January 13, 2017

Diversity and Inclusion

I am writing to welcome you to Spring semester 2017 and to take this opportunity to address some important issues that surfaced in our community at the end of last term. I am speaking of several questions raised about the current political situation in the United States and the position that ArtCenter might take as a result. As many of you recall, I wrote a memorandum to the entire ArtCenter community immediately after the Presidential election acknowledging a range of responses at ArtCenter to the election results, reiterating our emphasis on values of diversity and inclusion, and stressing our commitment to and compassion for all vulnerable populations at the College and in our larger community. 

I have had since then many important conversations with a variety of staff, faculty, and students.  I also received an exceedingly thoughtful letter/petition, signed by a number of people at the College, seeking reassurance and clarity about issues concerning vulnerable members of our community, institutional practices of safety and security, and opportunities for community dialogue and shared learning.  

I take this all very seriously and have spent the last several weeks studying the issues in an effort to provide the entire community with an informed response, not simply an expedient one.  I have consulted colleagues across the country, scrutinized statements from various higher education groups (e.g., AICCU — Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities), worked with legal counsel, and deepened the dialogue with our Council on Diversity and Inclusion.

I would like to address in greater detail the three major categories of concern: 1) institutional position; 2) safety and security; and 3) community dialogue and learning.

I. Institutional Position

Although the fundamental principles and values of an institution find articulation through a variety of policies, strategic plans, governance practices, community dialogue, handbooks, etc., it is, ultimately, the Board of Trustees that officially sets institutional position on any matter. To that effect, I have been working with the Chair of the Board and the Trustee Executive Committee on a formal Resolution that will articulate the principles and values of ArtCenter regarding various questions raised. The Resolution is still in draft form, but I am hopeful that the Trustees will adopt it officially at the end of this month. It is intended to cover the following:

  • ArtCenter is a community strengthened by its diversity, and the College holds diversity and inclusion as central values.
  • ArtCenter recognizes that sensitivity to cultural and learning differences is fundamental to providing an inclusive and safe environment which serves the needs of our whole community, and which encourages respectful communication, interaction, and behavior.
  • ArtCenter supports a civil and caring environment where all members of the ArtCenter community can make inclusive and equitable decisions that actively contribute to the values of the College.

Given the serious concerns raised by various individuals at the institution regarding the possibility of heightened harassment and intimidation towards vulnerable members of the community, ArtCenter reaffirms the following:

  • ArtCenter is committed to the protection of any marginalized member of its community, including but not limited to students, faculty, and staff of color, LGBTQIA+ persons, women, and members of religious groups.
  • ArtCenter will continue to take affirmative steps to provide support to members of our community who may be targeted with harassment or intimidation.
  • ArtCenter commits to undocumented students that it will not, in the absence of extraordinary circumstances or legal warrant, release information to federal authorities, and that Campus Security will not act on behalf of federal agents in the enforcement of immigration laws.

In addition to setting out those fundamental principles, I personally wish to add the following commitment to any undocumented students at ArtCenter:

  • Should DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) be revoked, and should it result in a negative effect on a DACA student's financial resources, the College is prepared to work closely with the student to explore supplementary aid to support the completion of the ArtCenter degree.
  • We will prepare, as comprehensively as possible, pertinent legal information for undocumented students (and their families) regarding their educational needs and refer them to trusted legal counsel as necessary.
  • We will identify specific staff members trained to assist undocumented students (in CSE, Admissions, and Financial Aid) who can serve as resources for them or direct them appropriately to individuals off campus for help.  

II. Safety and Security

Some institutions, such as the California State University and University of California campuses, have actual police departments, and their sworn officers have the full authority and responsibility of police. As you have read in the news, some members of these communities have questioned the scope of power (and associated limits) of these officers.

I want to make it clear that ArtCenter’s security personnel are “non-sworn officers” and they do not have the responsibility or authority of campus police. Instead, ArtCenter’s security team is comprised of trained public safety personnel who are empowered by the institution to enforce ArtCenter’s policies and regulations. Members of our non-sworn security team participate in field training to further orient them to providing campus public safety services effectively.

If you have any concern for your safety or that of anyone else on campus please contact Campus Security.  They will handle your concerns with the highest level of respect and care, and they will utilize other resources, including the Pasadena Police Department if necessary.

III. Community Dialogue and Learning

We have a number of plans for community conversation in the works.  Here are highlights of our progress to date: 

  • CSE will offer a range of programs focused on diversity, inclusion, and civic engagement (workshops, special events, cultural celebrations, support for student clubs, etc.).
  • Our Human Resources Department is planning a series of diversity workshops for the entire ArtCenter community in collaboration with the Council on Diversity and Inclusion. 
  • The Provost and the Humanities and Sciences Chair are planning a lecture as part of the “ArtCenter Dialogues” (Toyota Lecture Series) to directly address the Presidential election and associated issues of diversity.
  • The Provost and various Chairs are working on the addition of appropriate curricular content related to issues of diversity and inclusion.
  • A screening of the Presidential inauguration on January 20th will take place in the Student Dining Room, with a discussion following, for anyone interested in attending from the campus community (details are forthcoming).
  • The Provost will work with the Council on Diversity and Inclusion, Faculty Council, and Staff Council to plan a joint Town Hall Meeting for further dialogue. 

ArtCenter is not alone in wrestling with these issues. I have yet to meet any presidential colleague in higher education who is not working to address these pertinent and important questions. Regardless of one’s politics, communities like ours are responsible always for ensuring optimal fulfillment of mission and the creation of the best learning environment possible. That begins with a secure and safe environment for all people to ensure that we can deliver the quality and rigor that an ArtCenter education promises. That is the spirit behind my writing today. 

Finally, you might be interested in attending a panel at Caltech on January 24, 2017, in which I will be a participant together with presidents of Caltech, Pomona College, and Harvey Mudd College. The content of the conversation will cover the very questions that our communities are facing at this moment in our country’s history and in this current political environment. Details of the event will be distributed in the next several days. 

Wishing you all a safe and rewarding Spring term.

Lorne Buchman
ArtCenter College of Design