Wellesley students gathered at the “Occupy Billings” protest for additional multicultural space last Wednesday. Students from Ethos, MEZCLA and the Wellesley Pan-Asian Council spoke about the need for additional multicultural space in the current multicultural center, which is located in Billings. The general meeting was spearheaded by WAAM-SLAM II, a student movement created last spring.
WAAM-SLAM II began last year as Wellesley students attempted to address what they believe are systemic problems in the Wellesley community. The students wished to increase diversity in Wellesley’s faculty, admissions and academic programs. The movement’s current goals are to increase racial diversity among the faculty, foster more socioeconomic diversity in admissions and have the College better meet the needs of students with disabilities.
“Occupy Billings” began with the organizers handing all attendees a sheet of paper detailing the history of WAAM-SLAM II and its predecessor, WAAM-SLAM, in 2001. Attendees were also asked to finish the sentence, “We need a multicultural space because …” on a piece of paper. After the event, the organizers took photos of audience members holding their written sentences.
Former Ethos president Patrice Caldwell ’15 gave the first presentation. She spoke about the 1970 establishment of Harambee House, a space on campus for students of African descent. Black students were given the house by the College after Alpha Kappa Chi, the Classical society at the time, voted to close their house.
“Around this time and very similarly to WAAM-SLAM, Ethos had given the College a list of demands. Among them, they wanted a space for black students,” Caldwell explained.
Caldwell said that although the administration was at first reluctant to create Harambee House, the threat of a student hunger strike and the reverberations of the civil rights movement altered their decision. Ethos, which was established in 1968, and the black community at the time worked together with former President of the College Ruth Adams to renovate the building and rename it Harambee House. She also noted that Harambee is the Swahili word for “working together” and represents students’ combined efforts to create a place where students of African descent could feel welcome.
Caldwell explained the importance of Harambee House to the African community and the need for other multicultural organizations to have their own spaces.
“There are just times when you need to be able to complain about things you can’t often talk about, and Harambee House is that space. I honestly don’t know what we’d do if we didn’t have that kind of space,” Caldwell stated, adding that meetings for organizations serving students of African descent are held at the house.
Pan-Asian Council co-chair Bernice Chan ’16 then narrated the history of students of Asian descents’ attempts to advocate for their own multicultural space on campus.
She began by noting that students of Asian descent once had their own building. They previously met in Crawford House, which is now Casa de Cervantes. According to Chan, the administration stated that Asian American associations on campus had adequate funding for a space and could, alternatively, share a space with MEZCLA or Slater.
“And here we are today,” Chan said, eliciting chuckles from the audience.
A 1988 petition for an Asian American house and other failed efforts to establish a house led to the 2001 establishment of Wellesley Asian Action Movement (WAAM), which evolved into the Wellesley Academic Action Movement. Soon afterward, the movement was renamed WAAM-SLAM, with the latter acronym standing for Sisters Leading Action for Multiculturalism, which has been changed to Siblings Leading Action for Multiculturalism in WAAM-SLAM II.
Many of the Asian American community’s demands have not been met, although an Asian American Studies minor was established in 2013.
“The administration and faculty need to recognize the diversity of the Asian American population. They need to make more of an effort to recruit from the different ethnic groups within the Asian category, such as Southeast Asians,” Chan stated, quoting a 1996 thesis from Wei-Lin Nessa Wang.
MEZCLA President Mari Oceja ’15 then took the spotlight to talk about the Latin@ community’s efforts to establish their own space on campus.
Latin@s shared Gray House with Hillel in the 1970s but lost the space after the building was rebuilt after it burned down. Their attempts to establish their own space have also been rebuffed by the administration.
In order for MEZCLA and other multicultural organizations to have meetings, they have to reserve Billings 200. Besides facing logistical issues with timing and accessibility, many of Wellesley’s multicultural organizations disagree with the current system on principle.
“Our culture can’t be put into one little hour at any time of the week,” Oceja declared to loud snaps from the audience.
According to Oceja, the largest problem with current multicultural space is its size.
“It’s not big enough for any of us. It’s not big enough for all of us,” she said.
The room was packed with over 50 students during the event. Some students had to relocate themselves to the periphery of the room to sit down.
Oceja continued by remarking that the cramped quarters are an unpleasant reality for MEZCLA. She estimated that an 30-35 members attended the meetings in Billings 200 and that the room’s limited space did not offer an environment conducive to learning, socializing or relaxing.
Oceja concluded the event by reaffirming the need of multicultural students to unite and help create multicultural spaces for students of Asian and Latin@ descent.
“That’s what I think we ought to be doing. We ought to be collaborating and working together as multicultural students. Our needs are not being met by Wellesley College. [The administration] is not giving us the resources we need to thrive on this campus,” Oceja stated.
Many audience members felt that WAAM-SLAM II was taking a concrete step towards solving the problems they often confronted at Wellesley.
“As a student of color, I would like to have my experiences leading up to Wellesley affirmed, and since people from different cultures have different experiences [here], that doesn’t always happen,” Astrid Mobley ’18 said.
Others attend the event out of a desire to learn more about WAAM-SLAM II’s goals.
“I want to learn more about my place here as a student of color. I want to see how [WAAM-SLAM II] is going to [meet its goals],” Azalea Troche ’18 said.
The audience learned about how Wellesley’s multicultural organizations have banded together and confronted problems with creating their own spaces in the past.
“I liked hearing about how Ethos got Harambee House. Hearing about how they organized for change and successfully fulfilled that particular goal was inspiring and motivated me to get more involved in WAAM-SLAM II and make sure those goals get fulfilled as well,” Mobley reflected.
Many who left “Occupy Billings” felt inspired as they saw Wellesley students of many backgrounds support WAAM-SLAM II’s efforts to create more multicultural spaces on campus.
“I thought it was lovely to see all of us showing support and taking the time to understand why this cause is important to all of Wellesley, not just students of color,” Troche said.
Photo by Soojin Jeong ’17, Photography Editor