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Talking with President Raymond, Part One: Antiracism and Community Trust

Editor-in-Chief David Edelman ’22 and Associate Editor Max Mondress ’23 spoke with President Wendy Raymond and Vice President and Chief of Staff Jesse Lytle over Zoom on April 9. Read part one of the interview below, discussing last semester’s student-led strike, the college’s plan for antiracism reforms, and the ethics of accepting donations from benefactor Howard Lutnick. Part two is available here.

This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

David Edelman: Since you became Haverford’s president in July 2019, it’s been quite an eventful two years, from the COVID-19 pandemic to a reckoning with structural racism across the country and on campus. What would you most want our readers to know about helming the College through these turbulent times?

President Wendy Raymond: It’s been a really fantastic journey to get to know students, staff, and faculty at Haverford College over these almost two years. We’ve tried to do it together, even as we’ve been in really unusual circumstances of often being remote from one another, and spread across the world, and really impacted by external circumstances, in ways that in other years we’re not: including the COVID-19 pandemic, including a very tough political scene in the United States in the year of a presidential election, and a time of heightened anti-Black racism and tensions in the United States about policing.

At the same time, we have been reckoning with our low capacity, like the world has, for engaging in difficult dialogue with one another. When I say “our”, I mean faculty, staff, and students. We are all struggling with having conversations when we disagree with one another vehemently, and we’re having difficulty having conversations when we disagree with one another even a little bit. My time at the helm has been getting to know that about Haverford College, because I didn’t understand the depths of that before I got here.

That challenge with communication—which is global, and it crosses generations—really impacted us coming to the COVID-19 pandemic, where now we’re really separated from one another. We are trying to reckon with the summer of 2020’s reckoning with racism across the United States and the impacts here at Haverford College that led to a student-led strike for racial justice.

Max Mondress: Many students have expressed cynicism about Haverford’s commitment to antiracism, specifically in light of previous initiatives getting bogged down in endless layers of bureaucracy: committees and reports slowed down this process. We were curious what steps have been taken to avoid this fate and deliver on the College’s post-strike promises in a concrete way.

President Raymond: I’d first like to acknowledge that cynicism, because it comes out of experience and evidence of that often happening at Haverford College around all kinds of issues, inclusive of our work in antiracism. That cynicism is shared by other members of the campus community—that is, faculty and staff.

We are holding ourselves accountable by working on the projects that came out of the student-led strike, and projects that came out of Black Students Refusing Further Inaction’s letter to the two presidents this summer, and work that was going on before either of those, and since either of those, with a publicly-available spreadsheet that shows timelines and project outlines and commitments of dollars. I think there is an opportunity for people who will look at that spreadsheet or analyze it to possibly understand where we’re going. I don’t mean that as a solution, but there is some accountability.

Another accountability mechanism is the board-established committee that has an acronym of quadruple-A: Antiracism Advancement and Accountability Group. That is specifically to hold the president of the College accountable for antiracism work. That work is not mine—it is the work of the community—but I need to be held formally responsible about that.

We do have a lot of committees that were spawned by the work of the strike and other aspects getting us toward antiracism. So each of those committees has to have an outcome that results in action, as opposed to a white paper that becomes a doorstop, or a white paper that suggests action, or maybe starts action, but then doesn’t get finished, doesn’t have an accountability mechanism. And then we get into what we also know here as Groundhog Day: just doing it over and over and over.

Vice President and Chief of Staff Jesse Lytle: There’s also a fundamental tension in participatory governance. You read about it in The New York Times with Joe Biden’s America versus China, right? Who can get stuff done, authoritarian governments or democratic participatory governments? We feel that here at Haverford: the more voices we want to bring into problem-solving, the more we’re going to bog things down and probably the better the solution we’re going to get. So we’re always navigating speed and efficiency versus consultation and trying to get more of people’s good thinking. I don’t want that to sound like an excuse. We have to acknowledge that we’ve been too slow, but it’s hard to have it both ways.

President Raymond: I’ll add one more aspect, which is to look at the developing strategic plan, and to see that antiracism is front and center in one of the three key areas of focus that’s in the draft plan. One of the purposes of a strategic plan is to also dovetail with a capital campaign, a large multi-year fundraising campaign, so that we are energizing these aspirations of ours with funding that will help realize them.

David: With the hiring of a new dean of the College, provost, and—to come—vice president for institutional advancement, over a third of Haverford’s senior administrators are new to the College since your arrival. Especially given the disruption to community life as a result of the pandemic and lingering tensions from the strike, how do you anticipate being able to build goodwill between the College administration and the community?

President Raymond: I expect to be able to build goodwill because these are amazing new members of the Haverford community who are coming in, and they are committed to doing that. I’m hearing in your question a supposition that perhaps if we had kept people who were already here, there would be goodwill compared to bringing in new people. I certainly would question that. I understand how once [someone’s] been here for a while, there’s some familiarity and perhaps comfort and relationships. That that may build goodwill, but it may not. When we’re looking at Haverford’s past, present, and future, there is always a change in people. Students are constantly changing. We’re always bringing new people into a place that continues with a set of values that we aspire to.

I think that the new people that we are bringing in—so John McKnight as dean of the College [and] Linda Strong-Leek as provost—those are both previous chief diversity officers at their previous institutions. That means something. That was intentional. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism were front and center in the faculty’s mind as they were conducting a search for the new provost with me. It was absolutely top of the line in our qualifications for the next dean of the College. In the search for the vice president for institutional advancement, a commitment to a demonstrated capacity in antiracism is an important part of that work. Those are only parts of those job descriptions, but they’re really important parts. I think that those commitments and past experiences in antiracism will make it possible for those three new senior staff members to embed themselves into this community.

Now, the other part of it is, how does the community engage them, because it is a two-way street and we’re finding that communication is so challenging. So I would look to also flip that question back to the community: How is the community engaging these new folks in order to assist in building the Haverford that we want to build together?

I am really excited about these two new individuals, as well as Joyce Bylander, who has been here for this year as interim dean of the College. When we think of one expression of the four P’s of antiracism—power, policy, practice, and [procedure]—I don’t want to add this as a fifth P, but a really important component is people. As we look to build sustainable change for Haverford College, we have to have people here who are invested in that sustainable change.

David: We have a community-submitted question. From an alum: Haverford has accepted large gifts from Howard Lutnick, who’s also been a major fundraiser for former president Donald Trump. How do you reconcile Lutnick’s support for a president whose policies Haverford publicly condemned as incompatible with our Quaker heritage and the benefits that his support have delivered the school?

President Raymond: We don’t consider people’s political persuasions in our relationships with them as alumni. That has been a really long standing practice for Haverford College. So while we certainly have value differences with some of President Trump’s policies, having a gift from Howard Lutnick, who supported this institution in so many ways—in part, because the institution supported Howard in so many ways—has seemed to be a good way forward in terms of Haverford’s capacities for inclusion around difference. There are many political differences among our donors. There are many political differences among our students, staff and faculty. I think that’s diversity that we welcome.

Vice President Lytle: It’s important to differentiate between partisan politics—individuals holding or running for public office—and policies. The College will sometimes take a stand about a policy that’s germane to our mission and our values, but we don’t take an institutional view about individual officials or elected people.

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