- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
St. Mary’s College of Maryland canceled classes Wednesday for a daylong discussion on the college’s future, including its attitudes toward racial diversity.
Beth Rushing, vice president of academic affairs and dean of faculty, said St. Mary’s Day offered a glimpse at what the college should strive toward, including staying true to its mission of “thriving on diversity.”
Rushing organized the day’s events, which started with a strategic planning session attended by about 400 faculty, staff and students where they discussed five goals of the college.
“There were a lot of great ideas,” Rushing said, including how important it is to talk to one another.
Philosophy professor Sybol Cook Anderson organized an afternoon program called “Let’s Talk Race.”
The college held a screening of Lee Mun Wah’s 1994 film “The Color of Fear.” Eight men of different races gathered to discuss and confront racism in America in the provocative documentary.
Some members of the audience said the film made them very uncomfortable, and in a way exposed some level of racism within them they did not know existed.
“It really does come down to the individual and what we do with those feelings,” Jose Ballesteros, a professor at the college, said in response to one student.
The day’s discussions on race were organized in part as a response to incidents last fall on campus that caused some students to question the predominantly white college’s inclusiveness toward minorities.
An item was discovered missing in a student residence and the thief, posing as a witness, claimed to have seen a black male outside the window of the campus residence.
During the public safety officers’ investigation, the officers stopped and questioned a black male student who was a different height than the description. That student was released, but was questioned again later that night by another set of public safety officers.
Though St. Mary’s College of Maryland President Joseph Urgo said the incident bordered on profiling, he defended the campus security officers’ actions and said they were not negligent in their duties.
The following day the student who posed as a witness confessed to the crime, according to Urgo.
A college administrator last semester acknowledged there had been other incidents that caused some students to concern with how diversity is treated on campus.
“Like a lot of places, we are not always successful in how we work together,” Rushing said this week.
Hopefully, she said, by talking about issues like diversity the college community can become more knowledgeable and tolerant and better understand how different races feel. Rushing said she hopes to have ongoing discussions like those this week each year.
The college last semester hired a theater professor to write, perform and document a play about race at St. Mary’s. American University professor Caleen Sinnette Jennings spent several weeks at campus researching, writing and rehearsing the play, “A Look at St. Mary’s Hear and Now.”
Jennings returned to campus Wednesday to show a documentary about the play and students presented an updated version of the performance.
The theater professor said she hoped to raise the level of trust between students of different races so students can more openly talk about racial issues.
“The less we talk about it the more it goes on,” student James Therm said in a documentary about the play.
That was the general theme of the day students and others on campus needed to talk about race issues if they were ever going to work them out.
The college also hosted a well-attended presentation on its budget Wednesday evening, Rushing said. College administrators presented information about possible tuition increases next year and addressed faculty and staff raises. Some students and faculty are organizing this semester to demand living wages for staff at the college.
The college trustees will meet Saturday and are scheduled to take action on next year’s budget, including setting tuition. St. Mary’s College of Maryland is among the most expensive four-year public colleges in the nation, according to a federal report.