Scripps Responds to Student Diversity Demands

On Dec. 3, roughly 70 students gathered Scripps' Tiernan Field House to protest the Board of Trustees refusing to release a solidarity statement condemning institutional racism. (Courtesy of Julia Thomas • The Student Life)

On Feb. 5, the Scripps College senior administration team published an update on diversity and inclusion as a follow up to its Dec. 15 letter, which responded to a list of demands generated at a community forum. The letter reiterated Scripps administration’s commitment to collaborating with students in taking actions against institutional racism and creating a more supportive environment for marginalized groups. 

The update included a complete list of the demands that the Scripps administration has committed to upholding, with a status on progress provided for each. The areas of focus in the list included student support and resources, education and accountability, curriculum, enrollment, and consortial policies.

Binti Harvey, Vice President for Marketing and Communications, stated that student demands last semester prompted the administration to make key changes, including the creation of a new part time position focused on diversity and inclusion work, whom the administration hopes to hire before the summer. Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson and Vice President/Secretary of Board of Trustees Diane Nelson Nash will meet with students in the coming weeks to develop the position responsibilities, and use this feedback to shape the job description of the new hire.

Other initiatives include additional anti-oppression and inclusion workshops for Scripps community members, groups to consider new intercollegiate academic programs such as Indigenous Studies and Disability Studies, alteration to the school’s SAT/ACT requirement, and scholarships for undocumented/DACAmented students.

The administration has also been focusing on expanding Scripps’ First Generation students program, with an emphasis on community building and student success.

“Its expansion is ongoing and dependent on the needs of students as they work to successfully navigate their Scripps experience,” Harvey wrote in an email to TSL.

These demands come in the wake of dialogue about increased support of students of color. Following last semester’s request for the administration to support CMCers of Color, students of color at Scripps on the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (PACDI) were invited to attend the December Board of Trustees meeting. According to student organizer Chelci Houston SC ‘17, the Board did not accept students’ request to release a letter of solidarity against institutional racism.

“This refusal left many students of color that actively participated in the meeting feeling used, exploited, fatigued, frustrated and helpless,” Houston said.

According to Houston, Wanawake Leadership decided to organize a protest, and about 70 students gathered at Tiernan Field House, where the Board of Trustees annual dinner with students took place Dec. 3.

“It was a phenomenal turnout and a phenomenal demonstration,” Houston wrote. “What I do know for sure is that if we did not protest that evening and show up for each other, we would not have gotten a letter of solidarity so soon, if at all.”

Denise Nelson Nash, Vice President and Secretary of the Board, said that the trustees were “deeply moved by the honest and candid accounts of students of color” at the Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity and Inclusivity meeting on Dec. 3.

“The [committee] made a commitment to the students at the Thursday meeting to draft a statement of support for consideration by the Board for approval,” Nelson Nash wrote in an email to TSL. “The committee presented the students’ request to the full Board at the Board Meeting and a statement was approved rejecting institutional racism and all forms of bias, discrimination, and oppression.”

Houston reported that student activists were invited to speak with the senior team to discuss demands and actions after the protest at the Board of Trustees meeting.

“I personally feel as though administration, under the direction of Interim President Amy Marcus-Newhall, has collectively decided to become more receptive to the needs of marginalized students,” Houston wrote.

“I’d like to see them create a culture of being proactive, more receptive, and goal oriented,” she added.

Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson stated that the list of commitments and actions were made because of ongoing conversations with students since October.

“If you look at what we’ve done, we listen to students, we have acted on student concerns, and we’ve created a space for students to be able to voice those concerns and make suggestions about how to improve,” Johnson said. “We want to keep moving forward and take action.”

According to Johnson, the Scripps administration have been continuously working on diversity and inclusion issues.

“I would say more than appeasing discontent, I’d [like] to make sure we are doing all we can to ensure that every student feel the sense of ownership here, and is able to thrive.” Johnson said. “That is really ultimately the goal.”

Student organizer Pamela Ng SC ’16 noted that individual members of the senior team have been meeting with the students this year, but the Board of Trustees has not communicated with the students since sending out the statement last semester.

“The senior team, especially Amy, has been really good in acknowledging the need for transparency. Keeping solid updates from the administration is really good for students in the larger community to know what’s going on,” Ng said. “What the organizers really hope is that we are always part of the process of figuring out institutional change.”

Lauren Ison contributed reporting.