SARATOGA SPRINGS — Skidmore College plans to move forward with a series of new racial justice initiatives this school year, including new leadership hires, funding for speakers and efforts to engage with students and alumni of color, President Marc Conner announced Tuesday.
Conner, who took charge of the college July 1, outlined 12 specific projects that aim to address “the realities of racial injustice locally, nationally and globally,” and said they were the result of wide-ranging conversations over the past two months.
“Skidmore, like all of us as individuals, can be better and do better,” he said in a video message outlining the plan. “I’ve been learning about many areas of pain, suffering, anger, resentment and simmering frustration, and the tangible measures I share today… have been informed by those feelings and those concerns.”
The college plans to soon fill two leadership positions focused on diversity and inclusion on campus, establish a new diversity, equity and inclusion subcommittee of the Board of Trustees, and train all faculty and staff in anti-racism in a college environment. The plan calls for engaging directly with the broader Saratoga Springs community, including involvement in the city’s governor-mandated task force on police reform and efforts to facilitate conversations between Skidmore students and city leaders.
Conner also said he allocated “much of the president’s discretionary fund” for this school year to supporting speakers focused on anti-racism and other student and faculty projects on the subject.
“This is truly institution-altering work at the highest level,” Conner said.
College officials promised to issue monthly progress reports on each of the 12 projects. Conner acknowledged the May killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and the raw emotions many people have on subjects of race and promised to lead the campus effort to “grapple with past events… that continue to divide us as we seek racial understanding and healing.”
“I’m committed to building together a community of trust here at Skidmore in which everyone feels at home, welcome and represented, and everyone feels safe and supported enough to thrive and be challenged by the education they receive here,” Conner said.
As a summer of protests sparked a renewed focus on racial justice, Skidmore students voiced personal stories on social media about the ways Black students have felt marginalized on campus and in Saratoga Spring.
Student activists returned to school ready to continue pressuring college officials and strengthening ties with other activists in the region. Students at Pass the Mic, a campus collective that serves as a platform for traditionally-marginalized students, organized an on-campus protest and march on the first day of school, culminating in a visit to the president’s house.
“This isn’t an isolated action in response to an isolated event,” Adia Cullors, a Skidmore senior and one of the protest organizers, said in an interview ahead of the student protest. “This is the result of years and years and years of neglect by Skidmore towards its Black and indigenous students, a lack of protection of them.”
Protest organizers argued students of color at Skidmore have long suffered direct discrimination at the hands of professors and local police and had the added burden of existing on a predominately white campus. They outlined a list of nearly 20 policy demands for college officials.
Conner’s own list of policies overlaps with the student demands – particularly on training and student engagement – but falls short of the students’ call for a prohibition against Saratoga police on campus, increased donor and investment transparency and the firing of specific professors the organizers said have discriminated against students.
In his message, Conner said the effort aimed to address longstanding concerns ranging from “perceived faculty bias to distrust between the college and the city of Saratoga Springs.” He promised to review the college’s bias-reporting system and explore other ways for students to communicate concerns.
“We are not simply placing a Band-aid on these issues with the hope they will go away,” Conner said. “We are identifying wounds and working to achieve real and lasting healing and change.”