Published: November 20, 2012
Students boycotted the 7th annual Diversity Day on Wednesday, Nov. 14 outside of the campus library and classrooms and distributed grievance fliers in order to express their views on how diversity is approached on campus. Approximately 50 students boycotted from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but attracted a larger audience throughout the day as other students and faculty proceeded to the annual scheduled workshops.
“I came here because over the past couple weeks, you’ve had this individual running around campus questioning the importance of our diversity,” Mohammed Adawulai ’09 said. “In doing so, I think when you question the importance of diversity in a community, especially when you’re doing it from a position of racial, gender verbiage, you tend to undermine the very existence of the people who look different from you; it questions the very importance of your well-being, the contribution you make to society. I thought that was wrong.”
Diversity Day, instituted in May 2006, is an annual Simon’s Rock event during which students are required to attend three workshops out of approximately forty workshops offered. Students and faculty co-run the workshops, which generally focus on social justice issues related to race and gender, but expand to religion, social constructs on body image, and sexuality. Usually held in November, the event replaces classes for the day, and is in addition to the multiple diversity events held on campus throughout the week including a Bollywood Festival, visiting lecturers, the Owl’s Nest Coalition Dance, and the annual Black Student Union Potluck and Culture Day.
“In the past we felt neglected, that our voices were not heard or didn’t matter,” Adawulai said.
Students participating in the boycott expressed their grievances separately from those presented by the Owl’s Nest Coalition at the Community Meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 7. Peter Laipson, Provost, Anne O’Dwyer, Dean of Academic Affairs, and Bob Graves, Dean of Students, attended the beginning of the protest and listened to student complaints. Laipson returned to the protest in the afternoon upon student request and participated in the smaller group discussions.
“I thought that they were finally able to understand that we’re very serious about this, we were deeply affected by the actions over the past couple of weeks as far as this situation was concerned,” Adawulai said. “I think they finally understood that even though we appreciate all the work that they’ve been doing, unless they take control of the situation, then the larger work that they’ve been doing, which has always been good, will be overlooked and overshadowed by this incident.”
During the protest, an anonymous flier entitled “Boycott the Boycott” was copied and circulated, arguing that by holding a boycott, the students were siding with those who disagree with having any Diversity Day. The flier claimed the boycott and those involved were “selfish in thinking that [their] opinion is the only one that isn’t being heard” and questioned “whether the movement causes greater disruption in the body of this campus than it attempts to solve.”
“Of course, as with anything, there is backlash, and we expected that,” Alexis Wint ’09 said. “But I think that what we wanted to do for today we’ve accomplished. I think that for the first time, people are not just hearing, they are listening.”
While some students and faculty on campus did not have a problem with the protest, others felt as if it was irresponsible and immature because many of the students protesting were leaders of the Diversity Day workshops. In some cases their co-leaders prepared for a workshop that could no longer be held because most, if not all, of the co-leaders were absent. While most of the first block of workshops occurred, the workshops dwindled to the point where many were cancelled during the fourth and final block.
On the other hand, some students felt that the boycott was exactly what Diversity Day and its workshops needed.
“I was looking forward to, within the workshops, changing the structure based on what was going on out here, and acknowledging what was happening with the grievances that were being addressed,” Marcel Garbos ’10 said. “There’s a limited amount of entry that we can conduct into any issue [in the workshops]. Not to say that it’s superficial or peripheral, but that maybe if we had a larger forum as we do [at the boycott] that is longer in duration and that takes into account that people want to approach it from different angles; people want to have a discussion that’s more collective than segmented.”
The boycott was spurred by students feeling unsafe on campus due to recent events questioning the benefit of diversity. Swastika graffiti appeared in the Kendrick House lounge on Sunday, Sept. 16. Shortly after on Wednesday, Sept. 26, posters were hung in the Student Union challenging students to “Name 5 Benefits of Diversity (besides ethnic food and music).” Students were requested to send their answers to this Diversity Day Challenge to another student’s email.
Students immediately brought some of these posters to Graves, and the rest of the posters were taken down shortly after. A second-floor wall in the Student Union was covered with color copies of the remaining posters, cut into snowflakes and paper people chains.
Before the Diversity Day Challenge was posted, a community meeting was held on Sunday, Sept. 23 to discuss the anti-Semitic graffiti but had little attendance.
A second community meeting was held on Wednesday, Nov. 7 to discuss the Diversity Day Challenge posters, as well as other less-known events in which students felt insulted or threatened, along with other student complaints and concerns. This meeting, held in the Kellogg Music Hall and convened by the Simon’s Rock Community Council, was standing-room-only with an attendance of well over 150 students, faculty and staff. Lasting nearly three hours, the meeting was split into three sections: the first was devoted to issues addressed and not addressed on campus; the second, to current feelings on how these events were handled; and the third was devoted to the Owl’s Nest Coalition grievances.
