Students call for administrators to resign over handling of bias incidents

This article updated at 4:10 p.m. Feb. 21. 

Students and community members occupied the Waterman Feb. 20, calling for administrators to resign over the University’s handling of racial bias incidents.

The rally, referred to as the “Done with the Bullsh*t Rally,” protested the University’s handling of racially-charged incidents and supported John Mejia, a UVM employee on hunger strike until the administration agrees to protesters’ demands.

The rally was organized by NoNames for Justice, a social justice group mainly comprised of anonymous student leaders from organizations associated with the Mosaic Center for Students of Color and the LGBTQ community, said senior Z McCarron, NoNames member and an organizer of the rally.

At the rally, students demanded the resignations of University President Tom Sullivan, Provost David Rosowsky and Annie Stevens, vice provost of Student Affairs. They also called for the installation of a permanent Black Lives Matter flag.

Students leading the rally are calling for the resignations because of the University response to the discovery of white-supremacist flyers and a recent case involving Wes Richter, a student accused of making violent threats against black students, Edosomwan said.

“These demands are a blueprint for making the University better,” said senior Angie Crespo, rally organizer and NoNames member.

When Mejia was asked what their timetable for when the demands must be met was, they said “Before I die… hopefully.”

Different groups within the University sent out emails to students in response to several of the incidents, though not in response to flyers saying “it’s ok to be white,” on Nov. 7 and the University sent several emails to students regarding the Richter case, which was dismissed by the state court Jan. 2.

“Though the flyers are out of the University’s control, the administration is in control of how it handles the situation,” Crespo said. “We are scared for our lives.”

Students have been doing the bulk of the work towards making UVM a safe space for students from marginalized groups, McCarron said.

“If you can’t do your job, you shouldn’t have the job in the first place,” Edosomwan said to the crowd of students in the Waterman lobby.

NoNames led the crowd in chants of “Hey hey, ho ho Tom Sullivan has got to go.” The chant was repeated with Rosowsky’s and then Stevens’ names.

“I didn’t want it to get the point of us calling for their resignations,” Edosomwan said after the rally, “but if that’s what’s going to help them do their job, then that’s what it takes.”

Staff is told to create a socially-just environment, but when it’s their turn to push the University forward, the actions are labeled as unprofessional, said Mejia, who works in the office of student and community relations.

“I reject [being called unprofessional] because the definition of professionalism at this institution is being comfortable with anti-black racism and supporting white supremacy,” Mejia said.

Sullivan, Rosowsky and Stevens have full, unwavering support of the board of trustees, University Communications Director Enrique Corredera said.

“[Board chair David Daigle] feels strongly that these are professionals who have dedicated their careers to advance student interests,and that their commitment to issues of diversity and inclusion and efforts to fight racism and bigotry are without question,” Corredera said.

First-year Eden Harari attended the rally because she is a member of BSU and hopes the rally will start a bigger movement on campus, she said.

“I want to see the entire student community come together — people of color and non-people of color — and for there to be an understanding of why we’re doing this,” Harari said.

SGA President Chris Petrillo attended the rally, and said it is important for SGA to consider these perspectives because the SGA represents all students.

“I support Black Lives Matter, wholly and fully,” Petrillo said. “I think that the administration definitely needs to respond in turn and respond adequately.”

Sullivan sent an email to the UVM community this morning addressing student demands and Mejia’s hunger strike.

“We appreciate John Mejia’s passion for racial equality both on campus and in the city of Burlington,” he stated in the email. “We are concerned for John’s health and wellbeing.”

The email was the first Mejia had heard about the University’s concern, they said.

Mejia camped outside Waterman at the beginning of their hunger strike Feb. 16, but left after they were threatened with removal by the police, they said.

“Rather than worry about my safety, they enforced policy,” Mejia said.

The tension over racial issues at UVM are present in the City of Burlington as well, said mayoral candidate and UVM alum Infinite Culcleasure, ‘05, who attended the rally.

‘Black Lives Matter’ means equity, Culcleasure said: “When you make life equitable for the people who have the hardest time accessing things then you make it equitable for everyone.”

These issues are one of the reasons Culcleasure is running for mayor, he said.