Update on Halloween incident

The following is a message President Dennis Hanno sent to the college community on November 2, 2017.

To the Wheaton community,

The past few days have been disturbing and challenging for our community. A Wheaton student chose to wear blackface as part of a racist and offensive Halloween costume, and the incident raises difficult issues for all of us.

I am particularly dismayed that this student did not act alone, but was part of a group of other individuals who actively participated in this event and then attempted to cover it up. This runs counter to the value that our community places on creating an inclusive and welcoming educational environment. This is something for which each of us has responsibility. We need to make those expectations clear.

As a result, the women’s soccer team will not be allowed to compete in the NEWMAC tournament game that was scheduled for Saturday at MIT, ending their season. The team recognizes this is the right decision and accepts the outcome. This action is separate from, and will not replace, the student conduct hearing process involving specific individuals now underway. Rather, it is intended to signal a clear message that offensive and racist behavior will not be tolerated at Wheaton.

I want to reiterate that the incident that took place last weekend reflects attitudes that go beyond this one event and that is my greatest concern. This college community aspires to be a place that welcomes a diverse group of students from every background and perspective, from across the country and around the world. Despite the many educational programs that Wheaton offers to encourage an inclusive environment, it is clear that we are falling short.

Many of you know that Wheaton has been working on improving the community’s support for diversity and inclusion long before this incident took place. In fact, the college has been engaged in developing a strategic plan on this that encompasses every aspect of the college—from the recruitment and retention of a diverse faculty and staff workforce to the quality of student life. This work has been led by Dean of Students Kate McCaffrey and Professor of Psychology Peony Fhagen, and it has involved consultation with many groups of students, faculty and staff as well as alumni and the Board of Trustees. Several steps outlined in the plan have already been taken, such as the formation of the Center for Social Justice and Community Impact and the hiring of a director for the program. Other initiatives will be implemented soon as we know we have a great deal of work to do.

Over the next several weeks, the task force that has coordinated the development of our diversity and inclusion plan will hold a series of meetings to offer opportunities to comment on our plans. I see this as an important step in moving forward on a plan to which so many people have contributed. I urge everyone to take the time to participate in these meetings.

This is a difficult moment for the college and our community and I am convinced that we can use this incident as a rallying point to build a better, more welcoming and inclusive place for all students, faculty and staff. I need you to join me in this important work.


Dennis Hanno