Response to Wabash Report + List of Demands from Members of HMC Student Diversity Organizations

Dear Community,

I am sending this message on behalf of members of Mudd’s different student diversity organizations.

We fully acknowledge that we do not speak for the entire student body, but hope that those who have not had similar experiences will still respect what we have to say.

The majority of this document was written before the faculty response was published. Some sections have been edited to reflect this but most have been left as they were. In light of discomfort with student quotes being spread around, we have not included any such quotes in this document. We appreciate the faculty’s willingness to apologize for what many of us felt was a deeply harmful decision; however, we also felt that the apology failed to adequately address concerns facing students from groups who are traditionally marginalized in society. We also felt that the administration diminished the significance of faculty comments on marginalized students by downplaying the impact that faculty bias has on these students. Many marginalized students have been harmed by the minority of explicitly discriminatory faculty and even by unconscious insensitivity from well-meaning faculty.

While understanding that real and effective change takes time, we look forward to continued conversation with and commitment from the administration to making this change a reality.

We are devastated and angry that members of the faculty withheld the full content of the report from the student body and would like the administration to understand that this apology is only the first small step towards mending the broken trust between the students and administration.

We are disappointed that the FEC’s three-page summary conveyed a much different picture from what was included in the full report. In particular, that summary failed to capture the following aspects:

  • The genuine surprise expressed by the researchers in regards to student experience at Mudd. The situation at Mudd is described many times as abnormal in the report, yet the summary sent out to the students chose to normalize the student experience.
  • “Indeed, our conversations with students, and some faculty and staff, were among the most emotionally powerful and, too often, sad that we’ve ever had visiting an institution.”
  • “We were surprised to hear how carefully many departments monitored the amount of time that students spent doing homework in their classes, and how quickly they increased the workload to ensure that students focused enough attention on the department’s classes.” –external reviewers, Wabash Report

“Insufficient coordination among and within departments can result in irregular, and at periods, untenable workloads. This has contributed to the perception that the departments are vying for student attention by increasing workload.” –FEC summary

  • The inability of students to dedicate time, effort, and respect to their HSA courses and personal growth in non-STEM areas, a key aspect of the mission statement.
  • “The key, we think, to addressing the questions that the [TLC] asked us is to reflect carefully on whether Mudd’s curriculum, as it is now implemented, has reached a point of diminishing marginal return, so that each additional problem set and each departmental attempt to garner more time from students results only in taking time away from the work they are doing in some other aspect of their education. We’re not only talking about taking away time from other science departments, but also taking away the kind of reflective time that students need to benefit fully from the different kinds of thinking and knowing in their HSA courses or from the out-of-class and non-academic activities that are a hallmark of a residential liberal arts college.” –external reviewers, Wabash Report
  • The degree to which the curriculum at Mudd can truly break students, to the point where normal tasks (ie: showering, sleep) become untenable.
  • The degree to which sentiments and actions expressed by faculty harmed students, their academic performance, and their mental health.

“However, a significant number of faculty thought that Harvey Mudd students had, over time, become less capable of, and less interested in, meeting the challenge of Mudd’s difficult curriculum. While it is not unusual for us to hear faculty lament “the decline in the quality of students,” what was unusual, in our experience, was that many students had heard and felt this sentiment from some of their faculty.” –external reviewers, Wabash Report

  • The lack of faculty and institutional support for Mudd’s changing demographic of more women and students of color.
  • “We’ve had admissions changes and no one has helped faculty understand how to deal with a more diverse student population. We get students with perfect ACT math scores who can’t pass our math placement tests. Because of the increased student diversity, students need more help.” –anonymous faculty, Wabash Report
  • The blatant racism, sexism, classism, and other damaging behaviors that the faculty and alumni at Mudd exhibit.
  • “There’s a question about ability vs. motivation. The demographics of our students have changed over time.” –anonymous faculty, Wabash Report
  • “But Mudd is adding women and trying to diversify. The Core is weaker now.” –anonymous alumni, Wabash Report
  • “The students had also heard that they weren’t as good as Mudd students in the past because there are more women and underrepresented ethnic minorities at Mudd now. While some students brushed off these comments, others either resented them or took them to heart.” –external reviewers, Wabash Report

If this institution does intend to help students graduate with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society, withholding information about the impact of Mudd on its students does not set a good example. The FEC had the chance to control the discourse associated with this report: we wish it had released this report with a genuine acknowledgment of our suffering and a clear plan for improvement. They did not.

While the attitudes expressed in this letter concerning workload are not necessarily universal, the sentiments do exist in much of the student body. They are not conjured or imaginary: there are students who feel truly hollowed out by their experience at Mudd. By not releasing this information, the TLC and FEC failed to acknowledge the legitimacy of students feeling beaten down by the workload, and showed an unwillingness to be transparent about Mudd’s need for improvement. While this report may have not initially been requested with the intention of distributing it to the entire Mudd community, we are deeply hurt that the TLC and FEC did not see the evidence of these widespread, structural issues as something that needed to be honestly and fully discussed with the student body.

