This REPORT piece is part of the Quest’s ongoing coverage of racism and anti-racism at Minerva. You can read other reports and perspective pieces on this topic here.
This report covers a lot of ground about anti-racism work at Minerva. To make it accessible and more easily navigable, refer to this table of contents as needed.
Section 1: Recap of Quest Coverage
Section 2: Working Group Launch and Process
Section 3: Administration’s Plan of Action
Section 4: Working Group Recommendations Compared to the Plan of Action
Section 5: Effectiveness of Working Groups
Section 6: Other Anti-Racism Work at Minerva
Section 7: Looking Forward
Section 8: Comparison Tables
Recap of Quest Coverage
Like in many US institutions, discussion of anti-racism emerged at Minerva over the summer. The Quest first detailed Minerva’s response in a report by Emma Stiefel (M’21) on July 7. At lengths, the report discussed Precedent, “a series of four conversations between Minerva students, alumni, staff, faculty, and external guests about racism in the United States,” including student reactions and criticism of the event, particularly those raised in Perspectives pieces by কেইট তানহা / Kate Tanha (M’21), Erin Paglione (M’21), and Amulya Pilla (M’22).
Since this Precedent report, several anti-racism initiatives have substantially progressed, particularly the Working Groups and summer Incubator. This piece aims to follow-up on the work that has been done over the last four months as well as to hold Minerva —students, staff, and administration— accountable for their future anti-racism plans.
This report will consider first the working groups’ launch, process, and the administration’s resulting plan of action in response. Following this, the working group recommendations are compared to the plan of action. The article moves to a partial evaluation of the effectiveness of working groups and the student efforts that developed in parallel, ending with a look forward.
Working Group Launch and Process
On June 25th, four days after Precedent, Minerva announced Anti-Racism Working Groups in an email from Ben Nelson on behalf of the Senior Team. These Working Groups were internally-focused initiatives “formed to enable further collaboration among faculty, staff, students, and alumni.”
Working Groups involved six focus areas: Student Life Programming, Minerva Project Partnerships, Student Culture, Context In the Curriculum, Outreach and Admissions, and Internal Work Culture and Hiring Process. Students were invited to participate in these groups alongside alumni, relevant professors, staff, and other Minerva administrators to explore the question, “How can Minerva become an anti-racist institution?” in their respective focus areas.
Officially launched the week of July 13th, the Working Groups aimed to research, synthesize, and develop a set of anti-racism recommendations by August 15th for the administration to consider. Groups met 60 to 90 minutes weekly for 5 weeks to develop these recommendations.
Before beginning, all working group participants agreed to specific Rules of Engagement for the duration of the project. These Rules outlined that, “working group conversations and proceedings are fully “off the record.” Neither the group, nor the individuals, should be quoted and there can be no resulting “media” created from these proceedings.”
When asked further about this, Nelson explained that these Rules allow participants “no interviews with the media (including the Quest), no posting on social media, no commentary, etc.” On the rationale for these Rules of Engagement, Nelson stated that “it was essential for everyone participating to feel like they could be open and constructive in the process and therefore not to be undermined in any way even unintentionally.” Following from this, he requested that these rules be respected and the Quest not reach out to individual participants for comment.
Consequently, individual working group members were not asked for comment; however, they were all notified of this article to allow proper crediting of their work on the developed recommendations.
The Working Groups’ topics, teams, and final recommendations documents are outlined below:
|Focus Topic||Team Members||Recommendations Document|
|Academics: Context in Curriculum||Dr. Levy Odera, Dr. Geneva Stein, Dr. Tomer Perry, Ella Streng, Malia Bird, Shreya Chari, Joyce Gu, Yutaro Shimizu, William Louis Brickman, and Gal Rubin||Document Link|
|Student Culture||Ibukun Aribilola, I-Ching Grace Hung, Amulya Pilla, Colette Brown, Gabriela Oliveira, Gabrielle Von Seggern, Haitham Alhad Hyder, Leandra Pedretti||Document Link|
|Student Life Programming||Gelana Tostaeva, Erin Paglione, Nebraska Grayson, Michelle Zhang, Chukwuka, Tanna Krispil, Barbara Walder, Capri LaRocca||Document Link|
|Admissions and Outreach||Meredith Ramba, Francesca Amara, Elianna DeSota, Juan Castro Fernandez||Document Link|
|Strategic Partnerships||Anais Chen, James Genone, Natalie Kanter, Eric (Muraya) Maigua, Nikhil Mathur, Isabel Sacks, and Grace Sommers||Document Link|
|Internal Work Culture and Hiring Processes||Dollie Davis, Dan Curme, Kayla Grueneich, Liberty Pim, Maya Bahoshy, Rachel Kim, Isobel Anya Chen, Matthew Baughman, Nathan Torento||Document Link|
Administration’s Plan of Action
Once all Working Groups had submitted their Recommendations Documents, the Senior Team met with the leader of every working group to debrief the recommendations and ask follow-up questions. Through these conversations, the Senior Team synthesized the recommendations into one Plan of Action, released to the student body by email on September 18th.
