The Meredith Anti-Racism Effort, Part 4: President Jo Allen
Meredith’s Anti-Racism Initiative was launched by President Jo Allen on July 21, 2020. Dr. Allen has been the president of Meredith College since July 2011 and is the first alumna to become Meredith’s president since its founding. The Herald recently spoke with Dr. Allen about her perspective on the Anti-Racism Initiative’s next steps and recent events involving racism at Meredith.
On Feb. 17, 2021, the campus learned that an exploratory committee had been formed in order to shape a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) position at Meredith. Co-chairing this committee are Assistant Dean of Students Tomecca Sloane, Dr. Karthik Aghoram and 10 additional faculty and staff to “allow for a balance [of individuals] who have been at Meredith for a while and know the culture” as well as “some new [individuals] who haven’t been here that long and can give us fresh perspective[s]” according to Dr. Allen. Eventually, the exploratory committee will hand off its work to a search committee for the new DEI hire, who will help lay the groundwork for what comes next at Meredith. The search committee may comprise students, a consultant from Academic Search and some of the same individuals from the exploratory committee. This process is meant to make sure Meredith is “hiring the best fit for the campus’s needs,” according to Dr. Allen.
The Anti-Racism Initiative has also begun to address an incident which was outlined on the @DearMereCo Instagram page. More information about the incident and investigation can be found on The Herald’s website. When asked about handling incidents on campus, Dr. Allen stated that “this is not something that we do just because it’s morally right to do — this is something that we legally have to do.” She explained that incidents reported must be investigated and that Meredith’s accreditation depends on the college doing so. However, how an incident is being handled may not always be visible to students. There is a range of options based on the incident, including on-campus training, off-campus training, coaching, supervisional work, suspension, change in role and firing. Dr. Allen noted that addressing flaws in communication regarding how and where to report incidents of discrimination is also critical.
Dr. Allen explained, “We clearly know there are problems. We clearly know there are things we want to fix and the Campus Climate Survey points out some of [that] preliminary work.” Once the information from the survey is available, students can expect follow-up information about the Campus Climate Survey in the form of focus groups. Before that time comes, organizations on campus such as the Black Alumnae Collective are advocating for change on campus, as are a range of other groups who have hosted virtual campus discussions. In 2022, a renewal of Meredith’s strategic plan will occur. Dr. Allen expects the grass roots that she and others have supported will play a role in the updated strategic plan.
When asked how Dr. Allen would define success for the Anti-Racism Initiative, she ideally imagines “that one day we will look around and we [won’t] see vestiges of racism [and] slavery. We will see people being respectful [and] dignified, and when they’re uncomfortable with something, they will say ‘Can we stop for a minute? That made me feel uncomfortable,’ rather than lashing out.” Dr. Allen hopes to “get to a place where we can agree on [those] common goals and be in a place where everyone feels valued and respected…I hope to see a place of interracial allies recognizing that the process doesn’t look the same for everyone all the time, but we keep working. It’s going to be a long process, calling on people’s hearts [and] intellect and being able to say ‘this has got to change.’”
Dr. Allen emphasized that while “there are going to be missteps” in this process, Meredith’s community cannot let “these missteps turn us against each other or derail the progress we make. We get up and keep moving.”
By Jeanine Carryl, Staff Writer