Op-ed column: Strock’s criticism of Skidmore betrays bias, presumes guilt

Carl Strock is quick to label “vacuity of thought” when he critiques diversity, but then we, in turn

Carl Strock has now devoted four columns to attacking the students, faculty, staff, programs, and mission of Skidmore College.

This series was provoked by an altercation at a diner in Saratoga Springs on Dec. 18, which led to the arrest of four Skidmore students. One student initially was charged with a hate crime, a charge later dropped when it was found to be baseless by the Saratoga County District Attorney.

Without waiting for the legal process to run its course, Strock promptly presumed guilt and declared that a student of color was not the victim of, but indeed was the perpetrator of, a hate crime. Such “cruel irony,” according to Strock, constituted “the revenge of the diversity gods”; for his purpose was not to probe the facts of this incident but to expose the “crime” that he perceives in Skidmore’s commitment to diversity.

Multiple assumptions

To that end, he has offered not simply his premature presumption of the guilt of four students but myriad assumptions: that black and Hispanic students from the Bronx, Brooklyn and South Africa must be “toughs,” “thugs,” and “violent bigots”; that they could not, by the very nature of things, be academically qualified for entrance to Skidmore College; and that all such student applicants should be screened for criminal records.

Strock is quick to label “vacuity of thought” when he critiques diversity, but then we, in turn, have the right to demand precision in his own thinking. Instead, he resorts to the kind of stereotyping that is downright dangerous and leads to nothing good.

To be sure, there has been a veritable epidemic of negative stereotyping in the aftermath of this incident at the diner, not all of it originated by Strock: stereotyping of the police and indeed all law enforcement officials; of Skidmore’s faculty and staff; and of the residents of Saratoga Springs.

And most disturbing has been the offensive stereotyping of Skidmore students based on class and race.

Clearly, Strock has much at stake to put so much effort into disdaining the diversity efforts of Skidmore College. But the irony, the real irony, is that his columns have the effect of demonstrating precisely why such work is necessary.

Inclusive environment

Strock is right about this: Skidmore does not want to be an exclusive campus; we do want to create an inclusive environment, one where all our students, no matter who they are or where they come from, will feel welcome so that they can focus on the hard work of learning. We believe that learning is richer and more rigorous when it takes place in a diverse setting and is subject to multiple perspectives. And we believe that unless the curriculum prepares students for living in an increasingly multi-national and multi-racial world, we will have failed in our goal to educate them as both scholars and citizens.

We freely admit that it’s one thing to articulate this aspiration in our Strategic Plan and quite another thing to live it; with all humility, we acknowledge that we still have much to do in that regard.

But we are committed to the ongoing effort. Despite the challenges and the setbacks, there is no work more urgent or important.

Nearly 2,500 students attend Skidmore each year. Racially and ethnically diverse, these students come from more than 40 states and dozens of countries, from large cities and small towns, from rural as well as urban settings, and from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds.

For those with financial need, we have programs that offer access to a liberal arts education, but, whether or not they receive financial aid, all our students on campus have fully earned admission to the college, and we count ourselves fortunate to enroll them.

When our students arrive at Skidmore, we emphasize to them that they have joined both our campus community and the community of Saratoga Springs, of which the college is very much a part. Skidmore students volunteer at local charities, work in numerous organizations and businesses throughout the city, purchase local goods and services, and, it is generally acknowledged, add immeasurably to the city’s vitality. Occasionally, a few of our students do get into trouble; and when that happens, we hold them accountable.

Let me return to the incident at the diner in Saratoga Springs. As these cases are still before the courts, I will continue to reserve judgment.

Process of mending

But no matter what preceded it, violence happened. And violence always leaves damage in its wake; in this case, as we are seeing, the damage goes well beyond the original incident. At Skidmore, we deeply regret the harm to all those affected by this case, and we want to be engaged now in the process of mending.

We will be working in our own community, particularly to support all Skidmore students in this difficult time, and we will be reaching out to Saratoga Springs as well and beyond. We want to collaborate with all who are willing to partner with us on the best way to move forward.

Susan Kress is acting president of Skidmore College. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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