Finally, we believe that it was never the FEC’s intention to release any information about this report not primarily due to concerns about confidentiality, but concerns about the image of Mudd. We believe that the alleged concerns about confidentiality are directly contradicted by the fact that the TLC and FEC chose to release the report to the entire faculty. It follows, then, that the TLC and FEC were inherently less trusting of the student body. We believe the truth behind why this report was not made public is that they did not think we could “handle” our complaints being given legitimacy and validity.

When the college values its own image over honesty, it stifles progress and fails its students. We acknowledge how hard it is to admit that Mudd has issues, especially when these issues so dramatically affect the lives, mental health, and intellectual capacity of its students. However, it is just as, if not more, difficult to actually experience these emotions and feel entirely isolated due to a lack of official acknowledgement. We understand that change takes time: institutions do not change overnight, especially when there are so many factors that can impede progress. Even so, we believe that an open and honest relationship with students is essential in enacting this change.

Demands

Harvey Mudd has had little issue with displaying its diverse student body for the purposes of publicity. However, it is clear to us that HMC is not committed to institutionally supporting marginalized students who are disproportionately impacted by its workload and has been resistant to change. Many marginalized students feel tokenized by the school in that it uses us to attract more students and build the image of the school, but does not commit to fully supporting us. This is unacceptable and deeply harmful. To that end, we make the following demands:

  • Student input and direct involvement in revision of the core curriculum
    • Students, as the people taking the classes, are the most directly impacted and should be included in decision making processes.
    • Some change needs to be gradual and will take time, but others, such as giving students time to take care of basic human needs (sleeping, showering, eating, etc.), should be addressed immediately.
  • Transparency
    • Documents on efforts to revise the curriculum and address the workload should be released to students.
      • The recent faculty statement and the FEC summary state that Mudd is working on change, but we as students have not felt it. We demand consistent documentation outlining what these efforts for change entail, and what work is being done to achieve them.
    • Budget for departments that directly impact student life on campus (DSA, OHW, OID) and any changes to those budgets should be released to students.
      • ie: information on recent OHW budget cuts was not made public to the students
  • Widely available statistics on the number and demographics of students who leave Mudd, take a leave of absence, or become ineligible to register, while still preserving student anonymity.
  • Acknowledgement of and immediate actions for addressing prejudice by the faculty against marginalized students.
    • Mandatory diversity/sensitivity/mental health training for faculty
      • This would include a comprehensive training on how faculty can avoid perpetuating microaggressions and subtle biases of which they may be unaware.
      • Students should be involved in developing this training to properly address unconscious biases in the faculty.
    • Faculty need to help students that come to them with questions, rather than discourage them.
    • Faculty need to examine their biases and meet students where they are with the material, not where they abstractly “should be”
    • More funding for mental health and more on-campus therapists/ psychiatrists
      • Specifically therapists that understand intersectionality and the needs of marginalized students
    • More funding for diversity organizations to make amends for the numerous ways that Harvey Mudd has failed to support marginalized students
  • Involvement of OID in the hiring process for new faculty
    • Currently, consultation with OID is only recommended, but students’ requests for increased diversity in faculty hires have not been met.
    • Counter to current guidelines set by the Dean of Faculty, the Physics Department did not consult with OID before finalizing the decision on their most recent hire.

We would also like to note that these demands are not new, and that this fact has caused additional anger and disappointment. Student representatives from diversity groups have been meeting with the administration of the school for the past 2+ years to raise these concerns and others, and limited action was taken on the part of the administration. It is concerning that it is only with the college facing damage to its reputation that the faculty and administration are willing to listen and implement changes on an institutional level.

As we have detailed above, we are genuinely hurt by the administration’s conscious decision to withhold this information from the students. We do not understand the full reasoning behind this decision, and we believe that we speak for a significant portion of the student body when we express just how deeply this incident has damaged our trust in this institution and shaken our confidence that it values students’ well-being. Harvey Mudd has claimed that it values student input when enacting change, but as students we do not feel that this is always the case. Effective change should not come unilaterally from the administration, but should be made with transparency and student participation throughout the process.

The message that the administration has sent us is that we cannot be trusted with validation of our struggles, lest we ask for too much too quickly. We do not believe that wishing to have time to grow in areas beyond STEM (or just to shower and sleep) is an unreasonable or impossible demand. We do not believe that we should need to battle with insensitive or outright bigoted faculty members in order to learn at an institution created for the purpose of learning. We refuse to accept suffering as a fundamental value of a Harvey Mudd education and we will not remain silent as long as it is normalized.

Our anger comes fundamentally from a place of respect for our peers and for the potential of this community. We hope that the administration will be willing to work with us to enact more meaningful and inclusive change moving forward, with the understanding that they have much work to do to mend the mistrust we currently feel. We are hopeful the release of this document can be a catalyst for change.

Signed,

Sponsors of APISPAM
Members of BLAM
Members of FEMunion
Leaders of PRISM
Leaders of SPLS
Leaders of THEY/THEM