last week, but that got canceled because of SGA double-bookings, but we still wanted to get the information and have some face-to-face time with people,” Mariem Zaghdoudi ’20, a member of the Working Group, said.

According to some members of the group, the recommendations will be less specific than originally anticipated due to time constraints.While the charge set forth when the Working Group was created requested a “comprehensive review” and “informed and specific recommendations,” the group instead plans to offer broad recommendations that the Board of Regents will then incorporate into the College’s Strategic Plan, the overarching strategy for achieving its mission statement.

The Working Group hopes that amending the Plan will improve the likelihood of institutional reform and will ensure that the Board is held accountable for the fate of the group’s recommendations.

According to an April 10 email, the group also plans to create a permanent “St. Olaf Advisory Council on Equity and Inclusion to carry this work forward and continue to address important issues related to diversity and individual and institutional racism experienced at St. Olaf.”

The Working Group has a broad charge to, among other things, “identify barriers to … a consistent sense of belonging” facing members of the community and “to recommend ways to eliminate those barriers.” One controversial “barrier” addressed recently was the feeling among some conservative students that they are socially ostracized for their political beliefs. 

The Working Group met in early April with “the leader of the St. Olaf Economics Club and a leader of the campus conservatives,” according to an email sent by co-chairs Glenn Taylor ’73 and Phil Milne ’81. “They shared experiences that showed intolerance and a lack of civility on campus.”

According to Mary Barbosa-Jerez, Head of Strategy for Library Collections and Archives and a member of the Working Group, they have tried to include broad segments of the community in the process in order to minimize any potential backlash to their work and guarantee the durability of their recommendations.

“If we don’t figure out a way to bring the rest of that community along, then we’re not really going to be able to change the institution. So we don’t want to create a movement where there seems to be a little bit of progress, and then there’s a whiplash back, we really want to become a different kind of place, and in order to do that, you can’t just have the ‘woke’ people in the conversation,” Barbosa-Jerez said.

The Working Group’s office hours come after a series of town hall events in January with the group’s consultant, Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington, as well as frequent meetings between the Working Group, the Collective for Change on the Hill and the Task Force on Institutional Racism.