Coe College Black Alumni Association: An Open Letter to the Coe College Board

There are troubling concerns that need to be addressed.

Coe students, faculty and community members march along the Coe College campus to protest diversity, equity and inclusion issues at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Thursday, November 18, 2021 (Savannah Blake/The Gazette via AP)

In the February publication of Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Coe College was identified as one of the nation’s leading colleges and universities for diversity. This was the third time since July 2021 that Coe College has been recognized by this publication.

As Coe College alumni, we are proud of this achievement. For several years, Coe College has made strides in increasing the number of faculty and students of color and trying to make the campus a more inclusive environment. The continued support of Darryl Banks and fellow Coe College Board members Alan Anderson and Bill Schalk, working in alliance with the thought leadership of then President David McInally and Vice President of College, Paula O’Loughlin, were instrumental in making these achievements a reality.

Yet today there are troubling concerns that need to be addressed about how some of these administrators have been treated.

From our point of view, it seems that money matters more than character for the board. We find this abhorrent.

In November 2021, there were two articles in The Gazette about student, faculty, staff and alumni dissatisfaction. This involved an incident that occurred during a meeting of the Coe College Board of Trustees in October 2021. Darryl Banks, Ph.D., an esteemed Coe College alumnus and Rhodes Scholar, who had served on the Coe Board of Trustees College for over 40 years was insulted at a board meeting. During a discussion of the presidential search process and the contribution to the search decision of black and brown members of the search committee, Kristin Strohm, who happens to be the daughter of a life member of the board of directors who contributed substantial sums to Coe, made a derogatory and insulting remark about Darryl Banks. This event and the board’s anemic response motivated Darryl Banks to resign from the board. Alan Anderson, Ph.D., another board member also resigned in support of Darryl Banks.

From our point of view, it seems that money matters more than character for the board. We find this abhorrent.

Further, the Coe College Black Alumni Association is concerned that this incident and the discussions surrounding it represent a reneging of the college’s commitment to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion – which we brings us to a crucial moment. How should we support an institution we love, when it seems that incrementalism – at best – will limit the progress that has been made? Or, perhaps at worst, is this another example of white privilege and deep pockets trumping decency? For example, how can the board claim that an investigation into the events surrounding Ms. Strohm’s derogatory statement was conducted when several of those involved were never interviewed and at least one female member of the research committee agrees with Darryl Banks’ observation? Or let’s ask another related question, if Coe College is proud of their accomplishments in increasing black and brown student and faculty attendance, why hasn’t this been part of their marketing?

How are we progressing? We fear that the current management of Coe College prefers to sweep this incident under the rug. If so, that means they expect us to accept it. We are not!

It is necessary to provide an acceptable resolution regarding Darryl Banks. There is a need to provide the campus community with transparency regarding the presidential search process. Finally, there is a need for the Board to reaffirm its commitment to racial and social justice by advancing policies, procedures and concrete actions that support issues of diversity, equity and inclusion at Coe College.

In the interview that was published last week in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Provost Paula O’Loughlin’s final statement says that if Coe receives a national diversity certification, “It would be an affirmation of the work we have done and an inspiration for how much more we need to do. The Coe College Black Alumni Association is of the view that we cannot move forward without having an acceptable conclusion to disrespect for Darryl Banks.

Members of the Coe College Black Alumni Association Steering Committee include Mark S. Johnson, MD MPH, Violet Travis Ricks, and Carolyn A. Williams Meza.

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