From the President's Desk: News for the Community from President Judd

Mid-February is a moment of peak intensity and intersection in the academic year. The academic work and the rhythms of the spring semester are well underway; student inboxes are filled with internship, fellowship, and study abroad opportunities; the pace of campus programming is intensifying, highlighted by a Women's History colloquium and a "Difference in Dialogue" panel in the coming days; we are preparing to host the first of three admitted students days for the Class of 2023, on the heels of receiving and reviewing a record number of applications; the Board of Trustees will hold their annual midwinter meeting, which will include a focus on our budget and setting next year's tuition and fees; and we’re preparing the schedule and materials for Reunion.
 
As we plan for this year's Reunion, I have been spending time with archival materials, especially those related to the Class of 1969 (who we look forward to welcoming back to campus for their 50th reunion!). Their Sarah Lawrence experience was indelibly shaped during a turbulent and uncertain time for our country, a period in which students held higher education to account. And I have been thinking about the similarities and differences between that period and now, particularly as it relates to our commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence.

Diversity: Looking Back...

As I looked through some of the documents related to campus protests in the spring of 1969, I was struck by the resonance of this statement from 50 years ago:

The Black Student Association and Black Faculty members of Sarah Lawrence College wish to state that though we cannot support the occupancy of Westlands at this time, we are in compliance with the following question that has been raised:
 
"We have been discussing diversity at great length, what are the implications of radically changing the Sarah Lawrence population? The College must address itself to the specific changes inherent in an acceptance of diversity. In addition to opening ourselves in the future to the demands of new student populations we must at this time formulate new educational goals and policies…" 

In the intervening years the College has raised and re-visited the discussion of diversity often. These iterative conversations do not signify a lack of forward momentum, but they are a sign of the continuing work to do, of how far we—as an institution, and as a nation—have to go, and the slow pace at which this change has occurred. At its founding, Sarah Lawrence offered its progressive model of education exclusively to an elite group of women. Decade by decade, often painfully and partially, we have confronted the vestiges of our history and actively changed our student body.

...Today...

Our commitment to bringing together students, staff, and faculty from different backgrounds, identities, experiences, values, and perspectives must be aligned with a commitment to inclusive excellence, to ensuring that all of the members of our community genuinely experience a sense of belonging at Sarah Lawrence. Doing so requires intentionally building a community that fosters respect for difference through critical and compassionate engagement across all parts of the College. Only then can we realize our collective potential to not only live and work in, but to shape, a culturally diverse and global society.

In many ways, today's student body is vastly different from the Class of 1969. Of our almost 1,400 undergraduate students, more than 350 self-identify as students of color. Fifty years ago, our applicant pool was a sample primarily of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, with growing connections to the West Coast. Today, the College actively recruits students from across the U.S. and nearly 15% of our students are international in origin, representing 44 countries. On average, 15% of our entering classes qualify for Pell Awards—an indication of socioeconomic diversity, and an area for continuing improvement for which we urgently need to build financial resources to meet student need. In the spring of 1969, the first class of male undergraduates (outside of the postwar GI Bill cohort) was navigating Sarah Lawrence, marking a sea-change in the College’s acceptance of gender diversity after years of debate. Today, Sarah Lawrence is ranked among the most welcoming of colleges for LGBTQIA students.

But today's students also share some key characteristics with the Class of '69 and generations of Sarah Lawrence graduates: a fearless commitment to learning, a deep-seated sense of curiosity, a passionate creativity, a desire for social justice, an impatience for change at a time when many of the institutions of representative democracy are in deep conflict. We still have work to do to ensure that the demographics of our student body, staff, and faculty reflect that of our country, because we know that we are strengthened when we embrace that diversity, and the experience of all our students is enriched. And we also know that mere demographic diversity is not enough: bringing together a diverse body of students, faculty, and staff on campus is only the first step—the real opportunity lies in creating a genuine embrace and celebration of that diversity.

...and Looking Ahead

This fall, psychology faculty member Linwood Lewis led two of our campus committees (the Advisory Committee and the Diversity Committee) in reading Abigail Stewart and Virginia Valien's An Inclusive Academy: Achieving Diversity and Excellence, and they will be helping us to identify the next steps for the College.
 
As I shared with you earlier this year, Al Green, long-serving Dean of Studies and the College’s first Dean of Equity and Inclusion, will retire at the end of this academic year. We will celebrate Al's invaluable 20 years at Sarah Lawrence on campus and at Reunion, but now we begin the hard task of replacing him. As we do so we are focused on the knowledge that while a number of groups and offices on campus are charged with supporting diversity and inclusive excellence, it must be the work of all of us. As I indicated above, this is not new work for the College—you can gain a sense of some of our history on this issue through the documents available in a digital collection of the College Archives—but it remains among our most pressing. Working to achieve a truly diverse and inclusive campus not only deepens our students' educational experience, it offers a model for the deeply divided and turbulent times in which we find ourselves.

Yours,

Cristle Collins Judd
President
president@sarahlawrence.edu
@slcprez