Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Bard

March 2021

A Message from Dr. Kahan Sablo, Dean of Inclusive Excellence

Dear Bardians, 

National Women’s HERstory Month 

Welcome to Women’s HERstory Month! The origins of this celebration can be traced back to 1911 with the celebration of the first International Women’s Day. Several legislative actions in the 1980s established the month-long celebration that we now honor every March as Women’s HERstory Month. This edition of the newsletter is published in honor of the iconic women of government, education, medicine, law, human service, activism, the performing arts, and every aspect of the human experience. 

This month (and all those that follow) the Bard community pauses to honor the legacy of Susan B. Anthony, Harriett Tubman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jin Xing, Wilma Mankiller, Jean Kwok, Cathay Williams, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rachel Levine, Ellen Ochoa, Sojourner Truth, Kamala Harris, and the millions of other SHEroes who shoulder the world on a daily basis. WE SPEAK YOUR NAME! 

Health and Wellness

This newsletter edition also addresses the importance of mental health and wellness. This is a critical issue for everyone—especially communities of color. The Coronavirus put America’s racism on full display. BIPOC individuals suffer from more than twice the COVID mortality rate as their White counterparts. Furthermore, initial vaccine roll outs were not equitable—thereby, disproportionately harming communities of color. 

A strategic vaccination plan is clearly one of the most powerful weapons available in the war against COVID-19. However, the historical and present day racism of the US medical system has understandably caused some communities of color to be leery of new vaccines. In an attempt to ease fears, my office coordinated The COVID 19 Vaccine, Unpacking the Fears of Communities of Color. A similar panel discussion will occur at the Third Annual Difference and Justice Symposium. 

The disparate prevalence of Sickle Cell Anemia, Hypertension, Prostate Cancer, etc., are not the only concerns of communities of color. Black and Brown people are often mentally exhausted from bearing the weight of systemic racism. Hiring and housing discrimination, feeling as though one “must work twice as hard to be viewed as half as good,” unpredictable (and potentially deadly) law enforcement encounters, toxic work environments, etc., are all destructive to Black and Brown mental health. 

Tragically, people of color are less likely to seek counseling support services. During times of distress, these communities have historically leaned into family/extended family systems, social and organizational networks, communities of faith—or sought no help at all. Also, the negative stigma often affiliated with seeking mental health care causes some individuals to suffer prolonged untreated mental illness longer than necessary. The hymnologist said it best, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh what needless pain we bear.” 

The good news is that people of color are slowly beginning to embrace more holistic definitions of wellness—which includes positive mental health. Therefore, we must continue to support this positive self-care movement by removing barriers to care, ensuring the availability of diverse therapists, and demanding cultural competency from those who deliver counseling services. 

Dis/Ability Is an Integral Aspect of Diversity
This weekend I attended two demonstrations with my 11-year-old godson. One was in honor of “Breonna Taylor Day,” the one year anniversary of that horrible night Ms. Taylor was tragically murdered in her home by members of the Louisville Police Department. This rally was the precursor for an intended conversation with him later that evening. It was time for us to have “the talk.” 

Almost every Black parent in the country—especially those raising Black boys—understands the painful reality of teaching a child the essentials of surviving a police interaction. The tears in his eyes from this difficult, but necessary, conversation made my heart very “heavy.” 

The other demonstration that I attended was the highlight of my day. A campus demonstration was organized by students demanding access to increased disability support services. I was very proud of the students and the way they organized to express their concerns. 

I intended to have another “teachable moment” with my godson about the various demands being made of the college. In asking my godson what he remembered of the students’ requests, I was prepared to talk about ADA law, universal design, and disability accommodations. However, my godson simply replied, “They just want to be treated like the other students and do the things that everyone else can do.” At this point I realized that the teachable moment was actually mine. 

I spent almost a decade serving as the Vice President for Student Affairs at an institution ranked third in the nation for the provision of services to students with disabilities. In this role I helped construct accessible residence halls, responded to ADA legal challenges, wrote institutional policy, and oversaw accommodation requests across the institution. However, regretfully, I admit that at times the stressors of very complex situations blinded me from a genuine, heartfelt reality. Students with disabilities simply want to live and learn like the rest of their peers. 

The college is thankful to these students for identifying areas where the institution may have fallen short in providing an equitable collegiate experience. Although these are often very challenging issues to address, it is my philosophy that disability remains an essential aspect of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts. However, even in the presence of this volatile national climate, our country (which includes Bard College) can do more to honor the centrality and resilience of people with disabilities and include them in the fabric of campus DEI work. We MUST do better.   

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