Open letter to F&M concerning incidents of racism, need for change in administration, steps that must be taken

These words aren’t pretty. They aren’t outlined or approved. And they don’t need to be. 

This past Halloween, a few Franklin & Marshall students took part in racist actions. Put on other people’s culture as a costume. Claimed ignorance and apologized. While we are thankful for their apology, it’s the minimum. Over the past few days, many people have come to their defense, arguing that, “these are good kids,” “they didn’t mean to be racist,” “if you knew them you would know,” and “they’re hurting.”

Let us make one thing clear: intentional or not, these were racist actions. And racist actions need to have consequences.

Does being a “good kid” mean they get to be racist? If so, we don’t care for whatever good is when it’s defined at the expense of others. As for the rest of their defenses, we have a few things to note.

  1. One’s intention does not equal reality. The reality is that these actions are racist and they hurt a lot of students of color on this campus, students who continuously face the same discrimination and racism on, and off, this campus every single day.
  2. One shouldn’t have to personally know another person to respect their culture.
  3. If they are indeed hurting, we hope it’s because they feel remorseful and not because they feel bad about getting caught.
  4. Students of color on this campus have been hurting and will continue to do so in the years to come because of F&M’s prior lack of inaction. Why else are we trying so hard to have the administration recognize us and our pain? We don’t do this for fun. We’re tired of our hurt being dismissed. We do this because we have a right to feel safe on this campus. We do this because we don’t want the students arriving after us to feel this pain.

But this letter isn’t just about those who caused harm. We want them held accountable, yes. But more than anything, we want you, Franklin & Marshall College, to be held accountable. We want more than emails and forums. We want a change in policy. 

Lack of consequences for racist actions isn’t something new here. There have been several incidents when students of color have had to hold the school accountable for failing to protect us. 

These are the facts:

  • Fact: In 2016, a student drew a swastika in the middle of a Jewish star in a classroom in LSP. The student body received an email from then president Dr. Porterfield ending with the line, “as a community, we are better than this incident, and we must work together to prevent such hateful acts” with no further concrete action
  • Fact: In 2016, students dressed up as racially charged stereotypes of black prison inmates. This costume included cornrows, an inmate jumpsuit, and sagged pants. 
  • Fact: In November of 2018, a poster was taped onto the protest tree mimicking the style of an ad that stated: “Undiverse Group Looking for an Asian Friend.” A school wide email was sent. Asian American Alliance made a poster in response, and the International Student Advisory Board held a forum— and still, you didn’t do anything about it.  
  • Fact: At the beginning of this semester, the school intended to put on a play titled “The Journey to the West,” a play based on a Chinese novel. Yet, it had a mainly white student ensemble. It was only after the efforts of the leadership in Asian American Alliance that the play was canceled. 
  • Fact: This semester, the slur, “g**k” was carved into an Asian American student’s door. 
  • Fact: Students of color here deal with microaggressions on campus. 
  • Fact: Students exploited other people’s culture as their costume for the past four Halloweens.

This isn’t the first time, and we aren’t naive enough to think racist actions won’t happen again, but we want to ensure this is the last time students at this school get to commit this violence without consequences. 

It happened in 2016. In 2017. In 2018. And again in 2019. 

Those are just the past few years. It should be noted, however, that students of color at F&M have dealt with racism on this campus since 1946. 

There were protests and sit-ins 50 years ago and there have been protests and sit-ins in the last three days. We are doing this because you haven’t done anything. We go to your forums. We tell you why racist actions are wrong. You make US explain ourselves. We tell you we need change. When will you act on it? If you aren’t fighting or condoning racism, you are encouraging it. Do not bring students of color here if you cannot or will not provide the spaces and resources necessary for their safety, comfortability, and growth. 

Listening is not enough. Forums are not enough. Complacency is not enough. We are tired, F&M. 

We are tired of doing the work to feel safe, because the school consistently fails to provide us safety. 

Support us. Change the policy.

