Academic Affairs Council Holds Open Forum on Critical Race Theory Requirement

On Thursday, Dean of Faculty Malcolm Hill invited students to voice their thoughts on the addition of a critical race theory (CRT) course as a curricular requirement at an Academic Affairs Council (AAC) meeting. This meeting was held over Zoom in response to the demands made at the recent protest held by Bates College Student Government (BCSG) on Oct. 30. 

At the protest, BCSG co-Presidents, Perla Figuereo ‘21 and Lebanos Mengistu ‘21 demanded that Bates create a requirement for all students to take a course in critical race theory (CRT). 

Shortly before the AAC open forum, more than 90 faculty members participated in a conversation about adding the  CRT requirement to the curriculum. The meeting with students aimed to provide an opportunity for student feedback and open discussion. 

The meeting began with introductions from Hill, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Noelle Chaddock, and AAC chairs Prof. Amy Douglass, Prof. Nathan Lundblad, Prof. Holly Ewing, and Prof. Susan Starck. 

Chaddock first set some ground rules before students were given the floor. “We will not spend time debating racialized experiences at Bates,” they said; “lived realities” were not up for debate. 

The first few students to unclick their mute buttons voiced their concern about the lengthy process of changing the curriculum. Samuel Mironko ‘21 wondered why many students and faculty have labeled CRT as a real necessity, yet “we have to go through such a tedious process.” Another student requested complete transparency throughout the process. 

Hill replied by acknowledging that although the process is frustrating, “it is the reality of the progress we are trying to make.” Hill further explained that there are other changes to be made in the meantime, including the adjustment of the faculty hiring process to increase diversity. 

Faculty must agree unanimously on the change to the curriculum, which is why the process will be lengthy. However, Chaddock assured attendees that the conversations will not be about why a CRT course requirement is needed, but rather how a requirement will be implemented. 

Some faculty members have already vocalized their support for a CRT requirement. Hence, the discussion shifted to talking about the most effective way to lobby other faculty members to get them on board.

Douglass, a professor of psychology who serves as AAC chair of the social sciences, suggested that students talk to faculty members who are in departments that are not a “natural fit for antiracism.” Stark, professor of philosophy, and Ewing, professor of environmental studies — also both AAC chairs — commented on the best methods to talk to faculty about a CRT requirement.  

“I respectfully disagree,” Mengistu responded to the AAC chairs. “I don’t think it is the job of students to get faculty to come together…We have so many other things to worry about.” 

In the wake of the Nov. 4 protest, BCSG leaders have continued to make demands for the changes they wanted to see made at Bates. Mengistu used the AAC meeting as an opportunity to share a new demand with faculty members and students who were present. 

The first demand requested the institution stop capitalizing on its abolitionist history. In order to address this issue, Mengistu proposed implementing a first-year seminar (FYS) on the founding history of Bates and its relationship with slavery and Indigenous People. Mengistu also wants students to be required to take an upper-level course on race and the ways in which colonialism structures our everyday reality before their senior year. 

Figuereo continued the conversation by explaining that classes, which are not necessarily focused on race and gender, should still find ways to incorporate it. A stage-managing class Figuereo had taken in the past had no explicit focus on CRT, but the professor still found ways to include the dialogue. 

“I am really excited when a professor is excited to talk about these things,” Figuereo stated. “I never feel like I need to talk about race when my professor does.”

One student spoke in opposition to the CRT course requirement and claimed to represent other students who opposed the requirement. He said he believed it would create more divisions on campus.

In response to this criticism, Chaddock wrote in the chatbox function of Zoom that CRT is a theory, not a political ideology that can be debated, and they would be happy to speak with them further. 

Peder Bakken ‘20 was one of the next students to speak, and he shared his positive personal experiences with a CRT course in high school. “White males shy away from the conversation, which is why the requirement is so important,” Bakken said. 

Toward the end of the meeting, Mengistu emphasized the importance of this course requirement, stating that the change is needed to make Bates more inclusive to BIPOC students and faculty. “The school has failed as a liberal arts institution if it doesn’t educate its students on critical race theory,” Mengistu said. 

Throughout the meeting, one thing was particularly clear; students want their voices heard as Bates considers implementing a CRT course requirement.