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Updated: 6 hours 55 min ago

Current focused efforts to address rising racial tension at St. Olaf

Fri, 07/03/2020 - 12:42pm

Following the publication of former professor of theater Michelle Gibbs and former professor of social work and family studies Lisa Moore’s letters to faculty, various groups, both new and pre-existing, responded to concerns about race and culture at St. Olaf.

Below is more information provided by these various groups affiliated with the St. Olaf community at the time of publication.

Oles for Racial Awareness, Change and Equity (ORACE)
Formation and Membership: ORACE began as a grassroots alumni response to the campus protests of May 2017. The group includes community members who “exist to support St. Olaf in becoming an anti-racist institution that consciously chooses to investigate, understand, and challenge racism through academics, policy, and campus life,” according to the group’s Facebook page.

Mission and Actions: The group aims to support the RACE program and other St. Olaf community members “committed to leading positive change.”

On July 1, the group created a petition calling for the Board of Regents to immediately begin a search for a new President and Provost of the College who “have the qualities, experience, and skills necessary in this critical transformational moment.” The petition also highlights several areas of leadership awareness, which include understanding race and racism historically, examining every aspect of the College through an anti-racist lens, and embracing the inherent discomfort of anti-racist work.

Find out more:
https://www.change.org/p/to-st-olaf-board-of-regents-a-call-for-new-leadership-at-st-olaf-college
https://www.facebook.com/groups/432044857259343

@stolafanonymous
Formation and Membership: In the account’s first post on June 28, the group shared that “@stolafanonymous exists to amplify the voices of BIPOC and other marginalized identities that have passed through St. Olaf’s campus. We are run by BIPOC, International, and Queer Alumnae.”

Mission and Actions: At the time of publication, the account has shared over 30 stories from current and past St. Olaf students recounting their negative experiences as a part of marginalized groups at the College.


Find out more: https://www.instagram.com/stolafanonymous/

@stolaf_out
Formation and Membership: Comprised of BIPOC alumni who have graduated in the past decade, the St. Olaf Out group began posting calls to action via Instagram on July 1.

Mission and Actions:  The “Call for Action” has three “non-negotiable” hashtagged stances — #PDAOut, #OutWithTheOle and #DefundOlaf. The group is calling for these demands to be met prior to the beginning of the fall 2020 semester, As for longer term goals, “We are seeking for a new administration that will lead with an anti-racist and decolonizing approach to the curriculum, student affairs, and the campus as a whole,” the group told the Messenger via direct message.

For more information: https://www.instagram.com/stolaf_out/

Marginalized And Diverse Faculty of Color Anti-Racism Coalition (MADFACS)
Formation and Membership: According to the statement issued June 21, “MAD FACs is a coalition of St. Olaf faculty who identify with the experiences of faculty members who recently departed due to a hostile, racial work environment.” The group formed following the release of Gibbs’ and Moore’s letters. 

Mission and Actions: As described in the June 21 statement, “Our purposes are to address complaints about white supremacy at St. Olaf College and dismantle the institutional culture and practices that produce them.” According to the group’s website, MAD FACs intends to continue standing in solidarity with the experiences of faculty of color at the College by publishing statements and requests for action. 

Find out more: madfacs.net

Task Force to Confront Structural Racism at St. Olaf College
Formation and Membership: The task force was formed by faculty and staff members following the release of Gibbs’ letter. The group is still being finalized and co-chairs anticipate student as well as faculty and staff involvement moving forward.

Mission and Actions: Immediate next steps for the task force include solidifying faculty and staff members’ involvement, seeking to include students in their work and deciding on their first action item. The task force plans to establish subcommittees to focus on specific initiatives.

Find out more: https://www.theolafmessenger.com/2020/former-professor-michelle-gibbs-implicates-ole-culture-in-letter-following-resignation-sparks-discussion-of-anti-racist-action-on-campus/

Community reflections
Hosted on the official College website, the page is a call for “community members to share their reflections and calls to action”.

Find out more: https://wp.stolaf.edu/equity-inclusion/community-reflections/

The Olaf Messenger is committed to providing ongoing coverage. Check back for more information.

Categories: Colleges

Former professor Michelle Gibbs implicates “Ole culture” in letter following resignation, sparks discussion of anti-racist action on campus

Mon, 06/22/2020 - 2:43am

“I am leaving St. Olaf College because as a Black woman I don’t have the full support of my white colleagues at the college,” former assistant professor of theater Michelle Gibbs wrote in a letter to faculty on June 13, detailing her account as a Black professor at St. Olaf. 

The letter follows her resignation from the school, announced in the spring semester of 2020. In the letter, Gibbs cites specific reasons for leaving, which include “white rage” in the classroom and “Ole culture”, an undefined term that seems to reference the College’s focus on whiteness as the norm.

“This past year, I taught in constant fear of my white students,” Gibbs wrote. “I knew if I angered them, it could mean my job, or fear that they would come for my career.”

During her time at St. Olaf, Gibbs reports that she moved about the College feeling as if her different ways of teaching were viewed as a hindrance, and felt she was being monitored by white faculty, deans and the provost. 