Signed,
First Generation Diplomats
Mi Gente Latina
Asian American Alliance
Black Student Union
Define American
African Caribbean Association
S.I.S.T.E.R.S.
International Student Advisory Board
I.M.P.A.C.T.
Franklin & Marshall College Associate Chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma-
National Sorority, Incorporated

On Behalf of Underrepresented Minority Students at Franklin & Marshall College,

We and our allies have come together to demand that President Barbara Altmann and Franklin & Marshall’s administration implement immediate and lasting changes to halt intolerable and continuous acts of racism that students of color endure at the College. 

It is no longer sufficient for the College to solely acknowledge “incidents” and not calling them for what they are: racially targeted acts. We demand that the College partakes as a whole in fostering a community that addresses the needs and safety concerns of minority students. 

There can be no Now to Next when students are going Now to Past.

We, Franklin & Marshall students of color, intend to discuss these demands with Dean Hazlett over the next two days and expect a commitment to specific and mutually agreed-upon next steps by Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

Our list of demands is provided below:

1. Provide a Safe and Productive Learning Environment

a. WE DEMAND the immediate implementation of action steps for Title VI violations and behavior. Implementing mandatory workshops for first-years during orientation. Failure to complete it will bar students from registering from classes.

In regards to the student-athletes, WE DEMAND that they:

  • Be suspended from playing for the next three games
  • Attend approved workshops for racism and discriminatory behavior

b. WE DEMAND that the College creates and enforces comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum and training throughout all campus departments and units, mandatory for all faculty, staff, students, and administrators. This curriculum must be vetted, maintained, and overseen by a board comprised of students, staff, and faculty of color and allies. It must include, but not be limited to addressing the effects of implicit and explicit bias, racism, prejudice, and bigotry, and how these things negatively impact our campus community. This commitment should start during freshman orientation for Students.

c. WE DEMAND the College put more emphasis and funding in promoting the “Bias Reporting System” program. The lack of focus on this important tool sends the wrong message about the College’s commitment to combating racial injustice.

d. WE DEMAND that the College create and implement a campaign for all Panhellenic/Greek Organizations and athletic teams to combat racial injustice. Attendance at the events of this campaign should be mandatory.

e. WE DEMAND a statement of recognition from President Altmann, the Dean of the College, and the Dean of Students to alumni, current and former students, and other parties recognizing the hostile and exclusionary climate. 

f. WE DEMAND that F&M provides detailed information and statistics on incidents of racial bias at F&M on the page devoted to Diversity & Inclusion (https://www.fandm.edu/diversity-and-inclusion). This is to ensure that prospective students, including but not limited to students of color and international students, are fully informed on the current campus climate before committing to this institution. 

g. WE DEMAND the Protest Tree be made a part of the regular tour guide routine and allowing prospective students to ask about posters. As part of this, we demand protections for F&M tour guides that will allow them to be honest with prospective students and disclose the truth about the climate of F&M when asked, without fearing that they will be fired or reprimanded by their jobs.

h. WE DEMAND the protection of all faculty and staff members who voice solidarity with students and/or express their concerns and experiences with the administration. This includes tenured, tenure track, visiting, and associate professors of the college, as well as all staff members that keep this institution functional. WE DEMAND administration to make sure that the faculty’s involvement with student movement does not influence the decisions about tenure.

i. WE DEMAND President Altmann holds a Town Hall Meeting focusing on issues specific to race. This issue has not received the recognition and attention it requires.

j. WE DEMAND President Altman to ask faculty to favorably look on giving extensions and helping in any possible way students who were affected by these events as this weekend has taken a big emotional toll on every participant of the student movement for racial equality and impacted students’ ability to focus solely on academics. WE DEMAND President Altman to ask Deans of College Houses to work with students on getting those extensions or any needed resources throughout this week (starting 11/10) to make sure students do not feel even more stressed if they have fallen behind due to these events.

