Student coalition brainstorms next steps
By XUEYING CHEN ’16
WAAM-SLAM2 assembled a teach in with the College community last Friday after student representatives met with Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly the previous day.
The movement protested twice last month to demand that the administration incorporate a Latin@ minor and ethnic studies major.
At the meeting last Thursday, students from WAAM-SLAM2 presented to Bottomly the demands listed in their Transformative Justice and Education Bill for Wellesley College. Provost Andy Shennan, provost of the College; Debra DeMeis, dean of students, Robbin Chapman, associate provost and academic director of diversity; Ben Hammond, vice president for finance and administration and Jennifer Desjarlais, director of admission and financial aid, attended as well.
The administration did not allow reporters to attend the meeting, but WAAM-SLAM2 expects to release a response at the end of next week on their Facebook page.
The student organizers of WAAM-SLAM2 intended to inform and involve more students in the movement after meeting with Bottomly. More than 70 people attended the teach in hosted in the Clapp Library Lecture Room. The meeting opened and closed with a unity clap, which starts out slow and speeds up into collective applause and cheering. According to the organizers of WAAM-SLAM2, the College union workers use this clap to open their own meetings.
The organizers introduced attendees to the recent history of the movement, beginning with the open letter students wrote to the administration demanding ethnic studies a little more than a year ago. Many of the letter drafters graduated, and the College did not respond. After an ethnic studies conference took place on campus, Dean of Academic Affairs Richard French established a faculty working committee in February. The committee is chaired by Professor of English and Director of American Studies Yoon Sun Lee, to explore ethnic studies in more depth.
The faculty working group invited students to take an active part in the discussion, but disagreements arose. Some faculty members wanted to focus on ethnic minorities in other countries, instead of the students’ intention to implement an interdepartmental major concentrated on the experiences of U.S. ethnic minorities.
French released an update yesterday on the progress of the faculty working group due to the campus-wide interest.
The faculty working group recommended the introduction of a Latin@ studies minor as well as the creation of a comparative race studies focus on U.S. ethnic minorities within the American studies program.
“[They] recommend further consideration of a structured individual major or minor in Global/Transnational Ethnic Studies,” French wrote. “Such an option would complement the U.S.-focused ethnic studies offered in American Studies.”
The working group also identified the need to create a tenure-track position to teach the Latin@ studies introductory course and to recruit existing faculty to teach other courses for the minor. Over the next academic year, the American studies department and working group plans to write a detailed proposal for the Latin@ studies minor and a comparative race studies focus, as well as to introduce an experimental introductory course on ethnic minorities around the world.
“The time has come for a well-considered clarification and expansion of ethnic studies at Wellesley,” French stated in the announcement.
Nancy Negrete ’14, a student representative of WAAM-SLAM2, expressed that the coalition responded positively to the faculty discussion, but still has issues with the recommendations in French’s statement.
She says that the announcement fails to mention who will take charge of the Latin@ studies minor proposal as well as a detailed timeline of the process. Negrete also states that the faculty working group does not elaborate on U.S.-based ethnic studies nor mention hiring a professor specialized in the field.
“We want a U.S.-based interdepartmental ethnic studies major and welcome courses that are transnational in focus because we recognize this as an emerging focus within ethnic studies,” Negrete said. “But such courses should serve to complement the study of racialized experiences of minorities in America.”
She also pointed out that students never asked for transnational ethnic studies structured individual major.
While Negrete is speaking on behalf of WAAM-SLAM2, its organizers would like to stress that any statement or action made belongs to the movement and not as any individual student.
“We do commend the faculty working group and administration for their work, and this response is in no means against their efforts or all the work they have put in,” Negrete said.
An attendee at the teach in also asked why the student organizers chose to incorporate fossil fuel divestment as a demand. The student organizers responded that choosing not the divest from fossil fuels equates to environmental racism because certain groups, especially marginalized communities, live in the areas most affected by pollution.
Several students who attended the teach in wanted WAAM-SLAM2 to specify how the coalition will measure its goals.
“The administration has continued to show a lack of willingness to actually efficiently work with students when they bring up significant problems on campus. So it becomes necessary that students to stand up for themselves,” Claire Mildrum ’15 said. “I support the movement but want some clarification on what determines success.”
Throughout the meeting, supporters of the movement spoke up and reminded attendees of the barriers the administration have created to slow down the implementation of ethnic studies. According to the organizers of WAAM-SLAM2, the administration has voiced doubts about being able to hire a new qualified Latin@ professor to teach Latin@ studies.
The organizers also referenced the effectiveness of the first WAAM-SLAM movement that occurred 2001. They claimed that nearly 300 students actively supported the original coalition and completed a 24-hour sit in demonstration in Green Hall. The College satisfied some of their demands after WAAM-SLAM threatened a hunger strike by sending press releases to national media outlets.
Near the end of the teach in, supporters broke into groups to brainstorm ideas for WAAM-SLAM2 to strengthen its visibility throughout the College community. The coalition is currently finding ways to involve student organizations across campus and seeking the support of alumni.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated faculty recommended the introduction of a Latin@ studies major as well as the creation of a comparative race studies course focused on U.S. ethnic minorities within the American studies department. More accurately, the faculty working group recommended the introduction of a Latin@ studies minor and a comparative race studies focus in the American studies program.