Originating in 1865, Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. For the second year, Sterling will join in solidarity by observing Juneteenth this Monday, June 21st, as a college holiday. While Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of the legal enslavement of millions of people, it does not represent the end of the struggle that led from Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, and through the contemporary efforts to confront the persistence of white supremacy in the 21st century. 

Recognizing that here in Craftsbury, in this nation, and around the world, people are mobilizing to address long standing injustice and to build more inclusive communities, Sterling College adopted a strategic initiative in April 2019 that commits Sterling to use education as a force to address structural oppression that impacts human and ecological well being. Specifically to create and sustain educational programs that are anti-racist, anti-biased, and that promote equity and justice; to recruit an increasingly diverse leadership, faculty, and staff while preparing all employees to work to ensure that all programs and institutional practices are inclusive; to merit a reputation as an anti-racist and anti-bias institution focused on promoting equity and justice; to develop partnerships with organizations that commit to anti-racism and anti-bias that promote equity and justice; and to fulfill our vision of anti-racism and anti-bias in our organization, governance, and use of resources.

In June 2020, Sterling made a number of actionable commitments, informed by the better part of a decade of effort on the part of many people to make Sterling a more inclusive institution. And thus, in honor of Juneteenth, Sterling is again reporting out on its progress. With deep gratitude to our students, employees, alumnx, and the broader community for holding us accountable.

Community Wellbeing

Recognizing the need to be vigilant in our support the safety and wellbeing of our community and the experience of students of color, Sterling is in ongoing engagement with the towns of Craftsbury, Vermont, and New Castle, Kentucky, so that we can strengthen our awareness, and prepare us to respond directly to racism in our communities.

Sterling supported efforts to launch the town’s Craftsbury Equity Task Force during the summer of 2020 with representation from members of the Equity Council, technical support in making the meetings available to the public over Zoom, and unsuccessfully advocating for a townwide budget to support this work on an ongoing basis. The town’s Equity Team gathered feedback from across the community asking the questions “what does equity mean to you?” and “what actions should the town Equity Team take?” Following the feedback gathering stage, the team disbanded in late 2020 due to multiple reasons. During the winter of 2021, the town select board adopted a path forward consisting of four phases and set aside a budget to carry out the work. Sterling continues to be an engaged primary stakeholder.

In Kentucky, Sterling’s Wendell Berry Farming Program (WBFP) has developed relationships with organizations that promote racial equity and are led by people of color. WBFP participants have been guided by members of the local African American fraternity, the Oddfellows, and the National Black Veterans’ Association (NABVETS) to understand the past and present lives of people of color in Henry County. We have engaged in conversations with representatives from Black Soil and the Russellville Urban Gardening Project, Kentucky-based African American farmer advocacy organizations. Southern Crossroads conducted inclusive conversation training specifically across race and class differences. The College has also reached out to organizations serving BIPOC communities for recruitment, including: Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program; Bowling Green Refugee Farmers; National Black Farmers Association; Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Related Sciences (MANRRS); and Federation of Southern Cooperatives.

Sterling’s Equity Council and the Office of Student Life launched a community bias reporting system in February 2021, furthing pathways for students to safely identify harm behaviors in the community; and co-launched the Sterling Community Care Task Force. 

In response to the intersectional needs expressed by students of color and LGBTQ+ students, Sterling crafted a series of new policies outlining authentic representation, inclusive storytelling, and the importance of individual choice related to marketing and communications of the College. These policies will launch on July 1 with the refreshed identity.

Campus-wide Programming

A pledge to devote new financial resources to increase campus-wide programming addressing racism has come to manifest through a $175,000 grant secured collaboratively by Sterling and College of the Atlantic to establish a shared Diversity & Inclusion Fellowship and associated programming budget. Rachael Blansett begins in this role on August 1. The grant will also work towards equipping white allies with the tools and skills and self-awareness they need as we work towards a community where all members are thriving.

Sha’an Mouliert served as the Coordinator of BIPOC Student Support in the 20/21 academic year. She worked closely with the President, Dean of Student Life, Dean of Academics, and Equity Council to provide holistic support to students who identify as BIPOC. She served as an adjunct advisor to Roots, a student group with membership that includes domestic and international students who identify as BIPOC. Through this engagement, Sha’an advocated for the needs of BIPOC students, identified areas in need of examination and transformation, and created pathways for students to build and sustain their agency to advocate for the support they wish for the College to provide.

Sterling convened its first BIPOC Alumnx Panel in April 2021 and from that gleaned valuable ideas for future events that will bring together current students, alumnx, employees, and former employees on a more regular basis as a means to cultivate community.

The College’s Equity Council has been actively working cross-departmentally with Student Life and Academics. During the 20/21 academic year Equity Council hosted and elevated 10 educational and professional development opportunities.

Sterling has been participating in the ongoing curation and sharing of educational opportunities with our students that other schools and organizations have organized. This also includes a civil rights speaker series and a series focused on music from the civil rights era, both organized by Julian Sharp, Director of Community Outreach, and the Living Legacy Project. This past spring the Advancement Office organized a virtual speaker series of BIPOC voices working in areas related to ecological thinking and action thanks to a generous Sterling family. The speaker series will continue in the Fall 2021 semester.