2. Improve Inclusion and Representation

a. WE DEMAND transparency in the processes of dealing with racial and discriminatory incidents utilized by the Office of Student Life. In addition, we would like undergraduate minority students to be included in this process. 

b. WE DEMAND the revision of the Student Code of Conduct. The Discrimination and Harassment Policy needs to be expanded to further protect students. Revisions to the Student Code of Conduct should include a policy that provides concrete consequences for racism, discrimination, prejudices,  and hate speech both in person and through social media. We demand the College follow harassment policies consistently to protect students from hostility. The consequences should include taking away the privileges connected with F&M affiliation (including suspension) as well as affiliation with Greek, athletic and other organizations. Students must be a part of this process at all times. WE DEMAND a meeting with the committee responsible for reviewing the Student Code of Conduct and all of the administration staff that participates in this process. This change in policy must be completed by the end of this academic semester (Fall 2019).

3. WE DEMAND to increase funding and support of underrepresented minority students and departments. This includes expanding funding for multicultural clubs, speakers, and major/minors regarding cultures (e.g. Africana Studies Major, Latin American Studies Minor, etc) 

a. WE DEMAND that the Office of Multicultural Affairs is terminated, along with the resignation of Dean Marion Coleman from the head of the office. We demand a new DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity) Office staffed with at least, but not limited to, three officers of color. This office should ideally grow to become a larger team that implements necessary educational programming on the racial bias for all leadership groups (including but not limited to House Advisors, MA’s, Orientation Planning Directors, and student organization executive boards) as well as any individual that violates the school’s revised Student Code of Conduct. A diverse group of students should be hired as part of the Office to additionally provide perspective and contributions. Currently, OMCA does not meet the demands of the multicultural organizations on campus and the office should be rearranged to be able to adequately address issues on campus. The decision, as a result, is to have the students involved in the Halloween incident to meet with the corresponding student hearing process. 

b. WE DEMAND Mi Gente Latina, Afro-Caribbean Association, and Asian American Alliance be provided with their own meeting space. Currently, BSU and MGL are sharing the Black Cultural Center, a space not adequate for any use. The conditions of the BCC are terrible: mold in the basement, poor heating, and overall is a small space. We demand the renovation of the BCC and provide students with a temporary space while BCC is being renovated, or renovation to occur during a time where it will not conflict with student use. We, as students, do not have adequate space to receive the proper resources, support, and open environment that we need.

c. WE DEMAND the broadening of the racial composition of counselors in the Wellness Center. We as students need to be able to have access to professionals who look like us in order to have a positive effect. No representation of people of color in the Wellness Center does not serve the student body with the college efforts to “diversify. ”

d. WE DEMAND 

We understand that change is a process that takes time, but we expect the administration to demonstrate concrete evidence that they are beginning to take steps to meet these demands by November 13th. If no action steps are demonstrated to meet these demands by the provided date, F&M may expect the following:

  • Continuous sit-ins at Old Main beginning November 14th
  • Negative media coverage
  • Protest Open Houses 

These are the minimum action steps that need to be taken by November 13th:

  • Demands noted in points 1a, 1d, 1e, 1g, 1h, 1i, 1j, 2a, 2b,  3a, 3b
  • 1.b – Create a plan of how racial training programming will be happening with specific action steps on how this programming will be implemented and what exactly will be a part of it
  • 1.c. – Release an email/preview of what this system will look like and how it will be used, regulated and what will be the effect of it
  • 1.f – Create a plan on how these statistics will be tracked and action steps and timeline on implementing this plan
  • 3.c – Provide updates on the search for counselors of color. Send out an update on resources available to students of color, including international students, especially about an opportunity to go to a counselor from community
  • Send out an all-student email on all the steps that were taken since our conversation on Friday, November 8th. The email should be focused on tangible action steps and achievements on the road to an inclusive climate at F&M.

Senior Sandra Sanchez is a Contributing Writer. Her email is ssanche2@fandm.edu.

Junior Marcy Pajares Berger is a Contributing Writer. Her email is mpajares@fandm.edu.

Photo Courtesy of Mira Lerner ’20
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One comment to “Open letter to F&M concerning incidents of racism, need for change in administration, steps that must be taken”
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