President's Working Group on Antiracism

In September 2020, President Laura Walker announced the creation of a President’s Working Group. This group was envisioned to comprise of approximately 20 students, staff, faculty, alumni, and trustees, to envision a future for Bennington College that is more diverse, more inclusive and is actively fighting against racism and exploring the intersections with class, gender, and other vectors of identity and positionality. The charge of the group is to develop a plan to realize this vision.

The group will convene regularly over the next 6 months, and present its recommendations to the full College community in the Spring of 2021. The range of possible topics to be addressed includes:

  • recruiting and retaining faculty and staff of color
  • campus-wide training on bias and inclusive practice
  • establishing measures of accountability for our work to promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)
  • resource allocation (e.g., scholarships, grants, speaker series) to advance DEI work
  • curricular innovations
  • increased visibility of College diversity across all communication venues

This effort will be part of a larger strategic plan related to growth and sustainability of the College, and will proceed in parallel and alignment with DEI work being conducted by faculty committees, disciplinary groups and staff work. 

If you have any questions, suggestions, feedback or ideas for collaboration please contact the PWG via email at pwg@bennington.edu

Group Members

ALUMNI 

  • Paul Cello ’92
  • Danielle Etzler ’86
  • Amy Hikida ’85
  • Woody Lewis ’07, MFAW '05
  • Jennifer Mieres ’82

 

 

FACULTY AND STAFF

  • Joseph Alpar
  • Holly Andersen
  • Steve Bohrer
  • Marguerite Feitlowitz
  • Rage Hezekiah
  • Jen Liu 
  • J. Vanessa Lyon
  • Andrew McIntyre
  • Jennifer Rohn
  • Jocelyn Salcedo ’18
  • Özge Savaş
  • Stephen Shapiro
  • Carter Strong

 

    STUDENTS

    • Alexandra Brkic '24
    • Kayly Hernandez Panameno ’22
    • Sawyer London ’24
    • Ulyana Shkel ’23

    TRUSTEES

    • Mareme Dieng '20
    • Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan '91
    • Nicholas A. Stephens ’77

    Committees and Committee Members

    ANTI-RACIST LEARNING

    • Paul Cello ’92
    • Carter Strong
    • Jennifer Mieres ’82
    • Jocelyn Salcedo ’18
    • Mareme Dieng '20
    • Sawyer London ’24

     

    ANTI-RACIST POLICIES AND PRACTICES

    • Alexandra Brkic '24
    • Holly Andersen
    • Rage Hezekiah
    • Jen Liu 
    • Andrew McIntyre

     

     

    CAMPUS CLIMATE SURVEY

    • Stephen Shapiro
    • Amy Hikida ’85
    • Ara Aman ’21
    • Özge Savaş
    • Nicholas A. Stephens ’77

     

    ACADEMIC LIFE, CURRICULUM AND PEDAGOGY

    • Danielle Etzler ’86
    • Joseph Alpar
    • Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan '91
    • J. Vanessa Lyon
    • Marguerite Feitlowitz

     

      STUDENT EXPERIENCE

      • Ulyana Shkel ’23
      • Steve Bohrer
      • Jennifer Rohn
      • Kayly Hernandez Panameno ’22

      President's Office Administrative and Management Team

      Ara Aman '21, Elio Jahaj '18, Meredith McCoy, and Delia Saenz

       

      Recommended Readings and Trainings

      How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi
      Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.
      More information.

      Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
      In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

      Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.
      More information.
       

      On Being Included by Sara Ahmed
      What does diversity do? What are we doing when we use the language of diversity? Sara Ahmed offers an account of the diversity world based on interviews with diversity practitioners in higher education, as well as her own experience of doing diversity work. Diversity is an ordinary, even unremarkable, feature of institutional life. Yet diversity practitioners often experience institutions as resistant to their work, as captured through their use of the metaphor of the "brick wall." On Being Included offers an explanation of this apparent paradox. It explores the gap between symbolic commitments to diversity and the experience of those who embody diversity. Commitments to diversity are understood as "non-performatives" that do not bring about what they name. The book provides an account of institutional whiteness and shows how racism can be obscured by the institutionalization of diversity. Diversity is used as evidence that institutions do not have a problem with racism. On Being Included offers a critique of what happens when diversity is offered as a solution. It also shows how diversity workers generate knowledge of institutions in attempting to transform them.
      More information.

      Messages to the Community

       

      February 24, 2021

      Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

      As Field Work Term comes to its close, we hope you are well and ready to begin the Spring term! February is a month of paramount importance as we observe and celebrate Black History Month. As a community, we have diverse relationships to the stories we elevate and remember this month and to the achievements—past, present, and future—of Black leaders, ancestors, artists, thinkers, researchers, and community makers that we celebrate. It is a time in which we must recommit to investigating the injustices of our collective and national history while together centering Black history in its immense richness and diversity. 

      Three months ago, the President’s Working Group on Anti-Racism was convened in order to envision and implement a campus-wide strategy for realizing the College’s commitment to anti-racism in all aspects of institutional life—including but not limited to curricular planning, student experience, hiring, and communications. We wanted to take a moment to provide you with a report on the group’s work thus far. 

