FRIDAY, JUNE 19, 2020
On this June 19, Juneteenth, I ask our community to remember and reflect on what is long celebrated as an Independence Day in the African American community. On this day – 155 years ago – the Union soldiers brought information about the Emancipation to the slaves in Texas. It is a moment that I wish to have a part of our annual set of important dates on our calendar moving forward. It offers us a moment to pause and to acknowledge the work that needs to be done in all aspects of our lives (personally and professionally) to fulfill the promises (so many broken) made over the years regarding diversity and inclusion. It can be a date for our community to annually re-dedicate ourselves to social justice, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism.
I want to continue to emphasize the college’s commitment to equity, justice and safety for all who are part of our internal but also our extended Montserrat College of Art community, and to update you on our progress.
We are taking several steps to both continue discussions which have begun in the last several weeks and over the past year, and to provide you with details on actions being taken in partnership with you.
Our values and vision have and continue to include a call out for the college to embrace diversity in ideas, people and approaches and for openness, access and equity in all that we do. In our newly accepted Strategic Plan, the quest for more diversity is a vital component. Inclusion is a core value of our community especially to those members of the community who have been marginalized and are vulnerable.
Our newly accepted Strategic Plan also includes a large section on diversity, inclusion and expansion. I have shared the section that was adopted by the Trustees in May 2020.
Diversity, Inclusion and Expansion
Montserrat students represent an incredible mix of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, diversity in gender identities and presentation, variety in their individual pathways to college, as well as diversity in family education backgrounds. This diversity in all its forms is an educational asset that fills our classrooms, studio spaces, and residence halls with an extraordinary breadth of life experiences, perspectives, and means of expression. As we look to the future, a commitment to expanded diversity in our internal community — staff, faculty, students, and board of trustees — is vital. The impending drop-off in high school and college-aged individuals in our immediate geographic region will require a more intentional expansion into new recruitment territories both domestically and abroad; Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire will all see declines ranging from 3% to 14% in overall high school graduates over the next decade. At the same time, the demographic make-up of those graduates becomes increasing non-white. Montserrat’s continued commitment to diversity and inclusion will necessitate new kinds of supports to ensure the success of all of our community members.
- Through a combination of curated artists and designers in residence, guest lecturers and critics, workshops and gallery programs, begin to build a broader diversity footprint.
- Continue to grow Montserrat’s overall enrollment by expanding recruitment efforts in new domestic and international markets, and ensure Montserrat’s on-campus resources, exhibitions, clubs, and activities better support and represent all forms of diversity in view of our evolving student body; provide the required support to evaluate the needs and success of our minoritized students.
- Implement a recruiting and hiring action plan for expanding the diversity among our faculty, staff, and trustees that takes into consideration the demographics of our immediate region, the cost of relocation to Beverly, and the need to expand the worldviews of our community.
- Support faculty in assessing issues of representation and inclusion within their curricula.
In the past year, we have appointed two new trustees with distinguished careers working in the fields of diversity, equity and inclusion, Mercedes Evans (retired Diversity Officer at MassArt in Boston) and Kenn Turner (Director, Diversity & Inclusion/Compliance at the Massachusetts Port Authority). We will also continue working with Ari Montford as we have over the last two academic years. All three are already engaged with us in conversations and giving us guidance and feedback.
The following are initial actions that will be taken over the Summer and in the Fall semester.
City of Beverly Connections
We have discussed with the Beverly City Council the need for a city statement regarding anti-racism. The Council has asked its Human Rights Committee to draft a diversity and inclusion statement with actions that would be signed by all department heads. We have volunteered to support them in creating and producing a document that could be printed and displayed in the windows of businesses and offices in Beverly.
We have also asked that a representative of the Human Rights Committee and the Beverly Police Department participate in a forum on campus to take questions and hear from our faculty, staff and students at the beginning of the Fall Semester.
Community Engagement in the Discussion
Establishment in the fall of two committees to help us start a more comprehensive approach with faculty, staff and student voices at the table. The purpose of each committee is only a start and should be discussed and modified by the committee membership based on their collective understanding. It is my intention to make sure that the committees have the resources and support to accomplish its mission.
- Community Connections – The purpose of this committee is to discuss and recommend how the Montserrat community can be more connected with the greater Beverly (and beyond) community. There are no boundaries and the committee would be encouraged to look at what we study, human resource policy changes, and student engagement incentives to create more meaningful and long term connections outside our Montserrat Community. It will be important to engage community members not directly related to Montserrat in the discussions and the work.
- Strategic Plan: Diversity and Inclusion Goal Accountability (Draft Name) – The purpose of this committee would be to discuss goals, progress towards those goals, and strategies to achieve the set goals. This covers all aspects of the college including hiring, retention, student recruitment and student support. This committee would work with senior staff and the administrative offices in achieving the goals associated with this aspect of the Strategic Plan. Establishing how we assess progress and identify issues will be an important first step for this committee.
- Guiding diversity and inclusion training and discussions based on the assessment and issues identification will be part of this committee’s responsibilities in cooperation with the President’s Office.
Bias Response Team
A bias response team will be established to be an intake and response for bias incidents. This information could be reported in person as well as online and would go directly to Bias Response Team members for immediate follow up and action.
More details about this initiative will be made available as they are developed. The intention is to have this in place prior to the beginning of classes. Micro-aggressions as well as other issues are within the intention of this Team.
Statement on the Land that Montserrat Occupies
We have been engaged in discussions over the past year on a statement that recognizes the Native American presence on the land that we occupy and struggle of those tribes. We are researching, in cooperation with Native American authorities, the tribes that were present on the land we occupy so that the statement is as accurate as possible.
Our intention to have this statement be read at the beginning of every major event that takes place on the campus of Montserrat College of Art.
Student Group Funding
Student Affairs staff will work with Student Voice over the next year to develop a process that allocates student fees (amount to be determined) annually to Student Voice for distribution to recognized student groups for programming and activities. The goal would be that starting in September 2021 this would be in place and recognized student groups would be allocated funds in a process overseen by Student Voice. The money would be the students’ money to allocate as they define the process.
We hope to continue open discussions on campus and thank the students who have taken the time to research and bring important information to the college about social injustices created by our mini-mart vendor, Aramark. As a result of their sharing of information, we will be searching out a new vendor for the mini-mart and will also be taking a look at our other major vendors to ensure we promote social justice in all things on campus over which we have control.
This is the beginning of a number of initiatives that will make a large difference on our campus. I want to clarify….this is a start and we need the entire community engaged to further develop how we move forward and make meaningful and lasting change.
I am asking you for two things right now. First, please give us feedback and suggestions, contact my office, Brian Pellinen and/or Maureen Wark. Second, please participate and be an agent of change inside and outside our community. We are talking about being on the right side of history.
I will also continue my dedication to engagement and availability. Twice a semester students will continue to have an opportunity to attend a group lunch meeting “Pizza with the President” during which they have an opportunity to bring up issues of concerns, large or small, and can have their questions answered (or sometimes researched and then answered) on a timely basis. I will continue to offer Open Office Hours every six weeks for students/faculty or staff who are more comfortable talking in the smaller setting of my office area. All of these will be either conducted online or in-person, depending on the status of gatherings via the guidance from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Faculty and staff meetings are held monthly and beyond the regular sharing of information, those meetings always offer times for questions and discussions. Beyond those opportunities, I have always tried and will continue to make myself available for a phone call or meeting by appointment.
I hope this helps our community understand the steps we have and will continue to take to make Montserrat a more engaged community for all.