BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Last May, students marched into Old Centre carrying with them a list of demands regarding issues of inclusion on campus. Hundreds of students protested in the historic building for over three days until nearly all the demands were met.
Various changes were made to college policies in an attempt to “provide more intentional next steps in creating an inclusive environment,” with the hopes of improving the “compassionate, understanding, and kind community that Centre College aims to be.”
Despite the successes of the sit in, however, some felt as though the protest was not reflective of the Centre College culture.
In an open letter to the college community, President Roush stated that though “some number of our community members participated in [the sit in], a larger number did not, and there are some who believe that the May 2-4 conversations did not represent their views or their estimation of how the College should conduct itself going forward.” In addition to this claim, Roush reminded students that “community members should understand that their participation in demonstrations, marches, and occupations that disrupt the College’s normal operation and policies will be subject to measured and appropriate consequences that are spelled out in the College’s Conduct Code.”
President Roush defended his letter by saying that there were aspects of the sit in that were not consistent with this college’s culture. He clarified, though, that by “culture” he does not mean status quo. Roush stated that he is not opposed to change, but believes that whatever change is made must be supported by the core values of this institution: “kindness, forgiveness, a willingness to encounter another idea or opinion and not get angry about it, the common good – things that treat people in a fair and honest way, that allow for difference.”
The sit in, he explained, “was opposite that. It was drawing a line in the sand over issues – some of which were being addressed, some of which had already been addressed – that the students didn’t necessarily know all about.” For President Roush, organizing and marching is not a problem, but “being disruptive crossed a line.”
To many of those involved in the sit in, this was not understood as an appropriate response. Many claim that the sit in’s necessity was exacerbated by a lack of communication on these issues. “There was a lack of transparency,” said Benjamin Collado, a participant in the sit in. Collado also happens to be one of the Co-Vice Presidents of Centre’s Diversity Student Union, although he wishes for it to be clear that the views expressed in this piece are his own and not indicative of DSU at large.
The letter itself was “tone deaf,” Collado continued. Collado doesn’t believe it was “ill-intentioned,” simply “unaware of the campus atmosphere.”
President Roush, however, claims to have a deep understanding of the wider response to the sit in. “Support for the sit in,” he explained, “was not clearly the majority.” And of those who participated, he continued, “many weren’t devoted, they just wanted to be supportive.”
“There are fair criticisms to be made,” Collado added, but these revolve around “including allies” who should have been “involved throughout;” “there is a disconnect” between Roush and students as to what these criticisms should be.
An organizer of the protest, who wishes to remain unnamed, responded to this by saying, “I can’t say if there is an overwhelming majority or what that overwhelming majority would be.” Instead, they wish to remind the campus that the goal moving forward is “healing as a campus.”
In fact, President Roush shared this sentiment. “Our College community has some healing to do,” he wrote. He expanded on this, saying that he has decided to “make something good out of it – good for all of us.”
However, the larger issue associated with the letter – at least in the eye of the anonymous student – was that the letter itself disrupted the process of healing. “The letter made me feel less optimistic,” said the student. “It was punitive, condescending. A negative outlook has the potential to close doors.”
Even so, to Ben and the other student- despite some doors that are closed between student groups, due to missteps in the process – members of the college administration have already made some good out of the sit in. “P Roush and the administration are trying,” the student stated.
But they want to be clear that students drove this change. “For years now,” the student explained, “conversations, dialogues have been happening. But nothing was done.”
President Roush stated that he is willing to “accept a part of the responsibility” for the students feeling as though the sit in was necessary, due to a failure to maintain comfortability when discussing these issues with him directly. But he also believes that “students did not fully utilize the opportunities available to them” before deciding to stage the sit in.
The sit in has opened doors, according to the student; it has “reminded students that this campus is here for us.” If there is doubt in this regard, the student encourages others to look back to the open letter and read the work plan. “Because frankly,” they explained, “a lot of good work has been done.”
President Roush agrees. “There’s no guarantee, but I think we’re doing what’s right. I think we’re doing what makes us a better and stronger institution for all of the students that we serve.”
With regards to this substantial progress, the student believes that a conversation about the open letter is necessary, but that conversations with and about President Roush “are not the priorities” at this point. According to the student, there are other administrative offices that have proven their receptiveness, and therefore there are “more productive conversations” to have before focusing to strongly on President Roush and this letter. “It’s not him that’s doing the day-to-day work,” they said – if students want to continue creating change, says the organizer, then they should go to the offices that are doing good work.
In an attempt to utilize this coverage to benefit these conversations, here is a list of offices that deal directly with elements of the post-sit in work plan:
Vice President of Human Resources and Administrative Services.
Vice President for Legal Affairs.
Chief Planning Officer.
Director and Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programming.
It is worth noting that the individuals quoted in this article are not the only parties with relevant perspectives. Many concerns are shared among students, faculty, and staff. Many other affinity groups on campus have equally as nuanced views of the sit in. In this regard, this article is not representative of every opinion on the sit in in general nor the open letter in particular.
This is a conversation that will only expand to include more perspectives. “This shouldn’t be something that prevents us from moving forward,” said the organizer. “No one knows the best way forward,” they added, and therefore the appropriate next steps are to continue necessary dialogues so that all members of the Centre community are heard and may contribute to the healing process.