In the past few months historically underrepresented students have expressed how they have been deeply affected by the racism and inequity that occurs on college campuses across the country. Students of Color nationwide have been reflecting on their college experiences and have been organizing to dismantle the racist structures that exist on their campuses. The student protests that have been happening at colleges such as the University of Missouri, Princeton, Yale, Ithaca, etc., has sparked a fire and deep sense of solidarity for students of Color. Students have been organizing on their campuses and have come up with strategic ways to help their institutions improve their racial climate and to end the systemic and structural racism that exist at their colleges. Students of Color at Bates have also been organizing over the past five months and have come up with a list of grievances and recommendations to present to the Bates administration. This document is entitled, The Concerned Students of Color at Bates: A Call to Action.
In November 2015, Bates College hosted the Creating Connections Consortium (C3) Summit. The theme for the 2015 summit was “The Transformative Power of Race in the Academy.” After the conference President Clayton Spencer along with Chief Diversity Officer and associate Vice President Crystal Williams met with a group of students that they saw attend the conference to discuss the racial climate at Bates. After the meeting, students of Color began to reflect very deeply about their experiences at this predominantly white institution and we all found that there were common struggles that students of Color face as they navigate their racial identity daily at Bates. As we continued to meet on a regular basis we began to brainstorm ways we could improve the racial climate at Bates in order to enhance our own student experiences. Keeping in step with the movements that have been happening on college campuses across the country we decided to come up with a document that specifically identifies areas Bates needs to improve in order to better its racial climate. The three main sections of the document are “The Academy,” “Campus Culture,” and “OIE and other Campus Resources.” To be clear The Concerned Students of Color at Bates do not speak for all students of Color at this institution. There are in fact a myriad of different experiences that are held by many students of color on campus. However, we imagine that the majority of the issues expressed in the document are shared by many students of Color at Bates.
Each section of the document was reviewed and revised numerous times before presenting it to the President and her administration. We are also open to hearing any feedback from other students, especially if their experiences and the struggles they face aren’t reflected in the document that The Concerned Students of Color created. This semester we have had three meetings with the President and members from her administration about each section of the document. After these meetings, senior leaders who oversee the areas of concerns of The Concerned Students of Color detailed in the Call to Action were assigned to action teams. These small action teams, which consist of students and administrators, have been working diligently during Short Term to come up with concrete solutions that address the needs and struggles that students of Color face at Bates College.
The Concerned Students of Color: A Call to Action highlights the voices of students of Color from different backgrounds at Bates and lists concerns that impact every aspect of our college experience. As students of color, we would like our experience to be as beneficial and as worthwhile as our white peers. We expect Bates, a place founded on anti-slavery principles that stresses the importance of diversity and inclusion while continuing to increase the enrollment of students of color each year, to include us in the academy as a whole, inside and outside of the classroom. On the pages that follow we will provide personal narratives while also going into vivid detail about how the specific sections of the Call to Action were created. We also list the concerns as they appear in the document itself.
By Deshun Peoples
Many students of color struggle to find themselves reflected in the different elements of the College experience at Bates. Students of color, myself included, go through years of courses without interacting with the works of a single creative or intellectual of color. Many of the students of color have to constantly educate their white peers both inside and outside of the classroom, enumerating their personal experiences oftentimes to be challenged as if it were a theoretical situation they sought feedback on.
Upon matriculation, particularly coming from a predominantly black home environment, I was overwhelmed by the whiteness I was now thrust into, but this whiteness posed no threat to me initially. I saw this as an opportunity to expand my network and learn how to navigate a world of the white majority. It is here that I knew I’d learn their language, their culture, their references, their experiences to prepare me for the future interactions I’d constantly have with them.
During my sophomore year, I began to hear horror stories of professors signaling out students of color to speak for the entirety of a diverse race or ethnicity and then arguing with these students about the validity of certain situations that sometimes were the students’ actual experiences. Questions of hyper-sensitivity around race/racism, honest and open debates about positionality and personal beliefs at the expense of the humanity of people of color, general ignorance about facts, and micro-aggressions began to dominate the stories of the classroom experience of friends of mine, and eventually forced their way into my own experience.
I will never forget the time my professor insisted that a Korean international student answer a question about Mandarin Chinese grammar rules. The shy, quiet student hesitantly proclaimed his Korean identity and expressed that he knew nothing about Mandarin Chinese language. Perhaps even more unforgettable was the professor’s response, or lack thereof. He simply said, “Oh,” and continued with his lesson. There was no apology or recognition of an instance of wrongdoing.
