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BSU and allies presented an updated version of the December 8, 2014 List of Demands to Emmanuel College President Sister Janet Eisner on November 23, 2015. The executive board of BSU took the December 3 meeting as an opportunity to explain not only their demands, but the administration’s response, to faculty and students.
Ashley Jeannot ’17 facilitated the discussion with the assistance of Laurie Boyd ’16, Gabriela Tavares ’17, Samantha Tingue ’18, and Jonathon Rowe ’18.
Jeannot began the discussion by asking for participants to outline their concerns with the Letter of Demands and also with the current cultural competency policies at the school.
Professor Ana Otero raised multiple concerns. Having been involved in Emmanuel College’s RISE Program — a program designed to aide the transition of first generation college students and Pell Grant eligible students to college — she was concerned by the fact that most Emmanuel College students assumed that the RISE Program was designed for only students of color, reinforcing systemic racism at Emmanuel.
Otero also related her own experiences with racism at Emmanuel: “Students seem to assume that if you have an accent, you are somehow less intelligent. My semester evaluations from students are almost always filled with unkind comments about my accent. Sometimes diversity looks like having an unfamiliar accent.”
As a whole, the group was very concerned by Otero’s statement; others contributed similarly troubling experiences.
Brittany Williams ’16 stated that her primary concern with the Letter of Demands was BSU’s use of the words “black and brown.” She stated that she felt that this singled out groups of students and effectively alienated many people of color and their allies, whom BSU was trying to unite.
Jeannot said that she understood Williams’ concern, and was by no means trying to alienate people of color or their allies. She stated, “I am aware that in the past BSU may have had a negative stigm, but we are an entirely new executive board and we are dedicated to incorporating all of Emmanuel’s community — not just students of color. We know that everyone will not always agree, and encourage constructive debate.”
Jeannot went on to outline each of the demands and the administration’s response:
1. Cultural competency training for faculty, staff, student leaders, and student workers.
Jeannot stated that Emmanuel College faculty were scheduled to receive cultural competency training from the Anti-Defamation League January 19, 2016, while student leaders and workers will receive it January 24, 2016. Emmanuel College staff will receive training by department throughout the Spring 2016 Semester, beginning with Financial Services.
Professor Clare Mehta brought up a concern experienced by several faculty members: while they had attempted to host programs and run classes about topics such as race and cultural competency programs go under-attended and classes have too little interest to run. She asked for student assistance in more widely publicizing classes and events that can enhance cultural competency.
2. An independent space for multicultural programs in Marion Hall.
Jeannot prefaced this demand by remind all that the multicultural space would be open to students of all races. The intent of having a space specific for multicultural programs is to ensure that students with diverse identities have a safe space on campus. The space will also serve to accommodate events hosted by Emmanuel’s multicultural clubs to help alleviate the demand for activity space on campus.
Psychology Professor Helen MacDonald informed the group that when Emmanuel transitioned to being a coeducational institution a plan for a Women’s Space was proposed, but did not go through because the student leaders behind the proposal graduated before they were able to see the endeavor to fruition. She encouraged BSU to be adamant in their demand for a multicultural space.
3. The reinstatement of the RISE Program.
Boyd, who has been working most actively on researching the RISE Program, explained this demand to the group.
In its original form, students who participated in the RISE Program were first generation college students or student who were Pell Grant eligible. They would come to campus one month early and attend rigorous classes. If they earned a B or higher in their classes and maintained high academic standards throughout college, they received a scholarship to cover their on-campus housing for four years.
Members of the incoming class who participated in EC Pulse, the current version of RISE, simply participated in a day of panels from Emmanuel College students and staff.
Boyd stated that research has shown that programs such as RISE increase rates of college graduation, as well as institutional retention, and would therefore benefit Emmanuel in the long run.
Professor Petros Vamvakas lamented that while he had enjoyed teaching as a part of the RISE Program, Emmanuel no longer possessed the grant funding necessary to provide such an extensive program.
Boyd replied that when she had tried to contact faculty about the grant writing process they had been very vague, and asked for Vamvakas’ assistance.
4. Increased funding for Multicultural Programs.
Jeannot explained that increased Multicultural Programs funding will help Director Jeff Smith conduct programs that benefit not only students of color who often feel alienated at predominately white institutions, but also help educate all students.
Corinne Stinton ’16 commented that the SGA had passed a motion to request an increase to the overall student programs budget in order to increase funding across the board.
5. $3,000 of library funds dedicated to literature on the African Diaspora.
BSU will be working in conjunction with Library Staff to select this literature, but the group did not feel that this was going far enough.
Stinton elaborated on that point that International Studies majors also suffered from the lack of diverse literature at Emmanuel.
Mehta suggested that Alumni Relations create an option for Alumni to specifically donate to multicultural programs in order to increase access to literature and programming.
6. A public statement from President Sister Janet Eisner addressing the administration’s dedication to the List of Demands.
Jeannot informed the group that Sister Janet had posted a letter to the Emmanuel College Portal November 25, 2015.
Professor Adam Silver asked how the group intended to keep the conversation about the List of Demands current and relevant, to which Jeannot replied that BSU had scheduled a follow-up meeting with Sister Janet in the Spring 2016 Semester.
Devon Wright is a staff writer for The Hub. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org