The kids are all right: why student movements will save us all

Mills Sparkman

This past week has been contentious, to say the least.

NoNames for Justice and other student groups have rallied to support students and faculty of color on campus, and their voices have been heard.

UVM administration has also made their voices heard, in the loudest way possible: silence.

At the NoNames for Justice protest that stopped traffic on Main St. Feb. 22, Vice Provost Annie Stevens suggested that the crowd go get warm, and earlier in the day told students who walked out of her exam that they had to choose between getting a failing grade and doing what they thought was morally right.

After a sparsely attended meeting in the Davis Center Feb. 23, University President Tom Sullivan ignored over 200 student protestors’ calls for him to step outside of administrative offices to speak with students for at least an hour.

When board of trustees Chair David Daigle did come out, he gave vague statements about justice and peaceful advocacy before refusing to take a Black Lives Matter sign offered by protestors.

Sullivan and Gary Derr, vice president of executive operations, were similarly ambiguous, stressing the importance of constructive conversations and gradual change before abruptly leaving.

The common thread in the administrative responses is that they are all missing the point. We are not asking for instant change here; we never have. We simply ask that the administration address our concerns, viewing them not as personal attacks, but as constructive criticism of the University’s attitudes toward white supremacy and students of color.

Tom Sullivan and administrators have the privilege to walk away from these issues, but the students of color leading the charge do not. For administrators to ignore John Mejia’s hunger strike and to criticize students’ manners of protesting as “disrespectful” at the same time that they refuse to engage in open dialogue is the epitome of entitlement.

The list of demands is not radical, nor is the letter to the deans. In fact, their relative tameness and similarity to the values of the Common Ground makes those who refused to align themselves with the cause look worse with every instance that they ignore them.

UVM has often been criticized for not practicing what it preaches. It could have used this movement to prove its commitment to racial justice and support for marginalized communities. Instead, UVM chose to hide behind emails and locked office doors.

When I first arrived at UVM this fall, I thought the administration would actively repel any form of intolerance. Though I am disappointed that the administration is not as aggressively committed to the ideals that students believe in, I am not surprised it does not want to be involved.

However, my disappointment is outweighed by my hope and admiration for the students leading this movement. Since the rally Feb. 23, I have seen for myself how incredibly well-organized this movement has been, and I am so proud to be a part of it.

Every phase of the protests has been clearly thought out, and it has paid off. There were no surprises, and morale was high throughout the day. No one went hungry; group leaders and friendly Burlington citizens made sure of that.

Student movements have long been a barometer of larger changes to come. Some may call us out of touch, because we have a certain degree of separation from the “real world” beyond the confines of our campus. Many Burlington Free Press commenters said just that.

On the other hand, I would call that an advantage. We have nothing to fight for but the common good, and we are free to engage in movements wholeheartedly. Often, it is our efforts that drive the larger movement to succeed.

UVM, you have told us to stand up for what is right, to speak our minds and not to back down in the face of adversity. We have taken your messages to heart, and that is why we stand up today.

I think it’s safe to say the kids are alright.