In light of last Wednesday’s walkout, President Teresa Amott has announced a Town Hall listening and discussion session on Friday, May 30. The event will begin at 10 a.m. on the South Lawn of Old Main.
The walkout, organized by the Student Diversity Initiative, drew several hundred students and faculty members, eliciting various reactions. The goal was to gain support and express a need for a Town Hall meeting with the Board of Trustees, some of whom will be at the session, according to Amott.
“With more time we could have more trustee participation … but right now we’re hurtling toward exams; it’s very hard to find a time, so that’s a little bit of a constraint on us,” Amott said.
That doesn’t mitigate the problems expressed at the walkout, and Amott hopes to address all concerns raised.
“I heard lots of very important, very compelling concerns. Everything from diversity in the classroom and outside the classroom and promises unfulfilled there, certainly in terms of counseling services very strong themes there, cost and financial aid … I think all of these are issues that we have been working on,” she said.
One of the first steps Amott has been focusing on is hiring a full-time counselor trained in response to survivors and prevention of sexual violence. Amott will also concentrate on faculty and staff development to focus on dialogue in a diverse classroom. These are all issues raised in Knox’s 2018 Strategic Plan.
“People may think that we’re hearing and not responding, but that’s why we need to have more conversation to figure out what we can do. And I think the Diversity Initiative’s most recent call is exactly in that spirit. It’s time for action,” she said.
This was the sentiment expressed by many students at the walkout.
“Quite a few people have reached out to me, alumni who are very grateful that we’re doing this,” organizer and senior Maricruz Osorio said.
Despite a similar call for progress, Amott challenged the sentiment that the president’s council is not listening or out of touch with students’ needs.
“We are not so remote as people may fear,” Amott said.
This concern was expressed by other faculty members, too.
“I was a little concerned with things that involved a particular identified individual and just one side of the story is coming out,” Associate Professor of Political Science Duane Oldfield said. “What really struck me was the hostility toward the administration which I think is problematic. I think that this is an administration that is generally genuinely working on these issues and they may not have dealt with them perfectly in every case,” he said.
Oldfield studies and teaches social movements at Knox, and cited the walkout as a successful movement for a first step. The next step, he said, will have to be a concrete proposal of things to do in a “realistic” manner.
“I thought it was effective at creating a moment of catharsis, bringing issues out that needed to be confronted,” he said. “There’s some concrete things in terms of staffing, in terms of intercultural life in the health center, mental health center. I think those are addressable, although money is short. It’s obvious faculty pay got cut last year so there are various areas where there have been cutbacks, but I think those are very addressable.”
In his 19 years on campus, this is the first walkout he’s seen, and the event stood out as unique in its strong emotional response. The issues raised, however, have remained prominent in his time at Knox.
“This isn’t a new problem, this is something that students have wanted to have addressed for a really long time,” Osorio said. “There wasn’t the administration that was willing to listen. It just wasn’t the right time. So now that we finally have all of the components all together, alums are pretty happy to see something happening.”
The event, Oldfield said, will be considered successful if it gains momentum over time that will keep an ongoing dialogue with the college beyond the event.
“The next stage is talking about things you want done, and as a first stage of gaining attention, it’s gained attention,” he said.
Amott echoed this sentiment and hopes to work toward a better dialogue with students through various forums and platforms on campus.
“We don’t see this as the end. This is the second phase,” she said.