Meaningful change in our country comes with goals for racial diversity, equity, and inclusion. Saint Mary’s blundered when posed with the opportunity to reach these kinds of goals when finding a new president.
By Melanie Moyer
Saint Mary’s and the United States have or will receive a new president this year. An email addressed to the Saint Mary’s Community announced the appointment of Richard Plumb as Saint Mary’s 30th president a little over a week before President Biden was inaugurated as President of the United States. The Presidential Search Committee stated that Plumb was selected due to his “broad experience in strategic planning, curriculum development, financial management, fundraising, capital planning, and other critical skills necessary to leverage Saint Mary’s College’s distinguished history and write the next chapter for this remarkable institution.” Similar to President Biden, Plumb has extensive experience in his field and has shown he has the necessary skills to effectively run and improve the institution he has been elected president of. However, like Biden, Plumb carries on the tradition of white men occupying the highest position of leadership in their respective institutions. This should be considered by our country and the Saint Mary’s community in the context of our` commitment to diversity and equity.
Social activists in the Black community and beyond have been fighting for the recognition of our country’s history of racial oppression and white supremacy for decades, but many people have only woken up to the truth of our country’s systematized oppression of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color this year. Nonetheless, it should be noted that great strides have been made in the direction of educating people about these issues and making meaningful changes to heal our country’s deep racial wounds in 2020. This healing has been made possible by active work towards goals of equity and inclusion largely by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, but also rely on work done by allies. If everyone in our country, especially those in positions of power and privilege such as white people, continued to actively work towards these goals specifically addressing racial oppression, progress will continue to be made.
The Black Lives Matter protests that took place over the summer have shown us that we need to do more than just symbolic actions in order to make the necessary changes in undercutting white supremacy. Saint Mary’s plays an integral role in making changes both in our community and on a country-wide scale as an institution of higher education. This means our actions must go beyond symbolic and mean something in the general scheme of racial justice.
Saint Mary’s was put in the unique position to fill a presidential seat during a time when our country was questioning its structures that uphold the dominance of the white narrative. Some saw that the school had the opportunity to make significant changes in its historical leadership: Saint Mary’s previous presidents lack diversity altogether. It is a problem when we look at the presidential line of an institution and only see white men. Though one of the school’s initiatives is that “the highest quality of academic achievement can only be realized in communities that are culturally, spiritually and ethnically diverse—where all voices are heard, and all students have equitable opportunities to succeed and to serve,” it is difficult to see how this is followed through with the continuation of a presidential line that lacks diversity. In the Presidential Search Committee’s ‘Kickoff’ statement, they say they provided anti bias training for committee members and had a “strong and diverse” hiring pool, yet they failed to include whether or not there were any diversity requirements in place to ensure that they were considering Black, Indegenous, or People of Color in their process. If sports leagues like the NFL can implement strict diversity hiring principles, our college can as well.
Seeing that white men no longer represent the majority of our student body, at least not since women were permitted to attend the school in 1970, it would create meaningful change if Saint Mary’s worked toward higher standards for diversity in its presidential selection. Having a president who looks like or comes from similar backgrounds as our Black, Indigenous, and Students of Color would have an immense impact on the standards of inclusion at Saint Mary’s. Further, having someone in a position of power that has shared experiences living in this country as a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color and/or a woman would allow them to understand the specific needs of our students and make changes accordingly.
Real change cannot be made if we continue to put privileged narratives in our highest positions of power. If our country is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, we need to actively work towards electing a president who is not another white man. Similarly, if Saint Mary’s is committed to these same principles, we need to do the same. It is obvious that Dr. Plumb is more than capable of fulfilling the tasks of an accomplished president, I am not questioning whether he has earned the distinction of being our college’s new president. However, it is important we look inward at our institution’s history of prioritizing the white male narrative before we can tote our standards of diversity and inclusion.
Victoria Vidales '21,