The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Joi Lewis resigns amid frustrations

By Matthew Stone

Citing concerns over the perceived marginalization of the Department of Multicultural Life (DML) and multicultural issues at Macalester, Joi Lewis, the schoolƒ?TMs first Dean of Multicultural Life, announced last Friday that she would leave the college at the end of this semester.

Lewis has worked at Macalester for seven years, first as Associate Dean of Students and, for the past four years, as Dean of Multicultural Life. She said she plans to devote time over the next year to completing dissertation research for her doctorate in higher education management.Lewis said she decided to announce her decision last Friday in order for the school to begin searching for a replacement as soon as possibleƒ?”ƒ?oea new leader at the highest level who is afforded more authority to create institutional transformation than I experienced,ƒ?? Lewis wrote Tuesday in her letter of resignation.

Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre asserted that the college plans to fill the position after a potential reevaluation of the job description.

In her remarks on Friday, Lewis mentioned several issues relating to multiculturalism at Macalester and questioned the administrationƒ?TMs commitment to promoting multiculturalism on campus.

ƒ?oeI do not want to be an icon for the institution that says that something is happening the way that itƒ?TMs not,ƒ?? she said. ƒ?oeThe practice of the institutional values and my personal values were in conflict.ƒ??

Lealtad-Suzuki Center director Karla Benson Rutten praised Lewis for her service but agreed that institutional problems have marginalized multicultural issues. The DML houses the Lealtad-Suzuki Center, which organizes multicultural programming and training, among other programs.

ƒ?oeWith Joiƒ?TMs leadership, weƒ?TMve created lots of great things in the department,ƒ?? she said. ƒ?oeWe have made strides but there are problems and itƒ?TMs important for you all to know that.ƒ??

Students at Fridayƒ?TMs meeting expressed a range of emotions, including appreciation, anger, and anxiety, in reaction to Lewisƒ?TM announcement, which was met by surprise and, at times, tears.

Tinbete Ermyas ƒ?TM08, a columnist for The Mac Weekly, told Lewis that she was his shining star at the college, and vented frustration about the consistent problems he sees with the place of multiculturalism at the college.

ƒ?oeI donƒ?TMt know how many times I can get hit in the face and still call this place home,ƒ?? Ermyas said at the meeting.

Lewisƒ?TM resignation comes on the heels of what many see as a series of setbacks to multicultural life on campus.
Both Lewis and Jane Rhodes, Dean for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, said they have struggled to make the findings of the Multicultural Advisory Boardƒ?TMs report assessing multiculturalism on campus made more widely available to the public. President Brian Rosenberg commissioned the report and the Board of Trustees heard it in May.

Staff and students have voiced complaints about the Hispanic Studies departmentƒ?TMs marginalization of Latino Studies in the departmentƒ?TMs curriculum.

MarA-a Elena Cepeda, the collegeƒ?TMs sole specialist in the field, announced earlier this month that she would not return to Macalester because of what she sees as a lack of support for the discipline. Cepeda is one of at least three faculty members of color who have left the school since last spring.

Lewis and others have aired concerns that planners of the Institute for Global Citizenship, a recent initiative that will alter the schoolƒ?TMs bureaucratic structure, did not pay sufficient attention to multicultural concerns in planning the Institute.

Many who work with the DML have also pointed to a lack of sufficient resources, both financial and staff-related, that has made the departmentƒ?TMs work difficult. For example, the college has never hired an Assistant Dean of Multicultural Life, a position promised to the DML. In addition, the college has been unable to fill the position left vacant by Mattie White, who was the Assistant Director of Campus Programs for Multicultural Life.

Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre said in an interview Tuesday that the DML is slated for an incremental budget increase in the collegeƒ?TMs proposed 2006-2007 budget while other areas will see no increases. The budget has yet to be approved by the Board of Trustees.

Hamre added that she has resisted allocating more staff positions to Multicultural Life because she sees a need to hire staff from diverse backgrounds for positions throughout campus divisions.

A recent departmental restructuring of three staff positions within the Student Life division affects three employeesƒ?”Director of Campus Programs Brian Wagner, Director of Residential Life Sarah Griesse, and Director of Leadership and Community Development Ramon Knoxƒ?”who have been largely involved with campus multicultural programming.

Hamre said that many areas on campus will feel the effects of the restructuring and that the college did not single out the DML.

ƒ?oeItƒ?TMs not a reflection of the three people being affected by this,ƒ?? Hamre said in an interview. ƒ?oeItƒ?TMs really more about changing the structure to provide more service to students.ƒ??

Students react
Students who assembled at a meeting Monday that focused on campus multiculturalism disagreed.

ƒ?oeThe restructuring can be seen perhaps as a hit to the DML,ƒ?? Alex Flores ƒ?TM08 said. ƒ?oeThe reality is they are three of the very few allies we have on this campus.ƒ??
Students see Lewisƒ?TM resignation as the outcome of a trajectory of events that have amounted to a ƒ?oeghettoization of multiculturalismƒ?? on campus, said Aaron Johnson-Ortiz ƒ?TM06, who has been involved in forming the Core Constituency (CC). The CC, which intends to advocate on behalf of campus multicultural issues, held Mondayƒ?TMs meeting to publicize the emerging collective, which began last semester as a group of cultural organization leaders and other students of color.

For students involved in the CC, organization is key if they hope to effect change.

ƒ?oeNone of us has the capacity on our own terms to make any potential difference if our vision is myopic,ƒ?? Johnson-Ortiz said at the meeting, which attracted over 55 students.

Rhodes agreed that students must act to bring about change. Students must organize broadly in order to ensure that the college does not ignore their concerns, she said.

ƒ?oeI think that if multiculturalism in all of its varying forms is meaningful to a broad swath of students at Macalester, then that needs to be represented,ƒ?? Rhodes said. ƒ?oeI think students will be heard if thatƒ?TMs represented.ƒ??

Eliot Brown contributed to this report.

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