Lawrence’s DEI work remains inadequate

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We need to talk about Eric Mayes.

About a year ago, I anonymously wrote a letter to the editor urging Lawrentians to recognize how flawed Dr. Kimberly Barrett, the former Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, was as an administrator. Although she has left this position and campus, I am now seeing the same flaws in Dr. Eric Mayes, the current Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.  

When I first heard Dr. Barrett was leaving, I felt optimistic about Lawrence, and its administration finally taking marginalized students and their concerns regarding this campus seriously. Through my experience dealing with Lawrence administration, however, their actions reflect priorities of money over student wellbeing. 

Most of you know that I was forcibly outed by Lawrence University almost two years ago, and since then, no significant change has occurred. It is abundantly clear to me that Lawrence as an institution does not care about trans and non-binary students and their safety and has no plans to change this ideology soon. 

After the Don’t Say Gay bill’s approval in Florida, I reached out to Dr. Mayes to urge him to release a statement condemning this law. Like many other queer people nationwide, I knew that once this bill became a law, it would set a precedent that anti-trans and anti-gay behavior is socially acceptable. I wanted Dr. Mayes, and this administration, to explicitly denounce these anti-trans and anti-gay policies and behavior to show their genuine concern for the safety of queer students on campus.  

However, when I met with Dr. Mayes to urge him to make this statement, he told me that it was “outside of [Lawrence’s] purview” and that he “won’t necessarily be making a statement.” He merely said that “to show Lawrence’s support, [they] would be willing to help sponsor programming to address” these policies.  

Dr. Mayes, along with the rest of this administration, have repeatedly established their commitment to merely shallow and performative allyship. For instance, this administration changed Freshman Studies to First-Year Studies while failing to work on a system that would protect trans and nonbinary studies from being forcibly outed. Furthermore, when I requested that Lawrence University cover my legal name change as an act of reparation for forcibly outing me and the resulting trauma, VP Chris Card told me he had accepted the request not as an act of reparation, but an act of compassion. Although she is gone, Dr. Barrett put a photo of me, without my knowledge, in her annual diversity report on Lawrence while explicitly ignoring my pleas to protect trans and non-binary students from experiencing the trauma I had. 

This campus does not need a discussion-based program to hash out whether queer people deserve the right to feel safe existing; it should be a basic fact that queer people, and other marginalized folks, deserve basic human rights despite state governments’ efforts to delegitimize that fact. This campus needs real action and a declaration from the administration that queer students are not only welcomed here, but truly valued. 

However, the more I have interacted with the Lawrence administration, the more it has become explicitly clear to me that they do not, and will not ever, truly care for queer students and their safety. Instead, they’re just focused on continuing to make empty promises without fixing any of the problems pointed out to them by students. Lawrence’s commitment to diversity is ingenuine, empty and performative, and the only way to remedy that is if they start to actively listen to their students and show us that they actually care about our safety and well-being.