At Meredith College, administration frequently responds to national, local and college-specific events that may impact students. For example, the administration has recently sent out emails regarding the rise in hate crimes against the Asian community and the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. Many students in the Meredith community have recognized that response times are different from subject to subject. The Meredith Herald interviewed current and former students about their opinions on administrative response times during their time at Meredith and also spoke to members of the Meredith administration about the process for releasing announcements.
One student shared a personal experience with administration response times: “The problem that also is occurring is that not only do they not speak of things but they don’t keep [students] and professors accountable.” The student later elaborated, “I can remember a [student] giving me a hard time, and nothing was done about it. She was able to graduate and go on her way but I was traumatized by what this girl said to me. I was even thinking of transferring just because of this particular [student]. If it was me, a person of color, [who was causing the problem], it would be an issue. I have said something about the situation, but nothing was ever done about it.”
Many of those interviewed expressed similar feelings. Another student explained, “I feel as though the administration at Meredith has a lack of concern when it comes to racial issues on campus. They meet and convene for days, even weeks before responding to blatant racism on campus.” The student then explained that they feel the response time can differ depending on the movement. “As soon as the Asian American movement began, Meredith gave immediate support and a very fast response,” they said. “The movement Black Lives Matter started in 2013 and now that voices are demanding to be heard and the movement is gaining popularity, it has become relevant enough to stand up for?” The student later expressed their frustration that racism at Meredith has been going on for years but that they believe the administration has only just started to address it.
Freshman Sammi Leggott commented, “I think the administration isn’t doing enough to work towards solving any problems. Instead, they’re just talking about change without taking real action. It seems like their stance is just to sweep it under the rug. While that may have worked for previous Meredith generations, it won’t for this one.”
Alumnae have strong opinions regarding this issue as well. Julia Houtchings, ‘11, stated that she is “grateful” for her time at Meredith but that she believes there are some “administration and some faculty members [that] do not truly uphold that supposed mission” of educating students to live with integrity. Houtchings continued, “I honestly think that the administration does not act timely when there is an issue to be addressed because the college relies too heavily on much older alumnae’s money and if the college actually handled these issues the way they should be handled, some of those alumnae would stop donating.” These actions have even swayed her decision to not donate to the school any longer.
In regard to how responses are made by the Meredith administration to national, local and campus-wide instances of racism, Vice President of Marketing and Communications Kristi Eaves-McLennan explained to The Herald that the process can be extensive. “There are several steps involved in the process,” Eaves-McLennan said. “We look at a national or a local event and see what kind of connection it might have with Meredith, [and] I consult with President Allen and others on the ELT [Executive Leadership Team] about whether we should respond and what form that response should look like…Once we make that determination, we disseminate [the response] as quickly as we can.”
President Jo Allen said that another factor is the time it can take to investigate matters, particularly when the situation pertains directly to the college. “One of the things that any report of any kind of issue requires is that we do our investigation,” Dr. Allen said. “Part of being educated is that you look for all sides of a story. A lot of times, it takes time to get responses. We know students do not read emails, for instance, which makes it very complicated. I sent out a message this morning with an update on the email about our racial work that I know a lot of the students will not read. A lot of times there are legal issues involved, and we have to work through our attorneys who are not here on campus, so we get some delays there, and sometimes they want to consult other people as well, because these are very complex times. The pandemic has certainly slowed everything down.” Dr. Allen added, “We do want people to know what’s going on; that said, there are legal issues that we cannot discuss. We are bound by laws of privacy, especially regarding personnel and student conduct issues.”
Additionally, Dr. Allen cited the challenge that arises when balancing privacy and transparency, and the fact that the entire Meredith community is considered when responses are made. “Our challenge is to find ways to communicate the message that we understand what’s going on, we are listening, we are pursuing those concerns and the possible solutions and responses, but we may not be able to release them to you,” Dr. Allen said. “I know it’s not satisfactory for people to hear that, but our responsibility is to the college and the whole community so that we are not jeopardizing anybody’s reputation or sense of being part of this community.”
Vice President Jean Jackson also highlighted the impacts that social media can have on response time and its perceptions. Dr. Jackson said that because people have access to and can share information so quickly, people also want responses very quickly. However, she emphasized that these quick responses may not always be thorough: “At an academic institution like Meredith, there are processes that we follow that are intended to ensure thoughtful response, thorough response, equitable responses, but that whole system is not geared to the speed of social media.”
Dr. Jackson said that the tension of expectation and response can be “healthy.” She explained, “The questioning, the information, the issues: we need to know those so we can know what needs to be addressed.” She also said that she understands the impatience of students, but she thinks “it’s part of our work here in this conversation to use this as a way to help people understand that even if there’s not an immediate response, there’s work going on.”
Dr. Jackson also stated that the Student Government Association, specifically the Student Life branch, is a great resource for students to report racism on campus and other concerns. Subsequently, Dr. Allen expressed the administration’s willingness and availability to students. “If students feel that there are things they don’t know about that they want to know about, the question is, have they contacted us? Some students have, and I’m always happy to respond as I can,” Dr. Allen said.
In terms of Meredith’s continued efforts towards anti-racism on campus, several initiatives were mentioned by members of the administration. These include changes to the Honor Code process, the ongoing search for the diversity, equity, and inclusion staff position, faculty training and the recent announcement of the Summer Reading program book for this upcoming school year: Winona Gua and Priya Vulcht’s Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing our Stories of Race, Culture, and Identity.
By Kaylee Haas, Staff Writer, and Hannah Porter, Opinion Editor