Not One More

In June, among the nationwide wave of protests against racial injustice that followed George Floyd’s murder, Rita Bagala `18, Veda Booth `18, Anne Harris `16, Nde Nkimbeng `18, and Lailah Thompson `16 brought a group of WPI alumni together with the goal of supporting WPI in its efforts to take clear, sustainable actions to address and advocate against racism. The narrative was from alumni of color, joined by other alumni who wish to stand against racism, with hope of using their voices as alumni who have both experienced and represent WPI.

Calling upon WPI to institute substantive change to improve the experience of its Black students and help all WPI students and faculty excel as compassionate members of society, the group conducted an independent survey with responses from 175 WPI alumni with graduation years ranging from 1985 to 2020. Next they held a Zoom meeting for all interested alumni to join the conversation, to gather stories and suggestions to present to President Laurie Leshin.

Thompson then met with President Leshin, trustee Debora Jackson, and Vice President of Talent & Inclusion Michelle Jones-Johnson, bringing forth the experiences and a set of suggested actions gathered from alumni. She says that President Leshin was aligned and receptive to partner with the alumni group as the university makes its own plans to increase anti-racism on campus. The president and board chair Jack Mollen have since issued statements acknowledging, addressing, and apologizing for systemic and personal racism experienced by anyone in the WPI community, and committing to significant additional work by all at WPI to foster an inclusive community where all can thrive.

In the wake of these and other discussions happening all around the campus community, President Leshin spoke about racial justice on campus in a series of Town Hall meetings with students, staff, faculty, and alumni. She also worked with the Board of Trustees to articulate WPI’s values and commitment to stand strong on these ideals.

Mollen committed WPI to advance these collective goals:

  • Reflection on and acknowledgement of institutionalized practices that have perpetuated marginalization
  • Demonstration of commitment and accountability for change through statements of support, deep listening to community members, and active learning plans
  • Creation of a strategy to drive cultural and structural change
  • A specific plan to dedicate the resources needed to execute said strategy

While these plans are being created, the Board and campus leadership will advance several near-term actions, including the following:

  • Listening circles with students, faculty, and staff of color
  • Launch of a bias reporting system
  • Anti-racism education and training for all community members
  • Launch of a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Student Council 
  • Launch of an Alumni of Color chapter
  • Learning and development with senior leadership on racism, power, and privilege
  • Creation of a Board Task Force on Racial Equity and Justice

Today, President Leshin reports significant progress on all these actions.

“I think proper execution of these changes will have a major impact,” says Harris. “It brings to mind the chants at many of the protests of ‘not one more.’ Not one more name. We don’t want any other students to come out with a traumatic experience that could have been avoided.”

Booth says she became involved because she always knew there was room for improvement at the university. “WPI gave me so many opportunities. No other school really lets you study abroad in the same way, and I think that’s one of the highlights that definitely helped me a lot as a person. But I know there are things that we can do better to make everyone stand up and say, ‘You know what, this is a great place. I want to support WPI.’”

“I think one of my main goals is to see an increase in representation of people of color on the campus, just like WPI has increased the number of women on campus,” says Thompson, who is set to get her MBA from Harvard Business School next year.

Of the ideas raised by the group of alumni, top were requests for concrete changes in the WPI curriculum, extracurricular activities, staff, and policies. In the group’s letter to President Leshin, they wrote, “We are advocating for a radical transformation of our curriculum and policies. Combined, these efforts should help address and reduce interpersonal and institutional racism. Since cultures and policies that create racism can be learned, they can be unlearned.”

As director of Diversity & Inclusive Excellence Rame Hanna explains, this type of action and commitment is needed for transformative change. “We need to work together to blend diversity, equity, and inclusion into the full fabric of the institution,” they say. “This means everyone must play an active role in this effort. It starts with deep critical reflection and a commitment to building one’s self-awareness and individual capacity.”

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