Colby College in Maine announced Tuesday that it has updated its nondiscrimination policy to include caste, a system of inherited social class, making it the second institution in the nation to create such a policy, the Bangor Daily News reported.
The decision to include casteism — traditionally linked with South Asian culture — as a form of discrimination was spearheaded by Sonja Thomas, associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies. Colby’s announcement said, “Caste serves as an unchangeable marker of status and access” and “defines major life events, such as who one can marry, and those with caste power can be gatekeepers of access to high-paying status jobs.”
Additionally, the announcement noted that opportunities shrink for lower castes, especially for Adivasis, Indigenous people of South Asia, and Dalits, the most oppressed in the caste system. Both groups are vulnerable to being victims of segregation, violence or discrimination because of their designation of being in a lower caste.
While Colby doesn’t have a large South Asian population, students enrolling at colleges nationwide increasingly represent other, less dominant castes, Thomas said in the announcement. She added that caste discrimination has an impact on student learning and harms “both South Asian Americans and other races, too.”
The move by Colby follows Brandeis University, which added caste identity as “a recognized and protected characteristic” in the institution’s antidiscrimination policy in 2019. Thomas said she hopes the policy becomes a model for other institutions.