Two New College-wide Initiatives beginning Spring 2017

Sonya Stephens
Acting President

January 20, 2017

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke community,

The Plan for Mount Holyoke 2021 outlines our collective commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and calls upon us to develop a distinctive plan that will deliver on that priority (3.C.ii). The strategic plan also directs us to amplify and promote environmental efforts to fulfill our responsibility to the future of our campus and the planet (1.A.iv). As the spring semester starts, we will begin our work on both of these priorities.

1. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The diversity of our campus is a mark of distinction and a source of pride. Mount Holyoke’s success in this area is due to the contributions of many, including committees and commissions, as well as the sustained effort and focused energy of faculty, staff and students who have led this work. And yet we are not satisfied with these achievements — there is still work to be done to make our campus inclusive and to support its diversity as well as to represent it in the ways and to the extent that it is valued in our community.  

It is important that our entire community be engaged at all levels and that we move expeditiously towards action that will cultivate the environment in which we aspire to do our work together. Our new endeavor is not about replicating the good work we have already done but about further actionable and accountable implementation. It is time to commit new resources to develop an infrastructure that represents and supports our campus culture. Faculty, staff and students must now come together to learn from each other; strengthen mutual respect; support diversity, equity and inclusion; and share leadership and accountability for the results. To this end, I have charged Rene Davis, in her special projects role in the Office of the President, and Kathleen Pertzborn, my chief of staff, to work with a steering committee of faculty, staff and students to spearhead a new initiative focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. This endeavor will have three distinct phases.

Phase one

In November, we started the first phase with the help of partners at the Collaborations Group, experts in the diversity field. We began a conversation across a number of energetic groups and colleagues to explore possibilities for new avenues of progress. We drew some early conclusions that while there is a high level of interest and activity, most often the work is pursued with limited resources and too little sharing of knowledge or information. As a result, the significant effort these individual activities represent has not led to the kind of systemic and sustainable results to which we aspire and which we expect of ourselves. The exploration stage also recognized that not all members of our community have had the same opportunities or the same exposure to educational and professional development on questions of race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, and religious and cultural difference — though many are eager for these opportunities and conversations.

Phase two

The second phase will bring the full community together for a learning conference. The broad participation we envision necessitates the freedom for students, faculty and staff to participate. We will, therefore, cancel all classes and other scheduled activities on Monday, March 27, 2017. This is not a day off, but rather a day on, to address how we can best work together as a community. There will also be activities on Sunday, March 26, as well as multicultural events and food. An organizing committee will shape the events, with a dialogic approach designed to stimulate and extend thinking, and to advance learning across the spectrum of experience and knowledge. We wanted to give you advance notice so that you can make the necessary arrangements, and so that faculty can construct and modify their syllabi accordingly. Also note that advising week will now run from Tuesday, March 28 through Monday, April 4.

Phase three

The events of March 26 - 27 will lead to the third phase, in which we will come up with concrete recommendations for enduring change that will be presented to the community and the Board of Trustees and then developed into a clear plan of action prior to the start of the 2017– 2018 academic year.

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee will be in touch shortly about the ways in which you can participate in this initiative. Please reach out directly to Kathleen and Rene with any questions. I look forward to discovering what we can achieve together.

2. Campus and Global Environmental Sustainability

In each of the four priorities outlined in our strategic plan, there is an articulation of Mount Holyoke’s commitment to environmental sustainability. In order to develop plans and to meet our aspirations over this five-year period, I will be inviting individuals to join the Mount Holyoke Sustainability Taskforce, charged with developing a campus sustainability plan. The taskforce will be co-chaired by Catherine Corson, director of the Miller Worley Center for the Environment and associate professor of environmental studies, and Nancy Apple, director of environmental health, safety and sustainability. They will be supported by faculty, staff and students, and GreenerU, a company that works with educational institutions on sustainability. This taskforce will coordinate three working groups: Energy Use and Transportation; Sustainable Food Purchasing and Dining Operations; and Buildings, Grounds, and the Campus as Laboratory. The taskforce will present its findings and seek feedback from the community and the Board of Trustees in the fall semester 2017.  

This plan will reiterate the College’s will to address climate change, evaluate current progress on sustainability, and identify future opportunities to pursue more progressive actions related to campus sustainability and our environmental curriculum.

The Mount Holyoke Sustainability Plan will establish measurable goals and expanded commitments within the timeframe of the current strategic plan; research and recommend implementation strategies, responsibilities and required resources; and include measures that will assess our achievements in:

  1. reducing the College’s environmental footprint through improvements in energy use, food purchasing, water and waste management, grounds practices, new construction, and transportation
  2. strengthening the College’s environmental education by using the natural and built environment we enjoy as a research and teaching laboratory and ensuring that every student is exposed to contemporary environmental challenges and solutions
  3. engaging the broader campus community, including supporting and promoting residential learning communities, the Campus Sustainability Fund, the Eco-reps and the Green Living Council
  4. involving alumnae, community partners, internship hosts and potential donors
  5. creating a cohesive communications program, including promotions of these integrated efforts on the website and in social media.

While proceeding independently, these two initiatives are connected both by the diverse and global perspectives that will be brought to each of them by MHC faculty, staff and students, and because advocating for an inclusive community and a sustainable campus means more than recycling and turning off the lights. It means understanding that the campus is connected to multiple communities across the nation and around the globe in terms both of the people who move through it and the resources it consumes. As we embrace the centrality of diversity, equity, inclusion and environmental sustainability, we embrace social and environmental justice and recognize that these efforts take into account the needs, perspectives and voices of diverse peoples.

I thank you in advance for your willingness to make the time and commitment that these priorities demand, for your participation in the events of March 26 – 27, and for your support of these initiatives and the colleagues who are leading them.

With my very best wishes for the semester ahead and for 2017,

Sonya Stephens
Acting President