When asked about the Senior Team’s guidelines for developing this Plan of Action, Nelson shared that, “Those [recommendations] that aligned with goals of deepening Minerva’s commitment to anti-racist work, that overcame shortcomings or oversights, and that worked within our constraints were incorporated. Others that had directionally useful suggestions but that missed some of these points were modified to work within our context. Others that were found to be ineffective were not included.”
To maintain accountability for implementing the steps outlined in the Plan of Action, Nelson says they will report back to the Minerva community on a regular basis, with the next update coming at the beginning of next semester.
Of the resulting Plan of Action, Nelson commented that, “I think it is quite remarkable that we as a community spent a collective of over a thousand hours across dozens of students, alumni, faculty and staff to come to the action plan that we did. This was supplemented with feedback from dozens of individuals both within and outside of the Minerva community to help formulate our finalized plan. While I know that no plan can be perfect I trust you will understand that opinions (whether positive or negative) are not the equivalent of such a large extended team grappling with the thorny issues we are working to resolve.”
Working Group Recommendations Compared to the Plan of Action
What Working Group Recommendations were integrated into the Plan of Action? Which were left out? What additions did the Senior Team make?
This in-depth analysis of the Plan of Action compared to Working Group recommendations is intended as an objective comparison. The Senior Team provided their overarching guidelines for adopting particular recommendations. They did not provide responses to every recommendation provided by the working groups. Rather, these recommendations are addressed here for possible inclusion in anti-racism work in the future and for presenting the efforts of working groups that extended beyond the final streamlined Plan of Action.
The analysis is presented in a series of four tables at the end of the article with the following color key:
- Green Table indicates the recommendations that were adopted into the Plan of Action as the working group presented
- Yellow Table indicates the recommendations that were generally adopted into the Plan of Action, but not exactly as presented by the working group
- Red Table indicates the recommendations that were not adopted. When given, the specific justification for the rejection is included in the table
- Blue Table indicates the recommendations that were not proposed by the working group but added by the administration
Continue reading the article or jump to the tables here.
Effectiveness of Working Groups
While it is still early to comprehensively evaluate the effectiveness of working groups, Nelson shared that, “The working groups certainly exceeded my expectations. The feedback we have received through a variety of channels has been overwhelmingly positive and, though it is far too early to declare success, I do believe we have a robust and meaningful path forward as well as a great deal to be confident about when we look at our work and operating principles in the past.”
Similarly, Capri LaRocca, the Global Director of Experience Design, who collaborated with the Student Life Programming Working Group said, “I do think the working group model is an effective one overall for addressing organizational challenges and generating creative interdisciplinary solutions.”
Unfortunately, due to the Rules of Engagement limiting commentary to media, it was not possible to determine how students or other staff on the working groups assessed their own effectiveness. Consequently, the information presented here is entirely from the Minerva administration. Dissenting views or criticism for how working groups could be improved in the future remains entirely unaddressed because of the constraints in the Rules of Engagement, a major shortcoming of this report.
One student has decided to share their working group experiences and thoughts about the Rules of Engagement in an anonymous interview. Still, the lack of voices from other students or staff involved remains a major shortcoming of assessing these groups.
Other Anti-Racism Work at Minerva
Beyond the Working Groups and Plan of Action, anti-racism work at Minerva has progressed through the Race and Racism Summer Incubator and various student-driven initiatives.
Race and Racism Summer Incubator
Announced in the administration’s June 1st four-step plan, the Race and Racism Summer Incubator worked over the summer to produce recommendations and resources for facilitating more anti-racism discussions among students. The student Incubator team included Anais Chen, Amulya Pilla, and Elianna DeSota. They focused their recommendations around creating space for discussions of anti-racism and other social problems as well as ways to properly frame these discussions.
The September 18th Plan of Action only briefly mentioned the Incubator’s work and how it connected to that of the Working Groups. When asked for further clarification, LaRocca stated that she would be leading the incorporation of the Incubator’s work into student life and ensuring its implementation. LaRocca said, “In the short term we’re making a working group [from] the combination of the Incubator Group and the Anti-racism [Student Life] Working Group to meet with me to work through the implementation of plans. In the long term we’re still assessing if it makes sense for them to become a Student Initiative or not.”
