Nine determined Bates seniors set out to change the character of the college from which they would soon graduate during the second semester of the 2010- 2011 academic year. The impact of the students’ exemplary initiative continues to be felt on the Bates campus and their efforts serve as an example for students’ capacity for creating change.
Nine Women and Gender Studies majors from the Class of 2011 Afroz Baig, Rosalie Winslow, Charlotte Friedman, Anna Abelson, Erin Bourgault, Catherine Lary, Shameena Khan, Nikki Rankine, and Emma Posner formed what is now known as the Bates Coalition Against Discrimination, a group that ultimately drafted and presented an official list of complaints and requested change to the Bates administration.
An official list of demands for the Bates College administration was presented on April 4th, 2011. The demands were separated into six categories: Hate Crimes/ Bias Incidents, Sexual Assault, Queer Support, Office of Intercultural Education, Financial Aid and Work-Study, and Accountability.
During this past MLK Day on January 20th, eight out of the nine coalition members returned to Bates to speak to an audience made up of current Bates students, faculty, and community members. Conducted in a conversational format, the coalition spoke in regards to the initial issues that inspired the coalition’s actions, the process that entailed in terms of generating change at Bates, and a look at where Bates has come in light of these continuing concerns.
Coalition member Nikki Rankine ’11 was the head of Bates group OutFront as well as the Women’s Resource Center when she communicated with a Bates student who had been subjected to an act of anti-gay discrimination and verbal assault. During her efforts in trying to aid her classmate, Rankine encountered challenges and discovered that Bates had limited resources available for victims of discrimination.
Among various events that sparked concern, the topic of sexual assault prompted the coalition members into action. The coalition recounted their discontentment in learning about the limited resources available for victims of sexual assault during the MLK Day discussion. One coalition member recalls coming up discouraging facts such as a sexual assault phone line that only operated during the weekday and a page on the Bates website that led to a dead end.
Charlotte Frieman, Emma Posner, and Rosie Winslow published an article in The Bates Student entitled “Students must take a stand against discrimination” in which the three coalition members outlined their dissatisfaction with the school’s available resources.
The writers explained, “In an extensive search on the Bates Web site, it was difficult to find information of the College’s policies and resources for victims of discrimination.”
Apart from simply a contempt for Bates’ resources, however, the article’s authors called the college’s embodiment of its supposed values into question, stating, “For a school founded by abolitionists and proud of its history of egalitarianism, Bates should be ashamed of its disregard for widespread issues of discrimination without our community.”
The coalition organized an open forum for Bates students and faculty to discuss issues of sexual assault and any other form of discrimination. The coalition explained how they had anticipated only a small crowd at the forum; needless to say, they were shocked to have been met by an audience of hundreds. It had become clear that they were not alone; the Bates community was ready to talk, listen, and work toward generating legitimate change against discriminatory behavior.
Part of the mission statement for the Women and Gender Studies department at Bates reads, “The goal of the Program in Women and Gender Studies is to enable learners to recognize, analyze, and transform gender relations as they appear in everyday life.”
The nine seniors and Bates Professor of Sociology and a member of the Program Committee in Women and Gender Studies Emily Kane embodied the stated mission by taking initiative as students and Bates community members in order to address matters of discrimination at Bates.
Professor Emily Kane explains, “Given WGS’s mission, which addresses not just analyzing but also transforming gender relations, and doing that in a manner that’s constantly attentive to the intersections between race, class, gender, sexuality and nation, the faculty and staff involved with the WGS program are very proud of the work the BCAD students did to transform inequalities within our campus community.”
At the MLK Day workshop, the coalition members discussed various frustrations that they encountered throughout the process of formulating and presenting the demands, as their advocation for change at Bates was not without resistance from external parties. Even fellow Bates students had difficulty understanding the need for change. As Rankine ’11 recalls, “I remember at one moment, many of us had friends who didn’t believe discrimination exist. I remember attending a party and a young man approached me and asked me to explain why I held the panel and what types of discrimination existed.”
It is evident that the 2011 Coalition against Discrimination made a valuable impact on the ever important culture that exists in response to discrimination within the Bates community. Resources for victims of sexual assault, for example, have expanded within the past few years. Sabrina Yocono is a current employee of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services and works 16 hours a week as a confidential resource for those in need of personal guidance.
There is always room for further advancement, however. When asked what advice the coalition has for current Bates student who wish to advocate and make a difference toward an area of inequality, the members responded with valuable pieces of advice. Nikki Rankine urges, “get creative; Collaborating with other student groups and social clubs allow for more people to participate in the conversation.”
Professor Kane notes the remarkable continued efforts of the coalition, despite now being alumni of three years. “While they were students and since they graduated and are now alums, they’ve shown a deep commitment to helping the Bates community live up to its ideals and aspirations. They organized in a really smart and labor-intensive way to keep pushing back when they encountered obstacles.”
While the coalition has been pleased to observe more awareness for discrimination and student advocacy on campus, members maintain that there is always more change that can be made. The members note how their list of demands marks one step that has been made, but that it still leaves room for further advancement. For example, they note that, “While improvements have been made in some areas, minimal change has occurred in areas such as race and class.”
The impact from the Bates Coalition Against Discrimination continues to be felt at Bates, and the lessons that can be learned from the nine members and those who supported their efforts are endless. The coalition provided an example for how Bates students have the capacity to advocate for change, and that, with a clear objective in mind and a passion for leaving Bates a better place, it is possible for students to affect the Bates landscape. “It’s your college,” notes the coalition. “Do work while you are there to leave it in a condition that you can be proud of as an alum of the school.”