As a whole, many students at the community meeting expressed feelings of anger, discrimination, invalidation, and fear for safety. Academic and support structures in the school were questioned, including the Freshman Seminar curriculum and counseling services. A general complaint was the lack of communication between faculty, staff, and students. Many students felt as if faculty were not involved enough on campus, while others felt that it was simply unfair that such a small amount of information had been released to the campus community in the course of the recent events. However, it was reiterated at this point that the events were dealings of the Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Committee and most of the information was confidential.
“The response from the authorities, starting with the Provost, I thought was very lacking,” Adawulai said. “They did not respond to this issue with the level of seriousness that it called for. We were told to be civil, which to me was insulting because nothing that we have done to respond to this kid has been uncivil. Civility has always been the sheet used to separate the oppressed from the oppressor. When you ask us to be civil, you are taking us back to those days to when our so-called lack of civility was a measure of our inhumanity. So that’s what really resonated with me and really got me upset.”
An hour and half into the meeting, many faculty, staff and some students left the meeting just before the beginning of the presentation of the Owl’s Nest Grievances. This caused some students to feel “disappointed” with those that left, but “not surprised… that they just ran out” after what they contributed to the meeting.
The Owl’s Nest grievances included the wish for more faculty and administration involvement; more guest lecturers by “people of color and people of other marginalized groups”; a campus climate survey about race relations, cultural perspectives, and curriculums; renovations to the Owl’s Nest; student involvement in decisions for the Student Union; more mandatory Cultural Perspectives (CP) courses and stricter requirements for what qualifies as a CP course; financial aid as a factor in the AEP scholarship; more recruitment efforts on part of Admissions to include more underprivileged minorities in failing education systems and better resources to help those students succeed; more training for professors on how to manage discussions on privilege, oppression and other controversial topics; faculty and staff training on gender pronouns; improved handling of mental health issues on campus; reformation of the misconduct policy; registration for classes and housing, despite outstanding debt owed to the college; reworking of the seminar curriculum; and instituting a Diversity workshop during Writing and Thinking Workshop.
The Owls’ Nest Coalition is comprised of the Black Student Union (BSU), Feminism is For Everyone (FIFE), International Students Club, Latino Student Alliance (LSA), Queer Student Alliance (QueerSA), and the Race Task Force (RTF).
After the Community Meeting and just before Diversity Day, Laipson issued a campus email to students thanking them for attending and noting that “while the comments were sometimes difficult to hear, [he] appreciated the opportunity to learn from those who spoke about ways that they feel unwelcome or unsupported at Simon’s Rock.”
“This campus has dealt before with the issue of how we encourage and support a pluralistic committee, and we remain committed to doing so with each new group of students, while all the while evolving the culture of the community as a whole,” Laipson said.
In the email, Laipson announced that an Ad Hoc Task Force on Diversity would be formed, chaired by Graves and other students, faculty, and staff. This committee would address the grievances brought forth by the Owl’s Nest Coalition. He also declared that the college will be involved in more community training around how to support a diverse community. Lastly, Anne O’Dwyer will appoint a committee to discuss the Cultural Perspectives requirement.
“In the midst of recent turmoil, it has been encouraging to hear from all sides the conviction that Simon’s Rock matters, that our efforts to improve this community are worth the time and trouble it takes to do so,” Laipson said. “This support for the College speaks to its fundamental strengths as well as to our ability to address its weaknesses and leaves me confident that, together, we can make Simon’s Rock a better place to live, study, and work.”
In addition, Joan DelPlato, faculty in art history, issued a letter to the community after the community meeting, addressing faculty involvement on campus.
“I want to draw attention to the situation of my faculty colleagues of color who are asked, on the basis of their color, to do more work serving students of color than their white colleagues,” DelPlato said. “The ideal situation, some would argue, is that students of color have access to advisors, staff and faculty of color to discuss issues of race. But of course there are numerically many more such students than there are faculty of color here to support them… So this is a plea to the Simon’s Rock community to rethink the ways that identity politics can sometimes become an intellectual and political straight jacket.”
The Thursday following Diversity Day, Steve Bohrer, ITS Network Administrator, released a statement to the community, urging Simon’s Rock to work towards “Social Justice,” rather than specifically “Diversity.”
“I want to live in a more just society, and I feel and obligation to work to bring it about, and to ally with those who face these injustices,” Bohrer said. “Perhaps we can have future events and workshops and staff trainings and protests that help our community focus practically on increasing Social Justice, not merely ‘Diversity’.”
The Diversity Day Boycott soon became known outside of campus when Julia Griffin ’12 posted a video on YouTube documenting the student boycott, which garnered thousands of comments, many of them from hostile white-supremacy sources.
In light of recent conversations and responses on online forums and posts on the Llama Ledger website, YouTube, and the website 4chon, Simon’s Rock security has been in contact with the local police authorities, the Massachusetts State Police, and the regional FBI office. Some of these comments threatened to “nuke Simon’s Rock,” “burn the place down,” and “skin those people.” Both Laipson and Ken Geremia, Director of Security, have released statements to the Simon’s Rock community assuring that the college is taking all necessary precautions.