      Over the course of our first four meetings, we have consolidated the group’s collective understanding of anti-racism as it relates to our community through shared reflection and by reading the work of Ibram X. Kendi, Sara Ahmed, and Isabel Wilkerson. It is our collective conviction that anti-racism is a non-negotiable value for the Bennington College campus to embody not only in its vision, but also in implementation and experience. In this process we also encountered challenges and roadblocks, which led us to dismiss the consultancy firm that was hired to support us. We felt that their priorities and expertise did not align with the group’s anti-racist mandate.

       

      Moving forward

      The Working Group is now turning its attention to formulating both near-term and long-term strategies for reforming Bennington’s culture and policies, as the practice of anti-racism is not wholly a matter of education. At this inflection point, five task forces will be created to advise on specific goals. Each task force will have a charge, a timeline and a chair.

      The Five Task Forces are:

      1. Campus Climate Survey will work with the group to assess the desirability and options for conducting a climate survey of students, faculty and staff. This process will be carried out during the Spring term. 
      2. Education will lead the planning and presentation of public events, as well as other ways to advance understanding and problem solving about anti-racism and DEI at Bennington and beyond. The group will also recommend and oversee implementation for all constituents to develop tools for anti-racist community building. 
      3. Policies and practices will review and provide feedback on hiring, discrimination and bias policies and procedures and engage with various campus constituencies to ensure langauge and process aligns with anti-racist values.
      4. Academic Life, Curriculum, and Pedagogy will begin to work with faculty groups and individuals to identify and suggest additions to the current curriculum with a goal of ensuring that DEI work is evaluated as part of the overall assessment of faculty. 
      5. Student Experience will respond to feedback from students and recommend ways to augment and support the student experience for Black, POC and international students.


       

      Community Education

      We invite you to take part in the following near-term opportunities with us. Details will be shared with the community as the events are finalized. 

      Queen’s Girl: Black in the Green Mountains. In partnership with Everyman Theatre, Bennington College will provide online access to the community to the third and final part of the Queen’s Girl trilogy written by alum Caleen Sinnette Jennings '72. We would like to thank David Guzman ’21 and Imara Glimph ’23 for bringing this to our attention and for their continued dedication to advancing inclusion within our community. 

      Loretta J. Ross, Visiting Professor, Smith College. Academic, feminist author and public intellectual Loretta J. Ross will join the community in the following month in a discussion about white supremacy as a feature of race and gender politics in contemporary U.S. society and how to respond to this ideology. 

      Black History Month. A list of educational resources and exhibits available this month. 


       

      Anti-Racism

      We would like to share with you some of the insights that have emerged in the Working Group’s process of education and community building. As expected, our learning strongly underscores the importance of a specifically anti-racist vision for the College.

      We recognize that the considered use of language can be an act of mutual care and solidarity as well as a means of saying “I believe you” to those we care about. Naming our work as “anti-racism” is an acknowledgement of the power of systemic forms of racial injustice at Bennington College and in wider national, global, and historical contexts. Systemic racism so deeply structures the lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students, staff, and faculty, that creating a culture in which each member of our community survives and thrives, requires practices that are intentionally anti-racist. We recognize that ours is a community in which racialized trauma has been and continues to be inflicted and in which systemic, institutional, and interpersonal forms of racism remain ever-present. Choosing to orient our work in a way that is accountable to the reality of those traumatic effects is a necessary step toward creating a truly inclusive community, in line with our institutional values.

      Furthermore, by centering anti-racism in our planning, we commit ourselves to listening to the wisdom not only of our own campus community, but of the larger community of historical and contemporary thinkers, leaders, and activists dedicated to equity and social justice who have articulated a specifically anti-racist vision for the future. In particular, we commit to honoring the political thought and practice of Black, Indigenous, and woman and queer of color feminists who have attested to the importance of grounding work for equity in an intersectional analysis of race, class, gender, and ability. The Working Group looks to examples such as the Combahee River Collective, Angela Davis, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Cheryl Harris, Michelle Alexander, Janet Mock, Ijeoma Oluo, Reina Gossett, Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors. As we move forward with our work, we invite you to join with us in studying their examples and exploring ways in which you can internalize their wisdom in all your engagements–whether it is planning a course, or having a casual conversation with a friend. Let us all commit ourselves to being actively anti-racist.

      We would like to acknowledge that this work is built on Bennington’s founding vision of an inclusive and equitable future and on the work led by President Mariko Silver to build a community shaped by a lived commitment to  the values of inclusivity and internationalism. During her tenure as the VP of Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Delia Saenz fiercely advocated for an intentional approach to equity through the adoption of anti-rascist practices. President Walker and the President’s Working Group are building on these tireless efforts. 

      Please expect further updates from us as the Working Group shifts toward the creation of strategic recommendations for fulfilling the hope of an anti-racist College community, realized in the curriculum, in hiring, in student experience, in structures of mutual education and accountability, and in the College’s strategic communications. Thank you for your attention.

       

      On behalf of the President’s Working Group, 

      Carter Strong and Ara Aman ’21