Pain and Hope

I am optimistic about our success and our future.
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Dear Friends: This issue of the Alumnae Bulletin, guest-edited by Jacqueline Handy ’14 and Taytiana Welch-McClure ’13, gathers reflections from Black alumnae/i and students that span 65 years in the life of the College. I extend my thanks to the editors for their terrific work and to all of the contributors for sharing and honoring the experiences of Black students across so many generations. Together, these stories chronicle what novelist Richard Wright called “an uneasily tied knot of pain and hope whose snarled strands converge from many points of time and space”: a complex intertwining of intellectual excitement with intellectual alienation, loneliness with the formation of close bonds (during and after college), and experiences of structural and cultural racism with personal and collective resilience and resistance. They illuminate the “diversity in Blackness,” in the words of contributor Janielle Vidal ’14, and they underscore the imperative to address the legacy of racism and other forms of bias within the structures of the College and among those of us who have benefited from racial privilege.

Equity and inclusion are critical to excellence at Bryn Mawr. These values must be at the core of a Bryn Mawr experience. As the College’s mission statement declares:

Equity and inclusion serve as the engine for excellence and innovation. A commitment to racial justice and to equity across all aspects of diversity propels our students, faculty, and staff to reflect upon and work to build fair, open, and welcoming institutional structures, values, and culture.

When I became president of the College, I heard a call to action from students, faculty, staff, and alumnae/i to live these aspirations, and since April 2016, the College has published a framework for action on diversity, equity, and inclusion and an annual report on progress toward those goals. Among the outcomes of this work, the College has

  • revised the College’s mission statement to make clear that equity, inclusion, and racial justice are core values of the College and inform all of our work,
  • made significant progress in diversifying the faculty, with important leadership from Mary Osirim (Provost from 2013–2020): the percentage of faculty of color grew from 13.9 percent in fall 2013 to 33.9 percent in fall 2020,
  • invested in faculty education on inclusive teaching and faculty and staff education about implicit bias and tools to advance racial equity,
  • in applying these racial equity tools, developed new approaches to alumnae/i engagement, programming, and communication (including the formation of Tapestry and, through the collaborative leadership of some BIPOC alumnae/i, the revitalization of the Black Alumnae/i Fund) to better serve and engage our diverse alumnae/i,
  • added staffing in Residential Life, Counseling, and the Pensby Center to provide additional services for students of color,
  • revised our financial aid approach to provide more grant support for students receiving financial aid and, in particular, for low-income students,
  • achieved a base-level living wage of $15/hour for all fulltime staff,
  • galvanized by student activism, confronted the impact of eugenics and racism in the institution’s founding and history, continuing work to tell all of our histories.

The College’s Board of Trustees also has worked to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion within its own governance structures by increasing diversity within its membership and committee leadership; engaging in education and training on issues of equity and anti-racism; and charging every Board committee with formulating goals to identify structural obstacles and create a plan of action to advance racial equity.

These efforts by the College have been significant and have had real impact. Yet even as we mark our progress, they are not sufficient. We must do more. The student-led strike this past fall was a deep reminder of the harm of racism and alienation that continues to be felt by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) students, faculty, and staff. Students asked that each individual on campus recognize the intergenerational experience of pain carried especially by Black students. Alumnae/i contributors to this issue of the Bulletin share some of those experiences, which both individuals and the institution must acknowledge as part of a process of reckoning, reconciliation, and transformation that is needed at Bryn Mawr. Broad issues of racial injustice in the United States contribute to the pain, frustration, and anger that BIPOC community members feel. The combination of repeated acts of violence against Black people in the nation and increasingly bold white supremacist actions add to a sense of urgency that the College intensify its efforts to advance racial justice.

The activism of our students this fall was a historic call to action, and my hope is that this time will mark a watershed moment in our history. The College has extended and deepened its plan of action to advance equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. Student activism helped shape our renewed plan, and its progress will require hard work and collaboration across the College. The plan’s commitments include:

  • new educational opportunities for students, including revamping the THRIVE program using the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion and continuing a teach-in program on racial equity launched by student strike organizers,
  • continued investment in professional development for all faculty and staff, including through our membership in the newly formed LACRELA (Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance), through programming around pedagogy offered by the Teaching and Learning Institute, and through department-specific learning opportunities tailored to directly impact departmental work,
  • key investments to ensure equity of opportunity and better support for students with marginalized identities, including new advising support and additional funding for unexpected student needs,
  • launching a new summer bridge program to advance success in STEM,
  • creating residential, extracurricular, and career development opportunities that build a sense of belonging and thriving, ranging from additional staff support for the Enid Cook ’31 Center to new professional development opportunities made possible by the Black Alumnae/i Fund,
  • implementing regular assessment (including surveys of campus climate) to inform and revise our work,
  • acknowledging and making fully visible the past and ongoing labor of BIPOC students, faculty, and staff in building, sustaining, and changing Bryn Mawr for the better.

I and other members of the community continue to learn from the activism of our campus and to respond with focused action. To succeed administrators, staff, faculty, and students must also be willing to participate in open dialogue, to engage in hard conversations, and to listen carefully with a willingness to sit with discomfort. Progress depends on more frequent communication across channels now used regularly by students (along with more traditional media such as email and newsletters) so that all on campus are aware of change and progress and have opportunities for feedback. Transformation requires accountability for acting upon our commitments, as well as work to build bridges and new forms of trust. In this work, the College will be aided by the Campus Partnership for Equity and Anti-Racism, a new group of students, faculty, staff, and trustees charged with facilitating progress, communication, and accountability toward the College’s goals for equity, inclusion, and anti-racism.

The work ahead calls us to be a Bryn Mawr that we have not yet been, but that we must become to more fully realize our “commitment to racial justice and to equity across all aspects of diversity.” This transformation is urgent, and it will take time. All facets of the campus will need to engage, to be open to change, and to contribute. I am optimistic about our success and our future and look forward to moving forward collaboratively on the work ahead.

Sincerely,

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Kim Cassidy, President