Gibbs finished her letter by imploring white faculty to do hard anti-racist work together in order to support faculty of color at the College. She explained that if things did not change, Black faculty would continue to leave the school. 

“Once you learn how to be an ally, then you can teach white students how to be allies as well,” Gibbs wrote. “Maybe then there will be space to include all types of teaching pedagogies from diverse bodies that aren’t dependent on understanding Ole culture to be effective.”

The full text of Gibbs’ letter is embedded at the bottom of this article.

Many faculty members responded to her letter voicing their support for Gibbs and sadness that she would be leaving, as well as lamenting her experiences with racism in the classroom and across campus. 

Soon after, visiting assistant professor of religion Kelly Figueroa-Ray and assistant professor of music Rehanna Kheshgi spearheaded the creation of the Task Force to Confront Institutional Racism at St. Olaf College. Staff members Alyssa Melby and Theresa Heath were brought in as co-chairs.

The task force hosted a Zoom meeting open to all faculty and staff on June 15, just two days after Gibbs sent her letter. The meeting had over 150 members in attendance. 

The leaders of the task force created four headings in their agenda largely based on Gibbs’ email — “Lack of support for faculty of color,” “Guise of Effective Teaching and Learning / Ole Culture Standards and Norms,” “Lack of protection for faculty of color / acknowledgement of white rage,” and “Administration’s insufficient response to 2017 campus protests.”

A copy of the entire meeting agenda is embedded at the bottom of this article.

Immediate next steps for the task force include solidifying faculty and staff members’ involvement, seeking to include students in their work and deciding on their first action item. The task force plans to establish subcommittees composed of staff, faculty and students to focus on specific initiatives and will vote on their first action item late next week at their second meeting.

The temporary “Critical Analysis of Ole Culture” subcommittee will, “focus specifically on interrogating Ole Culture and devising ways to uncover and expose its underlying norms that center whiteness and how it impacts how various people experience life on campus,” the task force wrote in an email to the Messenger.

At the June 15 meeting, many faculty and staff expressed that “Ole Culture,” as detailed in Gibbs’ letter, is a concept that must be explored immediately.

The full video of the meeting is linked at the bottom of this article. 

The same day this group met, Lisa Moore, former associate professor of social work and family studies, offered her support for Gibbs in an email to faculty. Moore also left the College following the 2019/20 school year and echoed similar sentiments to Gibbs regarding her experience as a Black professor. 

In her message, Moore unpacked the roles Black women are forced to play at St. Olaf. She referenced Patricia Hill Collins’ explanation of Black women being viewed as “Mammies, Matriarchs, or Welfare Queens,” concepts that help give context to the underlying racist expectations placed on Black women faculty specifically. 

The full text of Moore’s letter is embedded at the bottom of this article.

Moore also explained the implications of “Ole culture” and elaborated that in order to see change in meaningful ways, that very culture must be disrupted entirely.

“[Addressing anti-blackness and racism] means going beyond thinking about how Black and Brown faculty can survive in the system and focus on changing the system itself,” Moore wrote. “Systems change almost always means letting go of ways of functioning that are comfortable for the majority and those who hold power. Making those kinds of changes shakes the roots of institutions.”

Similar to Gibbs, Moore warned the College that the hiring and retention of Black faculty would continue to be difficult, explaining that “[Gibbs’] experience will absolutely make it harder to recruit Black women here for positions.”

Provost Marci Sortor confirmed that the difficulty in hiring Black faculty is something the College has been dealing with for a long time. She elaborated about the school’s institutional goal to have “at least 30% of tenure track appointments be diverse” and explained that search committees are required to go through anti-bias training when hiring new faculty.

Looking toward the future, Sortor acknowledged some of the actions both the Faculty Governance Committee and the Council for Equity and Inclusion plan to take to address diversity and inclusion amongst faculty.

“At present, the campus, state, and national discussion is so dynamic that we will take the time needed to hear from these voices before finalizing our recommendations,” Sortor wrote. “We will be calling on the college to focus in 2020/21 specifically on race and the Black experience as part of our work to achieve the Vision [for Equity and Inclusion].” 

While Sortor outlined current actions and next steps for the College, she acknowledged that work is ongoing.

“We aren’t perfect in it, but the vast majority of those with whom I work feel responsibility for how our campus culture affects colleagues and students of color,” Sortor wrote. “That said, we still have plenty of work to do to educate ourselves and do better as mentors and colleagues.”

The experiences of Gibbs and Moore are not isolated cases. Other faculty of color expressed similar feelings about racism and intolerance on campus through a statement of solidarity and intent shared by the Marginalized and Diverse Faculty of Color Anti-Racism Coalition (Mad Facs). 

Mad Facs is a new group of current faculty, who remain anonymous because they “fear retaliation.” They published a statement supporting and echoing Gibbs’ and Moore’s thoughts. That full statement is embedded at the bottom of this article. The group intends to publish more in the near future.

