Response to the Open Letter to Carleton

10 August 2020

All members of the Carleton community deserve a welcoming and supportive environment. For too long, the College has not lived up to our aspiration to provide such an experience for the members of our community who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). We are writing today to respond to the Open Letter for Carleton that has recently circulated among alumni, to share our current thinking and action, as well as longer-term plans to make Carleton inclusive and equitable.

As a first step to address racism and discrimination at Carleton, senior administrators and the co-chairs of the Community, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion board met with student leaders of the Black Student Alliance, the African and Caribbean Association, Men of Color, and Student Department Advisors of the Africana Studies program over the summer, with another session planned before the start of the academic year. Our meetings with the students were to address their concerns and make sure we were moving forward in a way that they endorsed. That has been our priority. Please review the short-term action plan drafted in response to the students’ specific demands. Student leaders have been thoughtful, thorough, and firm in their insistence on change, and we agree with their assessment that change is essential and overdue.

As we think further about what it will take to dismantle institutionalized racism and transform Carleton into a college that lives up to our collective aspirations, we must address gaps in equity and justice on campus – gaps we are turning to with urgency and attention. As a first step, anti-racism training facilitated by non-Carleton personnel will be required of all faculty and staff this fall.

We have a responsibility to ensure that Carleton is a place where all BIPOC feel welcome, but specifically, our BIPOC students should have the resources and support they need to thrive. This will involve both immediate steps, as well as medium and long-range planning involving all Carleton constituencies. The alumni letter calls for a 10-year plan; this is an idea that is valid and has merit. Later this month a special called meeting of the Board of Trustees is being held to discuss matters of diversity and inclusion, and this idea will be brought forward. Once the term gets underway, other relevant campus governance parties will be brought into the discussion.

Many internal and external stakeholders will be involved in conversations to inform the best plans for Carleton’s future. Alumni, many of whom had painful experiences at Carleton themselves, or witnessed the experiences of friends, have rightly called for engagement in the College’s response to long-standing problems with racism and the move to a more just, inclusive, and equitable campus. We will coordinate these efforts with the help of the Alumni Council, the Multicultural Alumni Network, and the campus’s Community, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion board. Carleton’s history has shown that we cannot accomplish the necessary level of change on our own, and we embrace the need for partners to move forward at this painful time that is also rife with opportunity.

The letter circulating among alumni and posted to social media also calls for a withholding of gifts, both dollars and volunteer hours. The decision to make a gift to the College to support students as they pursue their Carleton education is a matter of personal choice for every alum and donor. Carleton alumni have a long history of supporting the College with gifts and volunteer time, even as they hold their alma mater to achieving higher standards and push for a continued redefinition of excellence. 

During this time of pandemic and economic upheaval, the need for financial aid is increasing just as the College incurs new costs related to health and safety. To reduce the budget deficit, the College recently instituted budget cuts that included departmental budget cuts, compensation freezes and benefit cuts for all faculty and staff, and deferral of capital projects. However, additional funds have been set aside to support the financial aid budget to reflect this continuing need and top College priority.  For the incoming Class of 2024, 62% of the class will receive financial aid (compared to 56% for last year’s class). Thirty-eight percent of the incoming students identify as BIPOC, an additional 8% are international students, and 13% are the first person in their family to attend college. Every gift of dollars and time helps support these students.

Despite the current budget cuts at the College, an additional $500,000 has been budgeted for the upcoming year to support antiracism work and efforts related to improving equity and inclusion. As medium- and long-range plans come into focus, additional budget and other resources will be added to support success in these endeavors.

We remain grateful for an alumni community who cares enough to criticize, and we hope that we can count on alumni to partner with us as we seek to make meaningful and lasting change.

Steve Poskanzer, President

Bev Nagel ‘75, Dean of the College

Carolyn Livingston, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students

Tommy Bonner, Vice President for External Relations

Eric Runestad, Vice President & Treasurer

Art Rodriguez ‘96, Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid

Elise Eslinger ‘92, Vice President and Chief of Staff