April 19, 2021

To: Employees & Students

Fr: Matthew Derr, President

Re: Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Work

In June 2020 I shared a number of commitments Sterling has made to advance our collective efforts to fulfill our shared obligation to work together on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

The College’s efforts have included the creation of a new Diversity & Inclusion Fellow role, for which three candidates – each of whom identifies as BIPOC – will virtually come to campus in the next two weeks to meet with our entire community and with students who are members of Roots. This position is the realization of a long-standing need and one that BIPOC students and alumni have requested.

Sterling and College of the Atlantic will share this full-time position for the next year. It is our intent that by combining our resources and bringing our two ecologically-focused missions together that the professional development we share for faculty and staff will be richer and more effective. More importantly, we hope that by bringing students on both campuses together we can reduce the isolation BIPOC students report that they experience in both Bar Harbor and Craftsbury Common.

I want to acknowledge Ruth Gardinet, Favor Ellis, Carol Dickson, and Caitlin Miller for their service on and in support of the search committee for the fellow. Each student and member of the faculty and staff will have an opportunity to participate in the process of interviewing and providing feedback on the candidates. The appointment of the fellow will prepare both colleges to consider what will be the best next step – continued collaboration or not – as we work to fulfill our commitment to sustaining DEI expertise on campus.

With contributions to this memo from Leah Bayens, Favor Ellis, Christina Goodwin, Moxie Mehegan, Julian Sharp, Laura Spence, and Tony VanWinkle, I write to share progress toward becoming a more just and equitable community. Each of these items should be seen as “work in progress” with next steps being identified through shared governance, including by the Equity Council.

  • Sterling supported efforts to launch the 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 town-wide budget to support this work on an ongoing basis. The town’s Equity Task Force 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 $1,200 to carry out the work. Sterling continues to be an engaged primary stakeholder.

  • In Kentucky, Sterling’s Wendell Berry Farming Program 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 Agriculture Partnership Program; Bowling Green Refugee Farmers; National Black Farmers Association; Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Related Sciences (MANRRS); and Federation of Southern Cooperatives.

  • It became clear that the College did not have the internal expertise on its faculty or staff, or the resources necessary to take its Privilege, Oppression, Diversity, and Social Justice curricular initiative to its next step of implementation. Therefore, to fulfill this critical commitment, Sterling successfully submitted a grant proposal to create the Diversity & Inclusion Fellowship in partnership with College of the Atlantic. The proposal has a $90,000 budget and will include a review of 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.

  • The College’s Equity Council has supported a number of events, internal and external, offered to BIPOC and white allies, including a three-part training on equity and bias during the Fall 2020 semester, open to all community members, with a focus on student leaders, incoming students, and new staff. The Equity Council is presently working on a two-part community-wide training for the 2021 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.

  • Sha’an Mouliert began contracted work as the Coordinator of BIPOC Student Support in September 2020. She works closely with the President, Dean of Student Life, Dean of Academics, and the Equity Council to provide holistic support to students who identify as BIPOC. She serves as an adjunct faculty advisor to Roots, a student group with membership that includes domestic and international students who identify as BIPOC. Sha’an meets with the Roots group and Roots student leadership weekly and with individual students on an as-needed basis. Through this engagement, Sha’an has been able to serve as an advocate for the needs of BIPOC students, identify areas in need of examination and transformation, and has created pathways for students to build and sustain their agency to advocate for the support they wish for the College to provide.

  • The Search Committee for the most recent faculty searches worked with the Equity Council to provide a clear diversity statement within the job descriptions. 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 will report on their progress in recruiting a more diverse faculty at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year.

  • Sterling College has solicited from the faculty a list of fifteen mission-aligned, BIPOC candidates for the Board of Advisors and/or Board of Trustees and, of those, immediately appointed Chief Don Stevens as a trustee-elect. Chief Stevens is the second trustee in the recent 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 May meeting of the Board of Trustees.

  • Sterling College completed a Student and Alumni of Color Survey 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. 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 the 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 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 a recent Indigenous Forest Knowledge Fund grant application. One of the potential outcomes of that grant, if awarded, will be the development of a Biocultural Heritage Garden and forestry installation on the Nulhegan lands in Barton, which will involve students and faculty.

  • 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 the Living Legacy Project. This spring the Advancement Office is organizing a speaker series on diversity, ecology, outdoor education and environmental justice, including the recent presentation by Majora Carter, organized by Farley Brown.

  • Finally, the College’s Equity Council has been actively working cross-departmentally with Student Life and Academics. During the 2020 academic year the Equity Council:

    • Hosted and elevated 10 educational and professional development opportunities;

    • Reviewed, refined, and partook in the screening and interviews of 5 new faculty positions and an Assistant Dean of Student Life;

    • Launched a community bias report system, furthering pathways for students to safely identify harm behaviors in the community; and

    • Co-launched the Sterling Community Care task force.

Many thanks to the employees and students who serve on Equity Council.

I am grateful to share this summary of our DEI work over the academic year, particularly because it is important to recognize those who are engaged in it. However, I also want to underscore that these efforts are ongoing and, with additional support from our Diversity & Inclusion Fellow and BIPOC leadership, will expand in scale and effectiveness as we work on our commitment to be an anti-racist academic community.

Filed Under: Blog Community Uncategorized