I can never un-hear my most trusted advisor tell me that the racism that black people experience is all a figment of our imaginations, implanted into our brains from the writings and teachings of a few critical theorists. The lived instances of overt racism, and racially biased incidents, and micro-aggressions, and prejudice were clearly not things that we continually experience on a daily bases in very dehumanizing and destabilizing ways. Rather, they elaborate narratives that we adopted as part of our experience—according to this professor. Even worse, I cannot un-hear this same white advisor essentially calling me lazy amidst personal and familial struggle, and telling me that my “minority status is a privilege” despite my artistic merit, labor, and grant writing abilities that contributed to me receiving several highly selective scholarships. Being led to believe that you are only granted opportunities because of your “minority status” further embeds “imposter syndrome” in the psyche of underrepresented students who, despite their obvious qualifications, feel as though they do not deserve the opportunities that they worked hard for. This makes them feel that sense of inferiority that the system of American higher education already ensured. It’s infuriating to have to explain the nuance of the complicated, entrenched concepts of white, class, and heterosexual privilege to those who ignorantly use, abuse, reproduce, and continually choose to not acknowledge these privileges and the social hierarchies they enforce. To have to bite your tongue, accepting verbal abuse, for the fourth time that week while talking to a professor who continually claims that she supports you and your best interest can begin to take a toll on students.
After meeting as a collective body to discuss the multiplicity of our experiences, some things began to enter the conversation with a disgusting frequency. As a group of intellectuals and students who already hold a particularly inferior status in America at large and in higher education specifically, we could only hear the stories of professors mistreating, disrespecting, disempowering, and verbally attacking students of color so many times before we demanded change. Having professors and peers invalidate our voices and experiences, along with not learning about contributions that intellectuals and creatives of color made to academia, and not physically seeing “us” significantly represented in the faculty and staff at this institution, made mobilization a necessity. We demand that our experiences be well considered and significantly changed. While the experiences listed above as well as the experiences of our body of Concerned Students of Color as a whole may not be universal, they still constitute a vital role in the overall Bates student experience. The issues that we face deserve recognition and redress. Even if they aren’t your experience, they are still incredibly valid and important. Hopefully you feel that they warrant your support. Below is the section ‘The Academy’ as it is written in the Call to Action.
1. The integration/diversification of class material that should include contributions from people that come from marginalized backgrounds (people of color, queer folks, disabled folks, etc.). We suggest that a good first step into meeting this goal is to have a full audit of Bates’ current undergraduate curricula in order to determine the diversity of the existing curriculum.
Also, we suggest incorporating Diversity and Inclusion in First-Year Seminar courses. We feel that orientation is too short of time to engage first years with issues of diversity and inclusion. We believe that having first years engage with these issues throughout their first semester will set the tone for the rest of their Bates career.
2. We request that some type of diversity requirement be implemented at Bates. We request that every undergraduate take a course that engages issues relevant to understanding race, gender, class, and queerness in American society. We strongly suggest that this requirement be implemented along with the SLQ requirements for graduation. Being that diversity and inclusion impacts the way in which we treat one another on campus, having students take classes where they are engaging with this material will go a long way in improving the racial climate and the broader campus culture.
3. We request that faculty highly encourage their students to attend MLK Day events. We also suggest that as an incentive faculty think about having their students write a one page response to a workshop or session that they attend for extra-credit.
4. We request training sessions before each semester starts for faculty and staff, including lab instructors and teacher assistants that is focused on race. These sessions should help equip professors on how to intervene and handle situations when students make racist, homophobic, and xenophobic comments in class, especially in the STEM fields. These sessions should also teach faculty, staff, lab instructors and teacher assistants how to interact with students of color, and how their tone of voice, use of words, and overall actions can offend students of color. We request that students and alumni be involved in the development of these trainings to ensure that the content reflects the needs of students.
5. The hiring of more faculty/staff of color. Students of color should be on the search committees or a part of the process of hiring faculty and staff of color, specifically for STEM disciplines.
By Folashade Ade-Banjo
My name is Folashade Ade-Banjo and I will be giving my thoughts on the social climate at Bates and explain the line of thinking that went into creating the Campus Culture section of the Call to Action. The Campus Culture section was drafted as a response to the areas where Bates has failed to address the concerns of historically disadvantaged groups on campus. As a member of Concerned Students of Color, I along with other students of color worked to identify and hopefully rectify institutional issues that have plagued the experiences of students of color.
