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One year later, Black students still seeking answers on demands

Black students are still working to deconstruct institutionalized racism by adding more demands and protesting more. (MACKENZIE FARGO)
Black students are still working to deconstruct institutionalized racism by adding more demands and protesting more. (MACKENZIE FARGO)

A year after the anonymous threat to Black lives on campus, members of the Black community believe that the administration has failed to meet the Black Women’s Collective (BWC) demands.

Last February, someone posted an anonymous message on the now defunct Mills College Confessions page on Facebook that threatened the lives of the Black community on campus. In response to this post, Black students organized a silent protest on the steps of the Adams Plaza, and the BWC created a list of demands.

At the silent protest, with faculty, staff and allies standing among them, the Black students on campus aimed to make it clear that their silence was not to be interpreted as submission.

“It was one of the most powerful moments ever,” Sophomore Jaleesa Moss said.

Moss participated in the protest after she learned about the Facebook post from her friends. According to her, the Facebook post made her feel like her life was not valued on this campus.

“At first I did a good job of holding it together,” Moss said. “But once I got back to my room, I just cried for an hour and a half.”

The BWC demands highlight the problems they find within Mills.  They proposed a solution to each problem cited on the list.

Some of the Black community at Mills feel that none of the demands have been adequately met, including the two demands that required immediate response — one of which called for mental health professionals for the Black community on campus. According to Senior Cheryl Reed, outreach coordinator of the BWC, there is only one Black mental health professional for the 140 Black students on campus.

The second demand called for the creation of a Black Student Enrollment Task Force (BSETF). The BSETF allows for students, faculty and staff to come together throughout the year and discuss how the recruitment and retention of Black students is done and how it can be improved.

However, according to a member of the BSETF and former President of BWC, Kaniya Samm, the meetings feel unproductive.

“We were strategic, for a year, about trying to get what we want done,” Samm said.

The BSTEF has met once a month since August 2014, totalling up to six meetings.

“When it comes to administration, I honestly don’t feel like much has changed,” Samm said. “I’m still listening in BWC meetings about how students talk about teachers making racist comments or just a bunch of obscene things. I feel like that is still happening because the administration hasn’t put anything in place to talk with faculty and staff and to give [sensitivity] training like they said they would do last year.”

First year Alanna Williams first learned about the Facebook post while visiting the campus with her mother Spring of 2014.

“It was all over. There was no way you couldn’t see it,” Williams said. “I [thought] this is clearly a place that has some issues. There are [a lot] of racist people here; at least that’s what it seems like. I was uncomfortable.”

Nine months after the post, the BWC organized another protest calling attention to the lack of progress with the demands.

On Dec. 11, during the semi-annual Midnight Breakfast, the BWC and their allies barricaded the doors to the Tea Shop and lined up in front of the students waiting to eat. 

Prior to the protests, those who wished to participate gathered in the Solidarity Lounge, dressed in all black. Current President of the BWC, Joyelle Baker, passed out a revised version of the list of demands, with a new demand. According to Baker, this tenth demand calls for “a complete overhaul of the bias and grievance response policies and process to assess its effectiveness.” Currently, the grievance policy involves an early action response, which may include mediation or counseling and a formal investigation.

Baker said the protest was affirming because the community felt that the demands were still relevant and still needed to be met.

“It felt very powerful,” Baker said. “We tried to show everyone how hurtful this institution can be.” 

The protest felt healing for many Black students because it brought about a sense of real community.

“There were many people who do not identify as Black who came in solidarity,” Baker said. “Although the [protest] didn’t go as planned, I think everything that needed to be expressed, was expressed.”

The protestors wanted to get the attention of the administration, particularly, President Alecia DeCoudreaux. Reed feels that, as a fellow Black woman on campus, DeCoudreaux should be more proactive with the list of demands. The next day, DeCoudreaux sent out an email to the entire Mills community, in which she addressed the progress being made in regards to the demands. However, members of the Black community do not feel as though they have her support.

During the protest, DeCoudreaux encouraged students who wanted to eat to walk past the protestors.

“All lives matter,” DeCoudreaux said at the protest.

Williams felt that the email came as an insult to the intelligence of the Black community. She said she felt as if DeCoudreaux merely tried to pacify the situation without taking any real action.

“Everything was lies and BS,” Samm said. “It’s been a year, and nothing has been done.”

Reed also felt that DeCoudreaux’s statement discredits their movement. At the discussion with the President on Jan. 28 of this year, Reed confronted the President about her failure to validate the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The BLM movement calls attention to the problem of Black lives always being put into question.

Reed said that it gets exhausting to continually have to protest, but the work is necessary. She said that the protests worked because they were able to hold the President accountable. However, the Black community wants to continue to remind the campus that Black lives matter, too.

“This is not over for us,” Reed said. “This is everyday for us, and we’re not going to let you forget.”

Black students feel the demands given to the administration have been ignored. (MELODIE MIU)
Black students feel the demands given to the administration have been ignored. (MELODIE MIU)

1. BWC Demand: Replacing the multicultural General Education requirement with a requirement that directly addresses race in America.

Administration Action: The Curriculum Transformation Task Force was created to create new general education requirements.

2. BWC Demand: The establishment of a task force on the retention rates of Black students on campus.

Administration Action: The Black Student Enrollment Task Force (BSETF) was created in April.

3. BWC Demand: An investigation into the policing of Black students by Public Safety on campus.

Administration Action: Public Safety created a new policy on biased-based profiling and has implemented trainings for officers.

4. BWC Demand: An emergency fund established for Black students in need of financial assistance.

Administration Action: Funds cannot be set aside for one racial group over another.

5. BWC Demand: Acknowledging the experiences of each racial group on campus are different.

Administration: The website has broken down students by ethnic group.

6. BWC Demand: An increase in tenure track faculty of color; have one permanent member in each department who is a person of color.

Administration Health: New faculty can only be hired when a position becomes open in a department.

7. BWC Demand: An emergency response team of Black mental health professionals to take appointments for Black students, faculty and staff.

Administration Action: Counselor Carnetta Porter has been hired and is on campus one day per week.

8. BWC Demand: A revision of the Social Justice mission statement.

Administration Action: The mission statement is on the agenda for the Diversity and Social Justice Committee (date not specified).

9. BWC Demand: Social justice sensitivity training for faculty and staff.

Administration Action: Diversity Consultant Sharon Washington was brought in and has begun training in the biology department.

10. BWC Demand: A complete overhaul of the bias of grievance response policies and process to assess its effectiveness.

Administration Action: As of March 6, no response has been made to this demand.

For full information, see the President’s Dec. 12 memorandum sent to all students on campus.