Campus Climate Survey Draws to a Close as Tensions Erupt in Baldwin

Baldwin House has had a long history of racial tension that reached a peak this fall. || Photo Courtesy of Dartmo.Com

Photo courtesy of Dartmo.com | Baldwin House has had a long history of racial tension that reached a peak this fall.

Katherine Hazen ’18
Associate Editor

The much-anticipated Pathways Campus Climate Survey closes tomorrow. The survey represents one of the several initiatives the administration has undertaken in the last year to heal racial divides and “build a just and inclusive campus,” President Kathleen McCartney wrote in a campus-wide email in early September.

The survey — as McCartney wrote in an email announcing the survey to the Smith community — seeks to “1) identify successful initiatives, 2) uncover any challenges facing members of our community, and 3) develop strategic initiatives to build on the successes and address the challenges.”

“We won’t begin to analyze any data until after the survey closes on October 28. The results will be disclosed to the community in the spring,” said Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Dwight Hamilton in an email to The Sophian.

Response from students was slow at first, Hamilton said, but “[a]s of October 21, about 25% of all students, including graduate students have completed the survey.”

“I’ve heard from students who have completed the survey, and they’ve said that they appreciated the survey and felt that it reflected the many identities that we have at Smith,” Hamilton added.

This survey of campus climate is all the more relevant considering the recent escalation of racial tensions in Baldwin House. Residents took to Smith Confessional after a post to the Baldwin House Instagram had cropped out residents of color from a picture of the house watching the presidential debate. This incident came just a few days after racially-charged statements were seen on the face board of a Social Justice & Equity Representative, who has since stepped down.   

Baldwin House President Katie Cooney ’17 did not respond to The Sophian’s request for comment.

A source who asked to remain anonymous said Baldwin House has a history and reputation across campus of discrimination.

“Last year a white resident taped one of the Black History Month posters we had hanging to the bottom of the toilet,” the source said. A few years prior, a resident had called Campus Police on a black student, who was studying in Baldwin as the guest of a resident.

After a House Council meeting descended into tears and blame, the Office of Residence Life hosted “Informal Caucusing” for the house into self-selected groups of white, multi and biracial, and students of color, each facilitated by faculty from the Offices of ResLife and Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, according to an email from ResLife obtained by The Sophian.

“Some of the things that came out of the white caucus were so bad that other white people present were shaken up and shared them with myself and other [residents of color],” the source said.

“I don’t know how to talk to them,” one resident of the white caucus said, as two fellow members confirmed on condition of anonymity. “I’ve never had friends who are people of color.”

Baldwin, however, is not the only house embroiled in racial tensions. “[W]e’ve had at this point four houses [this year] that are addressing racial conflicts within their houses,” said Associate Director of ResLife Hannah Durrant. “As a department we are trying to understand why that’s happening. … I’m not sure whether the prevalence of racial conflict is increasing but rather that people are wanting to talk about it more.”

When ResLife learns of an incident or tension within a house, there is preliminary response, Durrant told The Sophian. “We meet with leadership of the house; we get an understanding of what’s happening, and we connect those most affected [with] access to resources, and we think about how to move the community forward.” But Durrant emphasized, ResLife doesn’t take a “cookie-cutter” approach to each house.

At the time of writing, Hamilton was scheduled to visit house leadership at Baldwin and other houses Tuesday night, according to Durrant.

“In collaboration with other campus resources, such as Residence Life and Counseling, the Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity is available to work with any house that needs help in maintaining an inclusive environment,” Hamilton said.

ResLife is looking at bringing in training and programming to houses. “We’re trying to get houses that want to have these in-depth conversations facilitators that can do that.” As for the possibility of affinity housing, it is going to continue to be researched and discussed, but no decisions have been made.   

The campus climate survey, which closes Oct. 28, offered Smith students the chance to be, as our source from Baldwin said, “brutally honest.”

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