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Letter from President Hill on racial profiling issues

Update on racial profiling issues

August 7, 2014

Dear members of the Vassar community,

As many of you know, during the last academic year, serious concerns arose about racial profiling on campus. As I have said elsewhere, there is no place in our society for racial profiling or any other form of bias. Discrimination and harassment are not acceptable at Vassar College. I am committed to working to create and sustain a welcoming environment free of discrimination and harassment for all community members, guests, and visitors. I wish I could guarantee that racial profiling, harassment, and discrimination will never happen on the Vassar campus, but it isn’t within anyone’s powers to do so. What we can have are strong policies and education to make sure that members of our community understand that these things are not accepted here and that violating our standards will have serious consequences. We have taken several steps over the spring and summer to more effectively prevent and address racial profiling and to plan for improved education for our employees and students related to diversity issues. Having heard from many concerned groups on these issues, including alumnae/i, I want to keep the community informed. While efforts are ongoing, to date, the college has taken the following actions.

Vassar’s Equal Opportunity Director Julian R. Williams has been investigating two incidents from the 2013/14 academic year. As a result, we have determined that we need to clarify and strengthen several of our policies and procedures. For example, we have amended our policies against discrimination and harassment to include profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin as a violation of college policies. This stronger policy has been added to the College Regulations and to the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action website and other relevant college sites, including Human Resources and Safety and Security. Forms to report incidents of profiling were added previously to the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action and Safety and Security sites.

The college also has contracted with Margolis Healy, a professional services firm based in Burlington, Vermont, that specializes in higher education safety and security, to further assist us in a thorough review of our campus safety and security policies and practices, including the department’s structure, operations and relationships with students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i and other visitors to campus. Margolis Healy is considered a national leader in the area of campus safety and security; last fall the US Department of Justice selected Margolis Healy to establish and lead the National Center for Campus Public Safety, created by Congress in 2013 to serve as the national think tank for university and college safety and security issues.

The Dean of the College, which oversees the Office of Safety and Security, has created a new Safety and Security Advisory Council charged with reviewing current campus security policies and procedures and making recommendations for their improvement. The makeup of the new council includes Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Officer Julian R. Williams as chair; Ja’Wanda Grant, director of the Quantitative Reasoning Center; David Bradley, associate professor of physics and astronomy; April Beisaw, assistant professor of anthropology; and two student members to be appointed by the VSA.

Progress and information concerning these initiatives will be made available at a web page that we are currently developing and will have in place early in the fall semester. The college is committed to ongoing efforts to assure a campus where every member of our community and our visitors feel safe and welcome.

Catharine Hill, President