CODA reflects on the adminitration’s response to their list of concerns and recommendations

On Oct. 2, the Committee on Diversity Affairs (CODA), a subcommittee of the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC), publicly released a list of 17 concerns and recommendations for the administration during a student demonstration in front of Sampson House. President Mark Burstein emailed the student body last week to address the list.

Burstein’s email included apologies requested of the administration by CODA, both for the “failing [of the Bias Incident Response Committee] to adequately respond to bias incident reports from students” and for “tokenizing [Black and Brown students] in promotional material (sometimes without their consent).” The email also stated the administration’s commitment to working with CODA on the issues outlined in the list.

Since the list was publicly released, various members of the administration, including Burstein, have met with CODA leadership to discuss current plans for action. As the list stated, CODA had planned to begin working specifically on these concerns after an apology was issued, meaning that they will now begin to address the list explicitly.

Notably, however, Burstein apologized on behalf of the second concern, regarding the Bias Incident Response Committee, an apology which CODA requested specifically of Vice President for Diversity & Inclusion and Associate Dean of the Faculty Kimberly Barrett. 

“We still feel that, although there was an apology on his part, there needs to be a response from Dr. Barrett…but since we did get that email from [President Burstein], we are going to engage in further meetings to try to address these concerns because we don’t want to hold this off any longer,” Malcolm Davis ‘24, a double-degree student and one of the co-chairs of CODA, said.

Barrett, who has been in contact with CODA regarding the list of concerns, including the second one, has not yet publicly apologized. 

“I’m still trying to talk to students if they’re willing to share specific examples of how [the Bias Response Team] inadequately responded… I’m much more interested in making the substantive changes that would improve the experiences of students on campus, and a blanket apology, in my opinion, would not do that,” Barrett said. 

Barrett, who is off campus this term, was not present at the student demonstration during which some student experiences with the bias incident reporting system were shared. According to CODA’s vice chair, Jason Bernheimer ‘22, Dr. Barrett has met with CODA since the demonstration to hear other examples and discuss the possibility of her issuing a public apology, though she has declined to do so.

Concerns/recommendations three, four and five also refer to the Bias Response Team, which Barrett is chair of. “What we are going to do is do an external review that would give us some objective feedback about the bias response process, so that we can continue to make changes,” she said. The Bias Response Team wants to first see how CODA’s recommendations “line up with that external review” before taking action. Barrett anticipates that this review will happen in early 2021, possibly in January.

The first concern on CODA’s list requests the administration to “commit to creating and enforcing a concrete anti-hate speech policy, in consultation with students, before the presidential election.” As of Nov. 3, this policy had not been finalized or introduced to the student body as was requested by CODA. The creation of a long-term policy was first discussed with CODA leadership in August but must first be approved through a long process of shared governance before it can be implemented, according to Burstein. However, in response to CODA’s request, administration has begun “working on an interim [hate speech] policy” to put in place until the official one is finalized, Burstein said. The interim policy is still being reviewed by CODA and was not finalized by election day.

However, the administration has taken other efforts to keep students safe in anticipation of potential conflicts brought on by the election, including increased Campus Safety presence. Among these changes are an increase in video cameras and lighting across campus and the trimming of foliage to “make better sightlines.” CODA was also involved in the creation of the Lawrence University Safewalk earlier in the term, a resource that provides students with escorts to on-campus locations during the evening.

There are still many concerns to address, but CODA’s involvement in administration policy has begun. Bernheimer said that many members are already working hard to promote these changes.

“In my knowledge of CODA’s history, which probably goes back a little bit less than a decade, CODA has never before submitted something like this where they worked with administration,” Bernheimer said. “Our university has stated that we want to be an anti-racist university. Obviously we have a long, long, long way to go, but part of that commitment means that [administration is] more willing to work with CODA on this than they have been in the past, so that presents a unique challenge for CODA in that we are all students, and this takes a lot of time. So I just want to say thank you to [all members of CODA] and LUCC Cabinet. We’re supposed to be students first, but I think there have definitely been some weeks this term that CODA members have been activists first and students second.

Both CODA leadership and Barrett emphasized that they can be reached virtually by students or staff who would like to discuss these issues. CODA can be reached at CODA@lawrence.edu, and Barrett can be reached via her assistant, Cindy Pickart, at cindy.j.pickart@lawrence.edu.

CODA’S Concerns and Recommendations:

  1. Lawrence administration will commit to creating and enforcing a concrete anti-hate speech policy, in consultation with students, before the presidential election of November 3rd, 2020.
  2. Dr. Kimberley Barrett, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Dean of the Faculty, on behalf of the Bias Incident Response Committee will publicly apologize for failing to adequately respond to bias incident reports from students.
  3. The Bias Incident Response Committee will immediately add at least two positions for students appointed by the Committee on Diversity Affairs (CODA) as permanent members of the committee.
  4. In order to regain student trust, the Bias Incident Response Committee will publish (anonymized) minutes from every meeting at least through the end of the 2021-2022 academic year.
  5. The Bias Incident Response Committee will publish all actions they take in response to bias incidents, in perpetuity, in an anonymous format similar to the Honor Council and Judicial Board.
  6. Lawrence will not begin the hiring or selection process for our next president until the candidate pool is diverse and includes multiple Black or Brown candidates.
  7. Lawrence administration will work with CODA to form inclusive COVID-19 policies that don’t allow for white students or Campus Safety Officers to disenfranchise Black and Brown students.
  8. Lawrence will immediately re-implement safety rides that can be performed within COVID-19 guidelines. 
  9. Campus Safety will no longer have the authority to randomly search houses or dorm rooms without probable cause and prior notification to the residents.
  10. All students will undergo mandatory anti-racism training. This will be given the same level of importance as other trainings such as the sexual assault prevention training.
  11. Lawrence administration will explicitly and publicly apologize to all Black and Brown students for tokenizing them in promotional material (sometimes without their consent).
  12. Lawrence administrators will commit to establishing a joint committee with students and faculty to address the inaccessibility of our campus.
  13. Lawrence will commit to keeping queer students safe and will work with queer students to create a system that prevents Lawrence from outing students without their consent.
  14. Lawrence will immediately begin funding the Student Food Pantry and establish a fully ADA accessible, permanent, and larger location for the Pantry.
  15. Lawrence will increase funding for the Diversity & Intercultural Center by 5% for Fiscal Year 2021 and commit to continue increasing their funding in the future.
  16. Lawrence administration will conduct a transparent and comprehensive review of public merit pages and the discrimination they enable and publicly report their decided course of action to eliminate this discrimination.
  17. Lawrence will improve and accelerate its curriculum review process in both the college and conservatory, and actively include CODA input with the specific goal of creating more equitable and inclusive pedagogy and curricula.