By Leora Mosman | Opinion Columnist

Students participate in walkout on Saint Mary's Parkway. (Photo courtesy of Olivia Meme)

Students participate in walkout on Saint Mary’s Parkway. (Photo courtesy of Olivia Meme)

Saint Mary’s has a long history of student activism, yet not many people are aware of just how many of our institutional practices, departments, and even majors were brought about by students who voiced their needs and demanded they be heard.

“Institutional amnesia” is the term that is given to institutions, like Saint Mary’s, that tend to conveniently “forget” the reasons why students speak out, or the issues that are being called into question. These issues, which are almost always patterns of institutional shortcoming, are often not addressed in sustainable and adequate ways. At Saint Mary’s, student movements tend  to surface every four or five years; yet rarely is a movement passed down from one generation of Saint Mary’s students to the next.

End the Silence (ETS), the student-led movement that originated in the spring of 2016 to reveal and rectify institutional issues that disadvantage students of certain racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, seeks to change the habit of institutional amnesia at this school. Formed after numerous incidences of students being marginalized and an administration who continually turned a blind eye to many systemic issues, End the Silence seeks to be a platform for students to express their realities and bring about effective change at Saint Mary’s College.

During the initial walkout in May 2016, End the Silence presented College’s administration with a list of 10 carefully crafted and wide-reaching demands for institutional reform. The demands encompassed issues ranging from the restructuring of FYAC and Seminar curriculum, to better include marginalized voices and experiences, to altering Financial Aid Office policies that disproportionately disadvantage students of lower socioeconomic status (a complete list of demands and the Administration’s response can be found on the Saint Mary’s website).

After receiving a less-than-satisfactory response from the College one week after the walkout, End the Silence has pushed for continued institutional reforms—a responsibility that requires endless pressure on the administration to keep these issues at the forefront of their priorities. Nearly a year after the original walkout in Dante Quad, the ETS Negotiations Committee is still committed to working with College Administration to implement the changes that were listed in the original 10 Demands.

In October 2016, a student-only town hall meeting was held to allow students to speak openly about the adequacy of the administration’s response to the 10 Demands. Even though an entire summer had passed, it was clear that Administration had not acted on many of their promises within their stated timeline.

A second town hall meeting, in November, was arranged where ETS team members and administration members sat together to address the insufficiencies, while students, staff, and faculty were welcomed to observe from the sidelines. This town hall only confirmed the disappointment that students felt in the responses, or lack thereof, from the administration. The conversation, while mainly discouraging, did highlight one demand that many students clearly felt strongly about: Demand VII.

Demand VII is the request that all faculty and staff be required to attend mandated diversity workshop training. This training would improve a professor’s “ability to handle issues of race, gender, class, oppression and privilege” that come up in all Seminar classes at one point or another, in order to give students of marginalized identities the same security in class that many of their more advantaged peers enjoy . What seemed a reasonable and achievable demand turned into months of battling what can and cannot be required of faculty—yet the November town hall meeting allowed students to put intense pressure on the Faculty Senate to pass this resolution.

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Faculty Senate finally passed a resolution that requires all faculty (both tenured and adjunct) to attend diversity training every three years. Numerous rewards, such as Faculty Research Grants, Faculty Awards, Sabbatical Leave, and Faculty Development Fund, will be contingent on the completion of the training.

Although the passing of this resolution is a huge testament to the efforts of End the Silence and Saint Mary’s students to make our voices heard, there are many concerns moving forward. Many faculty members have already expressed their ambivalence about such a training, only because the training as it is currently designed does not address the critical issues at stake. If diversity training is to be mandated, the College must ensure that the training is of the utmost quality in order to be effective.

The existence and success of End the Silence is direct evidence of the power that students collectively hold in voicing their demands. Student activism is vital to the life of this campus, especially when reflecting the Lasallian Mission itself. Saint Mary’s must hold itself to the high standard that we preach, and it will be student voices who demand it.

Leora Mosman is one of  five new columnists featured in the Opinion Section. She is a politics major with a minor in taking down the white supremacist patriarchy. She stays busy as a Resident Advisor and as the student coordinator for the GaelPantry  and Solidarity Suppers. In her free time she likes to drink tea and cook.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Pingback: Letter to the Editor: May 22, 2017 — The Collegian

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