Inclusive Academics

Faculty Council undertook a specific strategy, including outside consultation, for the active recruitment of candidates of color for faculty vacancies. Sterling’s Equity Council helped review and refine recruitment language and partook in the screening and interviews of 5 new faculty positions and an Assistant Dean of Student Life. Attention was paid to advertising these positions in locations likely to reach potential candidates of color and included advertisements in four national recruitment sites that are focused on reaching diverse audiences. The final round of candidates for multiple faculty positions included individuals who identified as people of color, and thus far one offer acceptance by a person who identifies as BIPOC has been received.

The Dean of Academics and Faculty Council are actively identifying and appointing visiting faculty of color to make virtual community presentations and also to teach intensive and/or long block courses in the coming academic year and beyond. 

After it became clear that Sterling did not have the internal expertise on its faculty or staff, or the resources necessary to take its Privilege, Oppression, Diversity, and Social Justice (PODS) curricular initiative to its next step of implementation on the originally outlined timeline (December 1, 2020), the Diversity & Inclusion Fellow will take over the charge. This work will review the academic program and provide professional development for the faculty to be able to increasingly fulfill their commitment to provide a college-wide ecological thinking and action curriculum that addresses PODS.

Leadership

The Trusteeship Committee of the Board of Trustees and the President will continue its effort to sustain and expand diversity in the governance and leadership of the College. From the faculty, Sterling solicited a strong list of fifteen mission-aligned, BIPOC candidates for the Board of Advisors and/or Board of Trustees. Of those, the College immediately appointed Chief Don Stevens as a trustee-elect. Chief Stevens is the second trustee in the history of the College who identifies as BIPOC. The Advancement Office is actively pursuing conversations with four more of the candidates. This work will continue at the June meeting of the Trusteeship Committee.

Sterling College completed a Student and Alumni of Color Survey in May 2021 to better understand the experiences of students and alumni of color at the College and to uncover areas impacting the retention of students of color. This work was funded by the Davis Educational Foundation. Leadership for the study was provided by Dr. Steven Thurston Oliver, a Sterling trustee. Dr. Oliver is an Associate Professor of Secondary and Higher Education at Salem State University and previously the Assistant Vice President for Institutional Diversity at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Oliver has presented his findings to the Board of Trustees and President’s Cabinet and will be presenting to Faculty Council, Student Engagement Committee, and Equity Council. To compliment the above survey, which was targeted specifically to students and alumni of color, Sterling’s Equity Council conducted a Campus Climate Survey of the full student body to gather information regarding their experiences with bias, discrimination, culture, safety, and satisfaction. 

Sterling’s Equity Council works closely with Student Life Council and Faculty Council to assess and report to the President and community on its progress on diversity and inclusion. In Fall 2020 Equity Council supported a number of events, internal and external, offered to BIPOC and white allies, including a three-part training on equity and bias open to all community members, with a focus on student leaders, incoming students, and new staff. Equity Council is presently working on a two-part community-wide training for the 21/22 academic year focusing first on racial literacy and then holistic healing from the trauma of embodied racism. Lastly, Sterling has increased its partnership with other organizations, such as The SUSU Healing Collective, by elevating and financially supporting attendance to outside community events.

Abenaki Partnership

Sterling continues to honor the MOU with Abenaki Helping Abenaki (AHA) and Seeds of Renewal, maintaining the Abenaki-Dawnland Heritage garden project on the Craftsbury campus. Herein we steward around 50 rare indigenous crop varieties for both conservation and rematriation to tribal members. Sterling provides traditional food items to AHA, including over 100 pounds of winter squash and cornmeal. Tribal members lead students and faculty annually in a field blessing ceremony and Chief Stevens has appeared as a guest in several classes over the last year. The Wildlife Conservation and Management class produced a Habitat Assessment Report for the Nulhegan land in Barton, Vermont. Sterling is also one of the institutional partners in recent conceptualizing conversations which, when funded, will involve students and faculty in the development of a Biocultural Heritage Garden and forestry installation on the Nulhegan lands in Barton, Vermont.

In May 2021, it was conferred upon Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation an honorary Doctor of Letters in perpetuity. This resolution is made in recognition of the generations of Abenaki people on whose unceded land Sterling College gathers. 

Outstanding Commitments

In partnership between Equity Council and the Finance Office, Sterling will make the commitment to increase our purchasing from Black-Owned businesses, and other vendor options that support equity and inclusion. No progress to report due to turnover in the Business Office. 

The President and the Dean of Finance & Operations – who oversees human resources – will identify external consultative support to examine the College’s hiring process and make changes that reflect best practices, including the adoption of a 3-year strategic plan to build a more diverse faculty, staff, and administration.

The College will provide quarterly training – organized and led by the President’s Office and Human Resources – in diversity and inclusion for all employees.

In partnership between Equity Council, the Finance Office, and Sterling Operations including Grounds and Maintenance, the Sterling Kitchen, and the Sterling Farm, Sterling will make the commitment to increase our purchasing from BIPOC businesses, and other vendor options that support equity and inclusion.

We as a college and a liberal arts academic community have the opportunity and imperative to do better with respect to fostering a strong sense of belonging for students and employees of historically and contemporarily marginalized identities in higher education and at Sterling. Our ecological thinking and action mission requires us, and our convictions should ensure, that we continue to actively take action to become an anti-racist institution. 

If you would like to learn more about the history of Juneteenth and its history, you can visit Hellajuneteenth.

With conviction,

Matthew Derr President

 



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