The Vermont Cynic

UVM students organize racial justice forum

Alex Verret, Cynic Correspondent

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Following a march lead by student leaders accompanied by a list of demands and emails from the president’s office, UVM students held a racial injustice forum.

A group of students who presented a list of demands to President Tom Sullivan Sept. 27 hosted the forum Sept. 30.

The Student Forum on Racial Injustice at UVM was held for students to voice their experiences and concerns directly to University, according to the event’s Facebook page.

The University’s action plan to address the students’ concerns, came in the form of an email to the University community after a private meeting between four University administrators and twelve student leaders.

The University’s initial response to the Sept. 27 list of demands, issued to the University community, via the UVM listserv came after students demanded a public response within 24 hours to a protest in the Waterman building. 

To begin the forum, organizers asked students to sit on the left side of the Livak Ballroom in the Davis Center and faculty, staff and administration to sit on the right.

“I came here today thinking we were going to be sitting at the same table, problem-solving together,” said Debra Leonard, chair of the pathology and laboratory medicine department and co-chair of the President’s Commision for Inclusive Excellence. “Instead, I feel like an adversarial relationship was established.”

Student leaders represented the Black Student Union, Alianza Latinx, Free2Be, the Asian Student Union and other diversity, identity and advocacy groups.

“[The setup was deliberate] not to build tension or to set up an ‘us-against-them’ dynamic [but to show that] the deans and the faculty of this University have failed students of color to stand up for our rights,” said Edosomwan “Students of color are not seen as full students on this campus.”

Then, student leaders went on to present more detailed demands to the attendees.

These included making BlackBoard jungle, UVM’s annual diversity symposium, mandatory for faculty, as well as increased funding for diversity and identity clubs and organizations, the renaming of the Perkins building, and removing the Bailey name from Bailey/Howe Library.

The Perkins building is named after George Perkins, father of Henry Perkins. Henry Perkins is seen as the founder of the eugenics movement in Vermont, according to a Sept. 29 email from Sullivan.

“You wouldn’t name a building after Stalin’s son,” said senior Angelica Crespo, cofounder of the Womyn of Color Coalition. “Whether it was the father who did it or the son, the name still carries weight.”

The renaming of the Bailey/Howe Library is due to former UVM President Guy W. Bailey’s involvement in funding the research of Henry Perkins as a member of the eugenics advisory board, Crespo said.

With each demand listed, students were invited to share their own experiences of racial or societal injustice at the University.

The stories ranged from classroom racism and misgendering to a lack of faculty of color to the theft of the Black Lives Matter Flag last year. One student, junior Z McCarron, spoke of their experience as a non-binary student who uses they/them pronouns.

“I have yet to be properly gendered by a professor at this University,” McCarron said.

One issue raised was the lack of funding for diversity and identity clubs and organizations.

“I went to three [appeals] meetings at [SGA], and still, we didn’t get the money we requested, but we were still required to do the fundraising, which was actually three-fourths of what we requested,” said Maria Medina, former Alianza Latinx president.

SGA-recognized clubs and organizations are required to fundraise a maximum of 15 percent of their requested budget depending on which tier they fall into, according to the SGA club resources website.

At the end of the forum, the organizers opened up the forum to administrators.

“My shoulders are heavy,” said Wanda Heading-Grant, vice president of human resources, diversity and multicultural affairs. “I promise to give my body, my heart, my soul to you.”

Administrators spoke about their next steps for addressing issues students brought up at the forum.

“It’s not often that we hear this level of concern from our students,” said Nancy Matthews, dean of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. “This was a watershed moment. A lot of work needs to be done. The deans care.”

Crespo closed the meeting with her remarks.

“We won’t stop until our list of demands are met,” Crespo said.

This story updated from a previous version at 4:11 p.m. Oct. 19.

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UVM students organize racial justice forum