By Emily Glory Peters
During the last decade, Scripps has accelerated its efforts to foster a more diverse and racially equitable environment for students, staff, and faculty. Donors have been a prime mover in this work, helping the College develop programs and increase resources that would not have been possible without their generosity.
In response to last year’s elevated racial unrest, Trustee Gale Picker P’14, P’19 gave Scripps a $1 million gift from to create a Racial Justice and Equity fund to advance new antiracist initiatives. With this continued support from Picker and other committed donors, progress toward these goals is already underway.
New racial equity leadership role at Scripps
Among the fund’s goals was the creation of the new Associate Dean of Faculty for Racial Equity (ADRE) position at Scripps. This spring, the College selected Professor of Chemistry and Sidney J. Weinberg, Jr. Chair in Natural Sciences Mary Hatcher-Skeers for the assignment.
“Professor Hatcher-Skeers will play a critical role in the College’s commitment to antiracism and equity,” says former President Lara Tiedens, who appointed Hatcher-Skeers in March. “She’ll be responsible for implementing antiracism and equity goals in the academic realm by providing guidance on recruitment and retention policies and practices.”
The ADRE will partner with individuals across Scripps’ campus and community to introduce these changes. Hatcher-Skeers will initially focus on faculty representation and retention to make Scripps a more supportive place for students and faculty of color.
“Representation for our Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students is one of the best places to begin. I’d like to help other departments rethink their hiring and promotion practices to ensure a broad pool of applicants,” she explains, noting the importance of retaining faculty once they’re hired. “I’ll be working with different constituencies around campus to develop a culture that helps BIPOC faculty and students feel welcomed and supported.”
Inaugural racial justice fellowship program fuels student/faculty research
Scripps’ new Racial Justice and Equity Fellowship is another resource made possible through donor support. Open to students and faculty, the fellowship provides up to $4,000 for those pursuing antiracist research and/or community-based projects. Nigerian-Irish student Blessing Nkechi-Etse Roland-Magaji ’24, who is considering a major in biology, was recently named the program’s inaugural student fellow.
“Being an immigrant, Black, femme, first-generation student in science was something I feared when starting at Scripps, and going into quarantine made adapting more difficult,” Roland-Magaji explains. “I felt like there was a big gap between what I came into the class with versus the other students, and I wanted to help others who feel the same.”
Roland-Magaji shares that her high school work establishing an African student alliance for equity in STEM partially inspired her fellowship project. She’ll spend the summer researching resources for underrepresented Scripps science students, then will survey these students’ acclimation to college life. In the fall, she’ll present her findings via video to the broader community through Scripps’ Research Bytes series on the College’s @scripps.fellowships IGTV channel.
“To create the best academic experience for every identity on campus, you have to consider the circumstances of students who aren’t White, wealthy, or who may not have a support system. That’s why this research is important,” says Roland-Magaji. “I’m really thankful for this new opportunity, and hope I can inspire people to have conversations about equity in and outside the classroom so we can enhance the Scripps experience for all students.”
Antiracist training modules for the Scripps campus community
As part of the Racial Justice and Equity Fund, Scripps has also extended antiracist training to the campus community. In January 2021, the College joined the Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance (LACRELA), a new program designed to help institutions reduce race-relation crises and implement actionable racial justice leadership strategies.
Established by the University of Southern California and comprised of 51 member colleges and universities, LACRELA offers monthly “eConvenings” led by experts in the field who focus on different aspects of racial equity. As an inaugural LACRELA member, Scripps sends representatives to the eConvenings, who then share their learning with staff and faculty through the College’s “ConverAction” discussion series. Assistant Dean and Director of Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment (SCORE) Marissiko Wheaton was among the College representatives who shared how she’s been implementing her LACRELA takeaways into her work at Scripps.
“For me, the most beneficial LACRELA session discussed the importance of leading productive conversations about racism,” she says, adding that, since students are currently unable to meet in person, it’s especially important that Scripps create opportunities for these conversations to take place.
“As we navigate anti-Black and anti-Asian violence in our country, many students have expressed that there are few spaces where they feel safe to open up about the collective racial trauma we’re experiencing. As a result, SCORE has hosted a number of healing sessions and dialogues in the last couple of months, and I’m using insights from my time with students and the eConvenings to advocate for elevated levels of support for them,” Wheaton says.
ConverActions are hosted in partnership with Scripps’ IDEA Initiative, a program that lays out a framework to assess and make changes to Scripps’ culture, curriculum, and policies to help eradicate institutional racism. More ConverAction events centering on LACRELA takeaways will be available to the campus community throughout the year.
Looking to the future of racial justice and equity progress at Scripps
As these racial equity projects have rolled out in the last six months, they have affirmed the Scripps community’s tremendous power to help the College enact tangible change—and there’s more ahead.
To better connect with and enroll more gifted students of color, the College is currently examining how to expand both its recruitment strategy for Black students and the resources to help those students thrive once admitted. Ongoing donor contributions will also enable the College to increase scholarship support to a greater number of talented students from underrepresented communities—students whose voices and experiences contribute invaluably to the richness and growth of Scripps culture.
“No one is navigating this terrain perfectly, but every person connected to Scripps can support the broader effort to talk about race and help us be the best Scripps we can be,” Hatcher-Skeers says. “Scripps staff, faculty, students, and donors support each other in beautiful ways, and we can roll up our sleeves and make a difference here. I have a lot of faith in our community.”