On Wednesday, the Committee of Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA) met to continue their discussion about inclusive excellence. Emma Maggie Solberg, associate professor of English, Jennifer Scanlon, senior vice president and dean for academic affairs, and Jeanne Bamforth, assistant to the dean of academic affairs, led this week’s faculty meeting.
This was the final installation of a three-part series on inclusive excellence. As with the two preceding meetings, Wednesday’s discussion centered around a reflective question pertaining to the topic: “How do you see yourself contributing to inclusive excellence at the College?”
Before sending faculty members into breakout rooms to respond to the discussion question, Scanlon reiterated the importance of small-group discussions when examining nuanced—and often deeply personal—topics, such as inequity in academia.
“Inclusive excellence is about disrupting inequalities, and there’s a lot that prevents us from doing that work—some of it is personal and some of it is institutional,” Scanlon said. “We never want this to be a solely personal journey, but at the same time we really do believe that it’s important for people to reflect on their feelings.”
Scanlon encouraged faculty members to lean into uncomfortable discussions and to be active participants in the breakout rooms, even—and especially—when there are chances for making mistakes.
“Anyone who’s doing this work recognizes that you’ve got to be a little bit vulnerable,” Scanlon said. “You have to recognize that sometimes your intentions might be good but the impact of your practices might be less so.”
After faculty returned from breakout rooms, Solberg, Scanlon and Bamforth gave them the opportunity to share their responses with the GFA at large. Manuel Díaz-Ríos, professor of neuroscience and biology, said that he has been able to forge deeper and more substantial connections with his students by giving them the opportunity to discuss their identities in a classroom setting.
“That, I think, is a way for us to really foster more inclusiveness at the College—really spending a little extra time getting to know our students,” Díaz-Ríos said. “I know it’s hard. It’s a lot of work, but it really has given me a different perspective.”
James Stacy Coles Professor of Natural Sciences Elizabeth Stemmler agreed with Díaz-Ríos and added that faculty might benefit from some formal training around how to make their classrooms more accessible for sharing these types of stories.
“To me, the real value of small conversations is instigating real institutional change about these issues at many different levels and how essential it’s going to be [to] embed conversations training, so that we can draw more people in and identify more pathways,” Stemmler said.
Throughout the conversation, discussion leaders and faculty members reiterated the importance of participating in conversations about equity and inclusion. Nadia Celis, associate professor of romance languages and literatures, reminded the GFA of the harmful effects of choosing to “opt out” of these conversations.
“As just a reminder for all of my colleagues: [for] those of us who, by virtue of being who we are and what we teach … opting out is not an option,” Celis said.
Though the three-part series on inclusive excellence is over, Solberg, Scanlon and Bamforth emphasized that the conversation is not. The GFA hopes to continue discussing ways to deconstruct inequities in the classroom over the course of the academic year, including—and especially—when students arrive on campus for the spring 2021 semester.
“We’re saying that the academy has to address systemic racism; we’re saying that Black Lives Matter; we’re saying that we want to make Bowdoin a welcoming place,” said Scanlon. “We have to do this work and engage with each other.”
During the meeting, President Clayton Rose also addressed the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. He urged faculty members not to be overly celebratory about the results.
“Even with Joe Biden as our president elect, there are larger issues in the country that are going to continue to be profound for us—we’ve got a very divided country,” Rose said. “We have deep resistance among a significant portion of the population to the use of facts and data to believe in science and to understand the realities of racism. I hope [Biden] has some opportunity and success in lowering the temperature and engaging a wider swath and more reasonable conversations, but time will tell.”
Rose also discussed the recent news pertaining to spikes in COVID-19 cases in Maine.
“The virus itself is doing what the scientists told us it would do a long time ago, because it’s now back, and it’s surging across the country,” Rose said. “By all the scientific wisdom that I’ve been able to discern, we’re going to be in for a very tough couple of months—Maine is in tough shape right now.”
While Rose warned faculty members to brace for the coming months, he said that he does not envision that the spike will change the course of plans for the spring 2021 semester.