SGA and BSU Urge College to Endorse Black Lives Matter

Shaun King, a writer and activist, will be speaking at the College on Nov. 1. His lecture,

Shaun King, a writer and activist, will be speaking at the College on Nov. 1. His lecture, "Why We Must Say 'Black Lives Matter,'" will take place from 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. in Mead Chapel.

By Will DiGravio, News Editor

The Student Government Association (SGA), in partnership with the Black Student Union (BSU), unanimously passed a resolution at their Oct. 23 meeting that called for the College to raise both a banner and the flag of the Black Lives Matter movement on campus. The resolution recommended that the College hang the banner and flag for the duration of the fall semester, and provided several suggestions as to where both should be placed.

In the resolution, the SGA also officially announced their support for the endeavors of the Black Lives Matter movement and the BSU. They also recommended that President of the College Laurie L. Patton meet with representatives of the BSU at the end of the fall semester to discuss the sending of an e-mail statement that would support and endorse the Black Lives Matter movement.

The resolution also recommended the “continued effort of the Middlebury administration to consciously observe the deficit of black representation both within the student body and the faculty makeup.”

As worded in the bill, “the SGA and the BSU recommend: a careful look at where students are being recruited; how socioeconomic diversity impacts matriculation; investigating why students of color ultimately decide not to attend Middlebury College; investigating retention rates of students of color.”

They also recommended “challenging the notion that only ‘trainings’ can facilitate understanding amongst faculty members; and acknowledging the C3 program’s efforts at Middlebury College and exploring similar options for faculty diversity.”

The final recommendation made by the SGA and the BSU is for the College to create a standard procedure that would allow students to share their responses to “campus-related issues.” An example of such a procedure, as provided in the bill, would be “a go/link that invites students to express themselves to different campus-related issues.”

Members of the BSU, including BSU Co-President Nia Robinson ’19 and Treasurer Clark Lewis ’19, drafted and submitted the bill as part of an ad-hoc committee that the SGA formed three weeks prior to the approval of the bill. The ad-hoc committee also included Community Council Co-Chair David Ollin Pesqueira ’17, Senior Senator Aliza Cohen ’17 and Junior Senator Hanna Pustejovsky ’18, all of whom were the co-sponsors of the bill presented to the SGA.

According to Pesqueira, the subcommittee, prior to their first meeting, asked members of BSU to brainstorm recommendations and ideas to be included in the resolution.

“We wanted to make sure that BSU’s perspective was the priority because we did not want to lose the passion or authenticity that they brought to this bill,” he said.

This year, the SGA, according to SGA President Karina Toy ’17 is making a more concerted effort to work with student-organizations in drafting and voting on proposals.

“Right when [the SGA] knew we wanted to talk about this, David invited BSU to come [to a meeting],” said Toy. “If a student group really wants something to happen and we feel, as SGA members, ‘yes, this is something that we want to support them in,’ I think [collaborating] is completely fine.”

Both Toy and Pesqueira emphasized the desire of both the SGA and the BSU to have an open dialogue and work with the College’s administrators on this issue.

“[We] wanted to make sure that [the resolution] didn’t come off too much as a list of demands and whatnot, because we really do want to work with the administration, and, if anything, we do want to say that it is possible to work with the administration to create these effective policies,” Pesqueira said.

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of the College Katy Smith Abbott, after a conversation with other members of the College’s Senior Leadership Group (SLG), responded to the resolution in an email to its authors.

Abbott wrote that the SLG supports the hanging of a Black Lives Matter flag or banner on campus. “The SLG is in strong support of the BSU hanging a flag or banner in a central space on campus,” Abbott wrote. “In fact, our conversation led us to determine that we are in support of creating a permanent, central space that student groups can have access to for the purpose of raising awareness and for creating support for a major cause or concern.”

According to Abbott, members of the SLG suggest that this space or “zone of free expression” be located on the patio in front of the McCullough Student Center, otherwise known as the Wilson Terrace.

“This would resemble public spaces seen at other campuses where banners, posters, chalked pavement and others forms of expression are commonly seen,” said Bill Burger, the College’s vice president for communications and chief marketing officer, in a summary of the SLG’s response.

“The creation of such a space will take some time and can’t happen over the winter, but it is something we’re eager to see discussed and debated on campus.”

Should the space be created, the SLG suggested that the SGA, or a subcommittee of the SGA, be responsible for determining how students can petition to use the space.

“Students can discuss whether a flagpole is desired in that space, or whether it would be preferable to have a means of hanging banners from the sides of the building, creating clotheslines for banners somewhere in that area, etc.,” Abbott wrote.

In response to the resolution’s call for the College to draft an email statement in support of Black Lives Matter, Abbott said that they will do so when the “zone for free expression” is completed. “The College will include a note of support for Black Lives Matter in a message announcing the establishment of the zone for free expression,” she said.

With regard to the SGA’s recommendation that a procedure be created for students to express their thoughts about “campus-related issues,” Abbott’s email said that the SLG believes that the creation of “zone for free expression” would be a powerful and impactful way for students to express their beliefs. However, she did add that if the creation of another platform is particularly important, the SLG would be willing to have another conversation in the future.

Abbott also responded to the recommendation from the SGA and the BSU that the College continue to observe the deficit of black representation both within the student body and faculty.

“Many of these [recommendations] are actively in process, and are being overseen by various members of the college staff and administration,” Abbott said. “[Chief Diversity Officer] Miguel Fernandez and [Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty] Andi Lloyd have offered to meet with students to offer an update on hiring, and we can certainly have a member of the admissions staff discuss how we are evaluating practices of outreach/recruitment.”

When asked by The Campus for comment on the drafting and passing of the bill, as well as a reaction to the response of the SLG, the leadership of the Black Student Union chose to respond, as a board, with the following statement:

“We, the board of the Black Student Union, would like to thank the SGA, SLG, and the numerous students who came forward with support for the flag. We are eager to see how it will affect the community’s conversation and how student groups will approach activism in the future. This is a great step for BSU moving forward.”