At Bates, black students make up less than 5 percent of the entire population. Due to just numbers alone, being black on campus can be a fairly polarizing experience. Most of the concerns raised by black students about the campus culture at Bates fell into two categories: (1) Social Constraints and (2) Economic Constraints. In response, Concerned Students of Color devised a list of grievances to assist in alleviating these issues and better serve students of color. I will not speak too much on Economic Constraints because a good portion of them have already been recommended and addressed by the Concerned Students of Color at Bates and the Administration. There is now financial support for students in need to access transportation and meals during break. Conversations on the rising cost of textbooks and the insistence of a minimum wage increase are being held currently. So, in the following piece, I will offer some of the ideological backing on the social constraints that students of color face and why we recommended these grievances to the administration at Bates:
It should come as no surprise that there exists a pervasive culture of “self-segregation” at Bates. It is visible everywhere you go, from Commons, to Ladd, to social gatherings, athletics, clubs, etc. On the surface, this phenomenon makes complete sense. People, not just students of color, have a propensity to hang around like-minded people with similar perspectives and experiences. This tends to translate into Bates students deciding to associate themselves with people of similar race, socioeconomic status, common interests, race, sexuality and gender. I will not note whether or not this phenomenon is implicitly or explicitly imposed by students of color or by non-students of color. I also don’t really think inquiring on that matter is really relevant to the conversation at hand. What we Concerned Students of Color are interested in is finding a way to assist students of color in feeling “connected” to campus regardless of their background.
There’s this misconception that the onus falls on black students (or any marginalized group for that matter) to freely integrate themselves into any environment. There’s this idea that the only people stopping black students from freely assimilating into campus are black students. It is especially easy to make this claim when you happen to be within the majority of any social setting. For students who fall into the privileged or the majority, their experiences usually take precedence in establishing perspectives, ideologies, interests, etc. I find that as a black student, I am constantly adapting my experiences to enable those of the majority to relate to people like me. However, there doesn’t seem to be a fair reciprocation or exchange of experiences. I typically have to scavenge and sift through my experiences to find one that relates to white students, to students with privileged upbringings, or just to students with a completely different set of experiences from my own. I am totally fine with this and, in fact, grateful that there are different experiences I can learn from. However, I don’t really think students who fall into the majority often do the same for those who don’t. Because of my experience as a black, female, low-income student from the South, I’ve found that it’s extremely difficult to add to a conversation or have ownership of spaces that do not incorporate my experiences.
I’ve also found that there is a lack of sincerity and genuine understanding in relation to racial matters on campus. Sure, people will attend discussions or forums on these matters but it is usually because they are mandated to for extra credit in a course. And in the case that they are not, I rarely see a proactive sentiment to not only discuss these issues but act on them, as well. Every year during MLK Day, I have witnessed overwhelming disinterest in the current social environment for black people. A lot of white students at Bates see MLK Weekend as merely a 3-Day Ski Trip. Many white students won’t even acknowledge MLK Weekend. It is disconcerting that some students do not go out of their way to understand differing perspectives unless they are incentivized to do so. Lack of empathy from white students towards black experiences has probably been the most nauseating sentiment I have felt at Bates. For instance, I’ve heard many conversations of white students attempting to dismantle the positive narrative behind the Black Lives Matter movement. A few months ago, there were a slew of racially insensitive comments towards students of color on YikYak. And to speak from personal experience, I have even been hurled racially explicit slurs on more than one occasion during my time at Bates.
The final issue I have come to notice about campus culture is that there is a lack of unity apparent amongst students of Color. It is really difficult to come together as one in order to advocate, support, and befriend each other which is why creating spaces for students of color to congregate and expound on their experiences is so important. Ensuring that the OIE is a place where students of color can uphold ownership is also of the utmost importance. Jeremy Glover will discuss this issue in further detail when he explains ‘The OIE/Other Resources’ section of the document on the following page.
Last important detail: Bates is an incredibly friendly school filled with well-meaning students, for the most part. However, students with good intentions can still encroach on the experiences of other students without even noticing it. Hopefully, the grievances of the Concerned Students of Color can shed light on these matters and how to remedy them.
