From the Desk of the Chief Diversity Officer

I present this issue with a heavy heart. We, at Middlebury, are going through a workforce planning process (a euphemism for layoffs) in a bid to reduce compensation costs and correct our long-standing deficit. Every loss will be felt deeply on the MIIS campus as we are a small community and the absence of each person will be experienced both on a personal and institutional level.

As employees, we are anxious about our own jobs while worrying about everyone else’s situation. Being in the same boat, so to speak, binds the community together but it also brings out the very basic survival instinct that lives in all of us. To survive, in this context, we must put our heads down and not draw attention to ourselves; and if we must make a noise, there is strength in numbers. However, we instinctively know that we should never be caught standing alone.

It should not surprise anyone that it is a real struggle to continue the work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in this environment. Unless you are personally impacted by something that crushes your identity, one learns to let identity evolve into whatever is needed for survival. It means it gets harder to get people to take a stand, especially for another person, and even harder to integrate these issues into everyday interactions and relationships. The administration, under a lot of pressure to develop a just workforce planning process, has no time to engage in diversity matters beyond the legal obligations, which does not do much for equity goals.  Moreover, now is the time to admit that some of the obvious lack of diversity in our institution makes it apparent why we refrain from or are not compelled to view our current crisis through a racial equity or inclusion lens.

Students who are indirectly, and some argue even directly, affected by workforce planning seem to get even more detached from equity issues on campus.  The general mood in the community is that if we must, let us focus on the discrimination and marginalization happening in the world around us but not in our school because that would entail way more introspection than what we are comfortable with right now. As administrators, faculty, or staff, we may not be able to operate as equity champions because we are all mostly saving ourselves and our immediate program or department. Students therefore are not pressured and challenged by us, educators, to stand up for  the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our school. As a result, a recent case of hate speech and cyberbullying on our campus went unchallenged for a long time, and it took even longer for the administration to respond. To read the Vice-President’s email to the community, click here.

Reflecting on this recent incident of bullying and hate speech, I am conscious how much further we need to go as a community when it comes to building a culture of collegiality, respect, and professionalism. The students associated with the Allies at MIIS initiative of the Center for Conflict Studies have been challenged and pushed to their limits in responding to the incident mentioned above and in the subsequent interactions they have had with their peers. While I remain proud of our achievements, it has never been more clear that belonging to the Allies at MIIS core student group does not mean you are an ally, only that you are in training to be an ally – an arduous process. To read a letter from the student core group of Allies at MIIS to their peers, click here.

I know I have a massive task in front me, that of setting up processes and policies by which the Institute’s administration responds to and articulates our vision and mission as it relates to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. My goals for the next semester are to push for policies and community activities that can help build a caring community.

I am sometimes paralyzed by how much work needs to be done. However, in my many periods of frustration, I have felt energized by the support networks I have created for myself on and off campus. I find myself relying more and more on my networks to help me navigate through personal and institutional crises. To all of them, I am forever grateful.

Best wishes,
Pushpa Iyer