Dean of the College adopts stern tone, cuts off a student
By Caleb Diehl /// Managing Editor
At a Walk the Talk community forum last night, Dean of Students Anna Gonzalez and Dean of the College Tuajuanda Jordan let students ask about administrators’ response to acts of racism last semester, as long as they asked the right questions. Lucas Contino (’16) stopped mid-sentence when Dean Jordan wagged her finger at him, leaned in and said, “don’t do that.”
Jordan’s rebuke came after a speech in which she chastised students for harboring an “us versus them” attitude, and not recognizing the deans’ hard work as they reform policies and work to change the “culture of Lewis & Clark.” She gestured to the room, dotted with 20 or so students, and said deans “have been at everything.” From the end of November, to the sit-in in front of Frank Manor House, she and Gonzalez lost sleep. They worked a “full day every day.”
Raymond Fenton (‘16), one of the organizers in the Walk the Talk movement, moderated the hour-long update and discussion. The meeting’s lackluster attendance might be explained by early departures for spring break, dwindling support among students for the Walk the Talk movement or poor communication. Walk the Talk advertised the forum by creating a Facebook event, but didn’t distribute posters.
Throughout her speech, Jordan defended the deans’ efforts to reform college policy despite frustrated emails from students who think the administration can work more quickly. “I keep feeling like we’re the enemy,” she said.
Gonzalez later added that in some of the emails, students wrote that she wasn’t working quickly enough and that she “doesn’t know what it means to be a person of color.”
Last December, Walk the Talk drafted “demands” and organized a sit-in on the Manor House lawn to protest acts of racism last semester, and issues with LC’s hiring and marketing practices. After the event, the movement changed the term “demands” to “requests,” to show a willingness to collaborate with administrators. Organizers divided into subcommittees to follow-up with administrators on specific issues.
Contino, a member of the Walk the Talk subcommittee on alternative marketing strategies, said he thought students didn’t get enough time to ask questions after Jordan “hogged the floor.” He called her attitude patronizing and hypocritical toward students.
“That was very surprising,” he said, “that she would be so antagonizing while at the same time proposing this breaking away from ‘us versus them.’”
Despite his confrontation with Jordan last night, he said the subcommittee meetings with Public Affairs and Communications have produced results. His frustration after the meeting, he said, does not reflect any disappointment with the subcommittee’s progress.
Jordan also said the deans were reluctant to hold public forums after the sit-in, because the issue “would have blown up even more.” She contrasted emotional reactions with thoughtful responses. “If you react with emotion,” she said. “People will discount you.”
Jordan said the deans are working on a long-term solution to systemic problems with the culture at LC. Projects like the proposed revision of the Exploration & Discovery curriculum to include more authors of color require time and careful discussion. Gonzalez noted that the revised Hate and Bias policy would be ready by next Fall—a quick turnaround for such an extensive policy issue.
Jordan hopes the community will adopt a “sandwich approach,” in which administrators at the top come together with students working in grassroots movements. Already, each week Gonzalez meets with ASLC President Musa Ahmed (‘14), and tries to meet with at least three students. During last night’s talks, Jordan and Gonzalez both put a burden on students to continue the discussion and push for further progress.
From the beginning of the evening, Jordan appeared guarded. Minutes before the discussion began, a video camera stood on a tripod in the fifth row. Jordan whispered to Fenton for a few minutes, until a staff member removed the camera. Fenton said Walk the Talk didn’t contact Jordan about filming the event, but that he thought she would understand the need to inform students who couldn’t make it to the meeting. Because Walk the Talk advertised the forum as a public event open to all LC students, staff and faculty, Jordan’s refusal to allow video coverage could be called into question.
After 7:00 p.m., the deans glanced at the clock and reminded students they needed to make it to a 7:30 p.m. meeting, while Fenton held them back, grasping for evidence of progress. Jordan placed her hand on her hip and shook her head, as she and Fenton talked over each other. Before walking out, Jordan said she would send a report of the deans’ progress to LC Walk the Talk. Gonzalez stayed until 7:20 p.m.
“I think that they’re running away from documentation,” Fenton said after the deans left. “We really do need something that we can show.” Since the sit-in, he added, Walk the Talk has not received a formal response from the deans.
Fenton said he understands Jordan’s passion for her role, and the stress of being questioned about her ability to do her job. Still, he said, Contino was trying to make a valid point.
“What I was trying to say is that it’s not disrespectful to them that there’s no one here,” Contino said, “because it’s not just on us that no one’s here. It’s also on them.”
Correction, March 31, 2014: An earlier version of this story mentioned that ASLC did not include the Walk the Talk meeting in its weekly email announcements. President Musa Ahmed did, in fact, announce the meeting in a “60-second recap” of the ASLC Cabinet meeting emailed to students on March 10.
Caleb Diehl is the Managing Editor of The Pioneer Log. His work has also appeared in The Park Record and on the Lewis & Clark School of Education and Counseling webpage. He is a contributing writer to the LC Journal for Social Justice.