The Campus Culture
1. We suggest the diversification of athletic teams/sports clubs (i.e. lacrosse, rowing etc.). When students of color are in the vast minority on these athletic teams/club sports, they tend to face challenges with their racial identity because they are often tokenized. We also suggest that all athletic coaches go through a training before each semester that is focused on race so that they know how to react to racist incidents on their athletic teams.
2. We request that the minimum wage for campus jobs be raised for all students to $9/hour.
3. We request that the college should hold forums that allow students of color to network with alumni and other professionals at least once a semester so that we can build connections in order to make a smoother transition into the workplace (which will mostly be White and systematically disenfranchise us).
4. We request that there needs to be more robust programming in helping students either rent or buy textbooks at discounted rates. The prices of textbooks for four classes show that professors and the college are blind to the economic constraints that students have when paying for very expensive text books.
5. We request that some type of break shuttle system be put into place so that students can more easily be able to get back and forth from the airport/bus station during breaks.
6. We request that during breaks, there is some type of meal plan for students who are almost forced to stay on campus because they cannot afford to go home for breaks.
The OIE/Other Campus Resources
By Jeremy Glover
Born out of protests against the Office of Admission in 1995 and originally named the Multicultural Center, The Office of Intercultural Education (most commonly known as the “OIE”) is perhaps one of the most important campus resources for students from marginalized backgrounds at Bates. Personally speaking, my own experiences with the OIE, its staff, and the students who utilize it have been utterly transformative in how I understand my identity as well as an essential component to my Bates experience. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be at Bates today without it. This fondness for the OIE, which is certainly shared by many other students, is in part the source of the Concerned Students’ frustration. From its inception in the Spring of 1995 until Fall semester 2014, the OIE has resided on Campus Avenue as its own building in the form of a house. In order to build the new dorms and campus buildings on Campus Ave, administration needed the OIE to be moved. It’s current location in Chase Hall has several problems which our document was created in part to communicate to administration.
Firstly, the physical construction and design of the space makes privacy nearly impossible to attain, as the walls are semi-transparent, easily heard through, and with the exception of the staff member’s offices, the space is essentially one large room. Secondly, the space’s new centralized location and overarching shift to become more mainstream has diluted the potency of the space to be the support space that it was intended to be. More or less, the OIE has become more widely known as a general student center for studying and cooking than a place of support for students of marginalized identities. The issue with this shift is that for many students the OIE was or is the only space that they feel ownership over and comfort in, and many of the students who now take advantage of the space make little or no effort to recognize this fact. These changes have also informed our request for an external review of the OIE as it seems to have lost sight of its mission and the goal of centers like it. Our request for a space for students of color only stems out of a desire for feeling ownership over a space that has been lost for the OIE. This request is of course provisional on the inclusion of other spaces for students of other marginalized communities. For example, students who identify in the LGBTQIA+ community (who aren’t people of color) would have their own resource center or something of the like.
The OIE/ Other Campus Resources
1. We request that the administration write an open letter to the community informing us of how the OIE supports students of color.
How do staff members in the office go about supporting students of color?
What are the specific programs aimed at meeting the needs of the unique experiences of students of color?
2. We request that there be an external review of the OIE. From students’ of color perspective there seems to be a discrepancy between the employees in the OIE and what it does for students of Color and what we actually need and how we need to be supported by the office.
We suggest that an outside source comes in and provide this external review. Or if Bates cannot afford to pay an outside agency then we request that students pick two faculty or administrators within the college, and the Chief Diversity Officer choose two faculty/administrators to perform this external review.
3. We request that a 24-hour, multi-functional space be created that is specifically designed for students of color.
The goal of this space is for students of color to go and be amongst individuals that understand their struggles of being a racial minority and where they don’t have to constantly worry about the racial micro-aggressions that they experience either in the classroom or amongst their white peers. Students of color also can relax from the bombardment of questions about their culture, their experiences, etc. This space is meant to be a safe space for students of color because right now frankly the OIE as it stands is not a space specifically for us, which is ironic given the history of the office.
4. Along with this space being created, we also suggest that there be at least one person of color hired in the Health Center that can serve as a counselor and a psychiatrist. Given there is no safe space on campus outside of student residence rooms–and these spaces can be compromised in dorms through racist, sexist, ableist, classist, etc. incidences–it is important that students have a qualified mental health resource available.
5. We request that more funding be given to the OIE so that more staff persons can be hired that can meet the programmatic needs of students of color specifically.