At issue: Student protest for inclusive excellence
Our take: Ignoring the problem is not a solution
The day to day bustle of campus life was interrupted on Tuesday when over 300 students marched into the college’s monthly faculty assembly meeting to protest complacency toward discrimination against students of color. The #ThisisEmerson protest followed quickly on the heels of similar student-led demonstrations in years prior, which achieved nominal institutional improvements.
Part of what makes this week’s protest different is a petition put out by student organization Protesting Oppression With Educational Reform, or POWER. It outlines a specific list of demands that are hard to ignore. Among demands aimed at the administration, such as the creation of a full-time position for a cultural competency training specialist, the petition also demands mandatory online training for the student body. By specifying their demands and broadening the scope of their target audience, organizers of the protest have presented an argument that should be difficult to brush under the rug.
Yet this dismissal of student concerns has happened time and time again. Many of the leaders in this week’s protest were freshmen during a similar faculty intervention in April 2015. They tried to voice their concerns at the start of their college careers, and with the spectre of graduation now ahead of them, they still feel like they haven’t been heard. That first protest might seem like yesterday to long-time faculty, but as undergraduates, our tenure at Emerson is limited. Four years come and go quickly, and to not see effective change in that time is disappointing. Hopefully today’s freshmen won’t need to march again in 2019, but if the administration maintains its sluggish pace, the megaphones will eventually end up in the hands of today’s middle schoolers.
When students bring issues of racial discrimination and bias to the attention of the administration, the school needs to address students’ concerns with action, not defend their current policy and claim success. The college hasn’t been doing enough, and Emerson’s opposition to institutional reform is deeply concerning. It’s the same attitude behind the school’s history with title IX, where they have continued to dismiss reports of sexual assault and harassment.
Our school motto is “Expression Necessary to Evolution.” Evolution, by nature, requires change, and the changes students are demanding are not out of reach for this administration. Structural change and improvement should be a goal for any institution of higher education that wants to succeed.
If President Pelton’s lackluster email response to Tuesday’s protests is any indication, the administration is already treating the students’ demands with the same half-hearted shrug it gave to so many demonstrations in the past. Although this week’s protests caught people’s attention, they won’t make a difference unless students continue to pressure the administration. Change will only happen if all students continue to demand inclusive excellence. We cannot allow the administration to dismiss these issues any longer.