“We grieve the immeasurable ways that their creativity, intellectual labor, and pedagogies could have transformed the college into an institution where Black women professors and all Black and Brown faculty thrive,” the group wrote.

Mad Facs addressed the same idea of “Ole Culture” and provided a more exact explanation of the idea while citing its dismantling as their driving force.

“Ole Culture” is a euphemism for a racial legacy of which St. Olaf is a dedicated monument,” the group wrote. “Standing against this legacy is the foundation of our solidarity.”

These sentiments shared by Black faculty are not singular and are not new, and, as Moore explained in her letter, they reflect a legacy that is anti-Black and permeate all aspects of campus. 

“Anti-blackness is insidious.” Moore wrote. “St. Olaf embodies anti-blackness in a way that few places I have ever worked have, it’s why I had to walk around with headphones on whenever I left my office, the whiteness of campus felt oppressive in a way that no other place I have worked has.”

Michelle Gibbs — Why I am leaving St. Olaf College

Lisa Moore — Observations

Mad Facs — A Statement of Solidarity and Intent

Faculty and Staff Discussion Meeting Agenda

The Taskforce to Confront Institutional Racism — June 15 Zoom

peacor1@stolaf.edu
stroth2@stolaf.edu

 

Categories: Colleges

Letter from the Editors

Sat, 06/06/2020 - 10:37pm

St. Olaf Community,

First, we would like to acknowledge that we should have written this letter many days ago. Black Lives Matter at The Mess, and we should have voiced that immediately. We stand with those mourning the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black people lost to police brutality. 

We want to share some updates on actions our organization will take in response to the movement sweeping our world. 

We will include anti-bias training in our on-boarding week in the fall, a training that will be repeated each year for all staff members. Remaining oriented towards justice is vital in the world of reporting, and we want each of our team members to have concrete training that will keep this goal in mind at all times.

We will increase our tabling and reach out to specific organizations on campus to increase the voices that are represented by our newspaper. We want all students to feel included and involved in campus news, and we will actively use our marketing team to ensure all students are connected.

We will have a set of books in our office next year detailing anti-racism and journalistic accountability that all our staff members and writers can check out at any time. These provided resources will encourage our staff to educate themselves and commit to anti-racism both personally and in their reporting.

At this time, we also feel it is our duty to recall the protests against racism that happened at St. Olaf three years ago. We want to build the institutional memory of those events so that we can continue the work started in April of 2017. 

We are calling attention to the issue of The Messenger published on the two year anniversary of the protests, ‘Where the Inequity Lies,’ written and reported by Avery Ellfeldt ’19. We will continue to research the demands issued by The Collective for Change on the Hill and signed by President David Anderson, and we will publish an update on the four year anniversary of the protests this coming school year. 

Journalism is a powerful tool, and we strive to use that tool in the best way we can. Media often shapes how we think, and in a civil rights movement like the one we are currently experiencing, it is imperative that reporting is honest and uplifts the correct narrative. 

We hope you all stay safe and well in these times of upheaval, and we hope that the momentum gathered this past week launches us into a more just future.

Grace Peacore and Jacob Maranda

Managing Editor and Executive Editor

Categories: Colleges

Letter from the Editors

Sat, 06/06/2020 - 10:37pm

St. Olaf Community,

First, we would like to acknowledge that we should have written this letter many days ago. Black Lives Matter at The Mess, and we should have voiced that immediately. We stand with those mourning the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black people lost to police brutality. 

We want to share some updates on actions our organization will take in response to the movement sweeping our world. 

We will include anti-bias training in our on-boarding week in the fall, a training that will be repeated each year for all staff members. Remaining oriented towards justice is vital in the world of reporting, and we want each of our team members to have concrete training that will keep this goal in mind at all times.

We will increase our tabling and reach out to specific organizations on campus to increase the voices that are represented by our newspaper. We want all students to feel included and involved in campus news, and we will actively use our marketing team to ensure all students are connected.

We will have a set of books in our office next year detailing anti-racism and journalistic accountability that all our staff members and writers can check out at any time. These provided resources will encourage our staff to educate themselves and commit to anti-racism both personally and in their reporting.

At this time, we also feel it is our duty to recall the protests against racism that happened at St. Olaf three years ago. We want to build the institutional memory of those events so that we can continue the work started in April of 2017. 

We are calling attention to the issue of The Messenger published on the two year anniversary of the protests, ‘Where the Inequity Lies,’ written and reported by Avery Ellfeldt ’19. We will continue to research the demands issued by The Collective for Change on the Hill and signed by President David Anderson, and we will publish an update on the four year anniversary of the protests this coming school year. 

Journalism is a powerful tool, and we strive to use that tool in the best way we can. Media often shapes how we think, and in a civil rights movement like the one we are currently experiencing, it is imperative that reporting is honest and uplifts the correct narrative. 

We hope you all stay safe and well in these times of upheaval, and we hope that the momentum gathered this past week launches us into a more just future.

Grace Peacore and Jacob Maranda

Managing Editor and Executive Editor

Categories: Colleges