According to LaRocca, the current priorities include a more detailed proposal for the Student Life Global Oversight team on how “to create a culture of more open discussion about difficult social problems,” incorporating anti-racism programming more prominently in Elevation, and curating “anti-racism resources as part of the Integrated Learning Course in years one and two, and as optional resources in years three and four.”
Falling under the category of Student Life, the June 1st four-step plan also stated that the administration planned to engage with local San Francisco institutions about addressing racial issues in the city. LaRocca shared that “In planning for the M24 Civic Projects and City Experiences we have been in conversation with local organizations about anti-racism initiatives…There is more we can be doing to address this part of the 4 step plan, so we’re having ongoing conversations about how to best play a more active role in local initiatives on anti-racism.”
Student-Organized Work: Within the Quest
This summer, কেইট তানহা /Kate Tanha (M’21) and Erin Paglione (M’21) began a Quest initiative to survey students about their experiences with racism in Minerva. This initiative is still ongoing and, according to তানহা / Tanha, the survey will stay open until the end of the year. Students are invited and encouraged to share their experiences.
Additionally, the Quest started the Privilege & Prejudice Series. The series is curated by Aspen Pflughoeft (M’22), Amulya Pilla (M’22), and Ibukunoluwa Aribilola (M’22). These articles aim to answer the question “What do prejudice and privilege look like in Minerva’s community?” by giving a space and voice to Minervan’s personal experiences. If students would like to share their story as part of this series, they are encouraged to reach out to Pflughoeft, Pilla, or Aribilola.
This series is part of ongoing anti-racism efforts at the Quest. Other efforts include this year’s reward system initiative aimed to provide monetary compensation to writers to allow students with less financial privilege a chance to participate in Quest conversations. The Quest also recognizes an English language bias and continues to support articles in other languages, although no non-English articles have been written or published to date.
Student-Organized Work: Outside the Quest
This past spring, Erin Paglione (M’21), Elisha Somasundram (M’22), Grace Sommers (M’22), and Amulya Pilla (M’22) created the group Students Organizing Against Racism (SOAR). SOAR serves as a meeting place for the many student efforts towards anti-racism at Minerva. So far, SOAR’s work has involved collaborating with তানহা / Tanha who led efforts to communicate with the Minerva community about the underlying racism in Precedent. SOAR also created an Instagram page with insights about racism at Minerva and students’ experiences.
Pilla told Quest that SOAR’s efforts have slowed since the urgent issues surrounding anti-racism at Minerva are being addressed by other groups, but SOAR’s communication channels remain open to facilitate cooperation between students working on anti-racism.
Existing student initiatives have also participated in the Anti-racism efforts. Grace Sommers (M’22) told the Quest that the social justice student initiative, Among Us, organized a dinner last spring with the theme “is violence necessary for social change?” to facilitate thoughtful conversation about the recent Black Lives Matter protests. Among Us has also worked on race issues in the past, partnering with a group in Seoul that works with North Korean refugees to organize a talk and a North Korean 10:01 that sought to reframe stereotypes of North Koreans and discussed the discrimination faced by refugees in South Korea.
Throughout the summer and into the start of the fall semester, anti-racism work at Minerva showed sustained momentum. At mid-semester with academic loads increasing, the ongoing commitment to anti-racism work in the student body and in the administration is starting to be tested and has brought a reduction of visible anti-racism work.
According to Nelson, “Now the time is to implement. There is a great deal more to do across the board and assistance is not only welcome but encouraged. Students are especially encouraged to think through additional actions to take in the student culture section, an area in which the senior team has little role beyond advisory/advocacy. We hope students will roll up their sleeves and make significant progress in that area especially.“
Some of these tractable student actions include…
- Hosting 10:01s around political or other non-country-based topics
- Participating in conversations that better inform the CTD on experiences of discrimination in the workplace to collaborate on strategies to respond
- Collaborating and attending Student Life events related to anti-racism
- Continue having discussions about experiences of discrimination, from inside or outside of the Minerva community
For students who would like to get involved in anti-racism work at Minerva, contact SOAR through their Instagram account @RacismatMinerva.
For students who are interested in getting involved in anti-racism Student Life programming initiatives, contact LaRocca via email or slack.
Finally, this report aimed to be a comprehensive update on anti-racism efforts at Minerva. However, it may not be. If you know of any additional efforts —among staff or students— not covered in this report, please reach out to Aspen Pflughoeft at [email protected].
The Quest will continue reporting on Minerva staff and student anti-racist efforts; currently, we are collecting survey results about experiences with racism in Minerva.
We are committed to making the Quest an accessible platform for all students, faculty, and staff. We are open to anonymous work as long as it meets our journalistic standards. If it is easier, you can also tell your story via an oral interview instead of writing an article.
This in-depth analysis of the Plan of Action compared to Working Group recommendations is intended as an objective comparison.