Top Hat

Disheartened by RPI’s lack of understanding

By Justin Etzine January 31, 2018

On Monday night, RPI alumni from around the world opened their inboxes to find a forwarded email accusing them of racism, sexism, and heightism for discontinuing support of their alma mater during Dr. Jackson’s tenure as president. I would be remiss not to address this as I interact and work with alumni on a regular basis and recognize that current students are future alumni. Importantly, I struggle to comprehend the administration’s reasoning behind sending this email, as opposed to tactfully responding to the well-researched concerns and analysis outlined by the Renew Rensselaer alumni group, which was featured in the news article at which the administration’s reply was directed.

It was exceptionally unprofessional and destructive for this email to be forwarded to all alumni. The email fails to acknowledge any of the fact-based arguments that have been championed by alumni to support their decisions to reduce or end their donations, which is especially alarming coming from an institution of higher education that values “Knowledge and Thoroughness” as a core tenet. Additionally, RPI’s misguided response appears to demonstrate a basic unwillingness to directly address the very concerns which necessitated their response in the first place.

It was disheartening to hear a professor baselessly equate the entire alumni population to a particular stereotype. I’ve also observed the diversity of our alumni, students, and faculty through my interactions with them—which occur on a frequent basis—every weekend at hockey games, alumni events, and even at random, both on and off campus. That being said, I understand that we are far from perfect, and there are instances of racism and sexism found on our campus; however, raising concerns on how RPI is managed is not equivalent.

Since this email was sent to alumni, I’ve received a number of emails from disheartened and appalled alumni regarding it. It pains me to know that these alumni no longer feel appreciated or accepted by the place they once called home. It is a sentiment that seems all too relatable for many students these days—myself, included—and it leaves but one thought echoing in my head: RPI must do better. For students to begin to feel like it is truly “family,” the administration needs to genuinely communicate with us, and actively involve us in major decisions before they take place, such as ending the student-run nature of the Union. While I can’t speak for alumni, I imagine they don’t view “family” as someone who accuses them of being racist, sexist, or heightist, and who disallows them from attending Town Hall Meetings.

At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. I want to personally apologize to any alumni reading this if you felt offended or alienated by the administration’s email, as it was not reflective of student opinion. We certainly understand if you opted to withhold donations to your alma mater at any point in recent years. And to everyone reading: I promise that, as the chief representative of the student body, I will continue working to address concerns of the RPI community, as they affect us all, and I will continue my attempts to communicate with the administration. In the meantime, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts at