Students collaborate in 'Freedom Budget' to demand change

by Priya Ramaiah | 2/24/14 8:40pm

Creators of the "Freedom Budget" said they intended to initiate constructive discussion and social change. The document, which was emailed to campus early Monday morning, outlines a plan for “transformative justice” at Dartmouth, comprising over 70 bulleted demands addressed to 13 administrators.

The document demands that the College increase enrollment of black, Latino and Latina and Native American students to at least 10 percent each and increase the number of faculty and staff of color across departments. Other proposals include banning the Indian mascot, providing pro-bono legal and financial assistance to undocumented students and expanding gender-neutral housing and bathrooms on campus. The document also demands that residential life spaces on campus be accessible to all students.

The proposal set March 24 as the deadline to respond.

College President Phil Hanlon said in an interview that it is too early to say what form an administrative response will take.

“The most important thing to recognize is that we share their aspirations and their passion to create a more diverse and inclusive campus,” Hanlon said.

Oscar Cornejo ’17, who helped create the proposal, said that although administrators’ first step should be acknowledging the proposal, they must then provide a plan of action.

Enacting change will require input from both administrators and community members, Cornejo said.

“This is just a stepping stone,” he said. “The conversation will continue, and we want it to continue. Don’t take this Freedom Budget as the central focus point. It’s just the beginning.”

Afro-American Society academic chair Celeste Winston ’14 said that administrators must respond to the demands publicly.

This recognition will open participation to all who are interested, she said.

“This plan is neither perfect nor comprehensive, and we don’t expect their response to be,” she said.

Cornejo said he believed that the funds needed to enact the proposal’s demands exist, but the College will need to reallocate this money.

If administrators fail to respond by the deadline, the document states that “physical action” will be taken. Student creators clarified that they are not threatening to enact violence.

Instead, this refers to protesting, Winston said.

“We’re going to keep talking,” said Christina Goodson ’14, who helped create the plan. “We’re going to get louder.”

Gavin Huang ’14, who was involved in creating the document, said that if any of the demands are implemented, all students would benefit.

Winston emphasized that the plan’s criticisms of the College are not malicious.

“Because we care so much about this place, we want to see Dartmouth literally be the College on the Hill, as a place people can look up to,” she said.

Students drafted the document for nearly a month. They began after a protest at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day keynote speech on Jan. 20, which garnered new support for minority communities at the College, Winston said.

Afro-American Society members drafted the first version of the proposal, Cornejo said.

Cornejo, a member of Dartmouth coalition for immigration reform, equality and dreamers, said that Afro-American Society members decided to then restructure the proposal to encompass a range of communities at Dartmouth — including Asian, black, differently abled, Latina, Latino, Native American, LGBTQ and undocumented students.

The proposal does not, however, purport to represent the views of all members of these communities, Huang said.

Students interviewed declined to identify individual authors of the proposal, stressing that it was a collaborative effort.

Huang, an intern in the office of Pan Asian student advising, said input from the Asian community came in part from the Pan Asian Council, which is comprised of representatives from various other Pan-Asian student groups.

“We did the best we could to reach out,” he said.

Huang is a former member of The Dartmouth senior staff.

Dartmouth Asian Organization secretary Clara Wang ’17 said a representative presented the proposal’s points relating to Asian-American affairs in a DAO executive meeting, adding that during the discussion of demands she did not know that they would be released alongside many others.

After reading the proposal, Wang said she is not sure if she fully supports or opposes it, in part because of its “aggressive” wording.

“I would have preferred to understand the entirety of the document before having to voice my opinion on different demands being made in the Freedom Budget,” Wang said.

Cornejo said identifying desires of the undocumented student community was difficult due to the absence of a united network. As a result, the Dartmouth coalition for immigration reform contributed the demands related to undocumented student needs.

Goodson said she reached out to Native American students to learn about changes they wanted to see at the College.

The proposal’s organization, which divided demands into eight categories of campus life — undergraduate admissions, undergraduate curriculum, faculty and staff, financial aid, residential life, campus climate, advising and support and miscellaneous — aimed to highlight the demands’ intersectional nature, Huang said.

“Not all needs are specifically for a minority community,” he said.

Students who helped create the proposal stressed that each demand is important.

“I can’t necessarily make this a hierarchy and say this or this is the most pressing issue, because all of them are pressing,” Cornejo said. “The administration can’t just say, ‘Give me your top three demands,’ because these are all demands that need to be met.”

Hanlon said he was pleased the proposal suggested concrete actions for administrators to evaluate, adding that he looks forward to talking about the demands.

The document’s release follows continued efforts by student groups to enact social change on campus through administrators, Winston said, adding that numerous panels and task forces have published recommendations regarding student issues that she believes administrators have not taken into account.

Campus response to the proposal has been mixed.

Several students interviewed said the March 24 deadline seems too soon given the extensive list of demands. Others said they worried that the plan could divide campus.

“We cannot split our community into war camps,” said Jake Greenberg ’17, who criticized the way the proposal was framed. “If we are to face our problems with rational and diverse solutions then it will be as a community.”

History professor Russell Rickford, however, called the plan “brilliant.”

“These activists have transcended our platitudes about ‘diversity’ and our elaborate preservation of the status quo, and are actively engaged in a struggle for transformation and justice,” he said.

Students involved in the creation of the "Freedom Budget" will hold a meeting in Collis Common Ground at 6 p.m. on Wednesday to answer questions.