By XUEYING CHEN ’16 and GRACE BENNETT-PIERRE ’16
Co-Editor-in-Chief and Staff Writer
Students marched in two protests on Saturday at the Seven Sisters Latin@ Conference in Pendleton Atrium and yesterday in Green Hall. Wellesley Academic Action Movement-Siblings Leading Action for Multiculturalism (WAAM-SLAM2) organized the protests. WAAM-SLAM2 is a joint effort of Latin@s Unidas Changing Academia and students from the Ethnic Studies Conference committee. The movement actively pushes for the implementation of a Latin@ studies minor, as part of a broader effort to introduce an ethnic studies major into the academic curriculum.
On Saturday, the College hosted the second annual Seven Sisters Latin@ Conference. The student coordinators of the conference, who are not affiliated with WAAM-SLAM2, invited President of the College H. Kim Bottomly to speak. She briefly welcomed attendees, some of whom traveled from Smith College, and thanked the conference organizers.
“I’d just like to say that I can’t stay for today, but I hope the organizers will report back to me about the things that you’ve discussed and really the critical issues that you are facing as you go forward as students,” she said.
After Bottomly left the podium, nearly 50 students silently marched into Pendleton Atrium carrying posters, some of which read “Where is our Latin@ house?” and “We’re done waiting.” The students formed a circle around Bottomly as she read all of the signs with a smile before she exited the atrium. Some students had taped their mouths shut to represent how they feel silenced at Wellesley.
The organizers of WAAM-SLAM2 have chosen to remain anonymous because they believe any statement or action made belongs to the movement and not to any individual student.
According to the movement organizers, the administration has stated if they introduce Latin@ studies or ethnic studies, they must also implement Queer studies or Native American studies out of fairness for other marginalized groups. They also emphasized that hiring new faculty for ethnic studies could affect financial aid.
“The administration has promoted circular, unproductive dialogue as a tactic to put off necessary action,” the student organizers wrote in a statement to The Wellesley News. “Wellesley continues attempting to appease and silence the student body by making it appear as though they are doing everything in their power.”
While Bottomly does not directly handle curriculum affairs, WAAM-SLAM2 held a protest after her remarks because they believe that such an influential overseer of the College should directly hear their concerns and know how to address them.
WAAM-SLAM2 released its Transformation Justice and Education Bill for Wellesley College, a document of demands addressed to the administration. In the bill, student organizers of WAAM-SLAM2 asked for various commitments, including multicultural spaces, a commitment to meet the needs of students with disabilities and LGBTQ students and divestment from fossil fuels.
A second protest took place yesterday during the lunch hour, when approximately 60 students marched to the administrative offices. The students chanted a passage from the bill describing the WAAM-SLAM2 mission as they moved from the offices of Bottomly and Provost Andrew Shennan, both of whom were attending meetings elsewhere, to the office of Richard French, dean of academic affairs.
Student protesters asked French to read the 15-page document detailing their demands for the College and to then sign a statement committing himself to the completion of the listed goals, including the creation of Latin@ studies minor and ethnic studies major.
French said he read the document before the students’ arrived and began the exchange by stating his intention to engage in dialogue about the issues brought forth by WAAM-SLAM2.
“My door is always open as many of you know; you said that dialogue and resistance are both legitimate. I cannot resist, but I can certainly engage in dialogue,” French said.
However, French refused to sign the final page of the document, citing his unwillingness to make an empty promise to students because he does not have the means to change the curriculum on his own. At the same time, he voiced his sympathy for the movement and mentioned that he has worked tirelessly on the possible introduction of ethnic studies for the past year.
“I encourage people to continue to work with me, but working with me is not saying there are 40 people outside my office, and we refuse to let you leave until you sign a document I haven’t read for more than 30 seconds,” French said.
When asked about the lack of multicultural spaces on campus, French emphasized that he is not solely responsible for all of the decisions made at the College, particularly those decisions unrelated to academic programs.
“I am a member of the faculty, a member of the administration, who does not have absolute authority over almost any of these things here,” French said. “I am, however, in conversation with the senior staff, with the deans of students, with other deans, and we will discuss these in a thoughtful way and respond to you, but I cannot give you a unilateral response right now.”
Following their exchange with French, a core group of students read a response summarizing their expectations for action on the part of the administration.
“We refuse to conform to a system that is broken and inadequate, we will not accept any excuses from the administration, nor will we tolerate any further implied threats that would disproportionately affect targeted groups of students,” they stated. “We demand that the claims of student prioritization and diversification be accomplished by the implementation of the action previously outlined.”
The students thanked French and began to move out of the hallway.
Before students vacated Green Hall, Dean of Faculty Affairs Kathryn Lynch asked that students stop calling her at home with messages about the issue.
“I have been called in the middle of the night, in my home, waking me and my entire family up and terrorizing us. Please stop,” Lynch said. Lynch received phone calls in the middle of the night, which frightened her family because certain members have existing medical conditions.
Over the weekend, the movement conducted a call campaign. The flyers distributed by WAAM-SLAM2 organizers to promote Saturday’s protest also listed the phone numbers of Bottomly, Shennan, French and Lynch. Although the other phone numbers listed were office lines, Lynch’s home phone number was included on the flyer.
WAAM-SLAM2 supporters left the administrators voicemail messages urging them to establish more ethnic studies courses. The organizers did not intend to contact Lynch at home, but found the number listed as a campus number in the College directory. The original script of the messages does not include any threats and ends with, “This is a fight that is over 40 years old. We are done waiting. Thank you for your consideration.”
WAAM-SLAM2 stems from the first WAAM-SLAM movement, which occurred in 2001. More than a decade ago, Wellesley students held rallies, sit-ins, letter campaigns and meetings with the administration to secure full-time advisors for students of Asian and Latin@ descent and protest the the denial of Professor Elena Creef’s tenure in women’s and gender studies department. The College did not meet all the demands published by WAAM-SLAM in 2001, including the installation of a space for students of Asian descent, a demand which was first voiced in 1988.
“It’s really important to show that this is not a movement that sprung up overnight. This has happened for decades at this college, and we are simply revitalizing an old movement while adding new demands,” the WAAM-SLAM2 organizers wrote in the statement.
The student organizers believe that the movement will continue far into the future. While they will focus mainly on ethnic studies, the coordinators recognize that many other issues also exist at Wellesley.
“Back in 2001, [we] imagine no one really thought WAAM-SLAM would continue,” the organizers said. “The fact that it continues today, 14 years later, is a testament to the power of activism that is alive in all students.”
WAAM-SLAM2 will host an information session open to all members of the College community later today at 5:30 p.m. in Munger Hall.