Can you hear us now, President Patton?

By Kaila Thomas and Rodney Adams

Over 500 students gathered in protest at College Park last Friday. (Benjy Renton)

Dear President Laurie Patton, 

“Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” chant more than 500 voices approaching from a distance on Friday, Sept. 25. Were you to step out onto the street right outside your door, you would be able to see the leadership, solidarity and humanity that Middlebury expects of its students. Along with a quarter of the student population on campus, faculty, staff members, administrators and community members all made the commitment to protest, advocating for the protection and safety of Black Lives, and to denounce the unjust decision made in regard to the fate of the murderers of Breonna Taylor. 

You would have heard the speeches of Breanna Moitt ’24, from Los Angeles, California; Luka Bowen ’22, from Tucson, Arizona — and me, Kaila Thomas ’21, from Kennebunk, Maine. We poured our hearts out about how hard it is to be Black in a white space, and about how we wonder where the anti-racism initiatives you promised are this semester. Maybe you would have noticed the cheers of approval following what we said, and the excitement when I asked everybody to line up, socially distanced, to march and chant on the bridge. You would have been there for the moment of silence that followed. 

And this is where Rodney’s story begins. 

I’m Rodney Adams ’21 from Dorchester, Massachusetts. Around 10 p.m. on that same Friday, I was talking about my day with my best friend Jameel Uddin, acknowledging my peers’ success in organizing a peaceful protest. We talked about how proud we were of ourselves for attending, but also how hopeful we were for the Middlebury community. 

Seconds later, we stepped out of my car and were reduced to just “n******” by a white male student — and a bystanding white male did nothing to stop it. As a Black man, I knew they wanted me to throw everything away, provoking me to forfeit my livelihood. But I was raised by a Black family who practiced love in the face of hate. Looking right in front of me, I saw an evil that so many Black Americans face; a reality I was taught to expect while knowing that those two white men will never be subject to the same circumstances. 

Overwhelmed with emotion — pain, hurt and anger — I walked away knowing my power as a Black man. The entire Middlebury community immediately came to my side; my fellow classmates, my coworkers at the Grille and the CCI, alumni and faculty. 

Almost everyone but you. 

It is time to step out of the Twilight years. The last definitive action toward racial equity Middlebury took was 197 years ago when they allowed a Black man to graduate from this institution. And at the time they had no understanding of this “progressive” act, since they did not know he was Black until after he was admitted. The distance from College Park to your stairs is merely a few steps, but there are so many more steps that need to be taken in order to decrease the distance from yourself and the Black community here at Middlebury. We do see more Black faces on campus; however, representation means nothing if there is still a culture actively working against our identities. 

We want an explanation as to why you were not in attendance at the march in solidarity with Black lives, why you did not recognize the accomplishments of the college community, and why you failed to acknowledge the implications of a racially charged incident that same night in a timely manner. 

We want to elevate Black voices. 

We want you to continuously and actively support the Black community. 

We want a Black PubSafe officer. 

We want a Black Studies Program with an expanded course selection and a course catalog that represents the diverse contributions we have made to this world. 

We want a Black faculty & staff recruitment program. 

We want a working body composed of Black students who are compensated for helping create anti-racism programming on this campus that will annually assess and review the school’s commitment to an anti-racist framework, working closely alongside the Senior Leadership Group. 

We want a detailed outline of the plans for the $500,000 Anti-Racism Fund. We want a required annual anti-bias training session for all students, faculty, and staff to be completed before arrival on campus. 

We want the Community Bias Response Team to achieve its intended purpose and to not just be performative. 

We want students involved in discriminatory harassment cases to be required to complete an anti-racist workshop. Education and reflection must be implemented as a consequence to these incidents. 

We expect a timely response to this open letter with real answers and actions to back up our questions and requests. As Angela Davis courageously said, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” 

Sincerely, 

Kaila Thomas ’21 and Rodney Adams ’21

Kaila Thomas and Rodney Adams are members of the class of 2021.