"Freedom Budget" activists meet with administrators

by Priya Ramaiah | 5/22/14 7:20pm

A series of six meetings between members of the “Freedom Budget” collective, a group of student activists, and key administrators left students involved in the discussions dissatisfied with the response they received.

The meetings, organized by the President’s Office following an agreement signed by Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson at the end of the early April Parkhurst Hall sit-in, centered on central themes of “Freedom Budget.” A total of 19 administrators attended the sessions relevant to their responsibilities.

The “Freedom Budget,” a student-authored list of more than 70 demands regarding issues of diversity, included proposals that the College increase enrollment of black, Latino and Latina and Native American students to at least 10 percent each, make a multimillion dollar commitment to increasing the number of faculty and staff of color and provide pro-bono legal assistance and financial assistance to undocumented students.

Meetings took place over April and May, and topics included faculty recruitment and retention, undergraduate curriculum, facilities, undergraduate admissions and financial aid, student support, undocumented students and staff support and recruitment.

Jalil Bishop ’14, who was involved in the creation of the document and attended the undergraduate admissions and staff recruitment meetings, said that while some conversations were productive, he largely found the administrative response frustrating.

“There was a refusal to acknowledge the ‘Freedom Budget’ and to respond to a lot of the ideas,” he said. “There was a lot of storytelling.”

An agreement signed by Johnson and sit-in participants on April 3 stated that meetings could be live streamed and open to all members of the collective.

Though the meetings were open to interested members of the activist group, at the requests of administrators, none of the meetings were live streamed, Bishop said.

College spokesperson Justin Anderson said the President’s Office did not issue a ban on live streaming but rather left the decision to the students and faculty members at each individual meeting.

Gavin Huang ’14, who was involved in creating the “Freedom Budget” and attended four of the six meetings, said administrators often responded to the document’s demands by saying they were too difficult to implement.

Huang and Bishop expressed frustration that administrators did not execute proposals that they believed could be accomplished easily, like mandating sensitivity training for professors or faculty exit interviews.

Evelynn Ellis, vice president of institutional diversity and equity, attended the meetings on faculty recruitment and retention and on staff support.

Though she described the meetings as generally productive, she said she could not answer specific questions about faculty recruitment that are under the jurisdiction of the hiring department, which may have frustrated students.

“The students had insightful questions they had obviously thought long and hard about,” she said, adding that she hoped the meetings would continue.

For every faculty search, the chair of the department must meet with Ellis to ensure that they recruit from a diverse pool of applicants.

“A lot of the things we have to really sharpen are the things we’ve been doing all along,” Ellis said, adding that the pool of potential hires could be further diversified.

The College joined the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, a professional academic community, this year to help foster a network for minority faculty, Ellis said.

She stressed the need for a systematic method of exit interviews, and said she was optimistic that the College would begin conducting them “in the near future.”

In multiple meetings, administrators stated that certain issues being discussed were outside of their jurisdiction, Bishop said.

Ellis said that there were some student demands for which she could not make promises.

Still, the opportunity to meet with a variety of administrators was valuable and an opportunity not granted to most students, Huang said.

One of the biggest results was that several dozen students attended the meetings and saw firsthand how “unproductive” dealings with administrators can be, Bishop said.

“That’s a concrete step that no one will give us an award for, but it’s a part of movement building,” he said.

Huang added that it can be “maddeningly frustrating” to hear how slow administrative change occurs at the College.

Bishop pointed to the minimal increase in black students at the College since the 1960s, adding that the Class of 2017 contains only 84 African American students — several fewer than in the previous four classes.

Dean of Admissions Maria Laskaris, who was present at the meetings on undergraduate admissions and undocumented student needs, said that as of Thursday, the Class of 2018 contains 98 African American students, a notable increase from past years.

The student body as a whole has become increasingly diverse over time, she said, and her office actively strives to increase the yield of admitted students from minority groups.

Laskaris said she found the meetings a helpful way of gathering feedback, particularly regarding the needs of undocumented students.

She spent a significant portion of the admissions meeting discussing why quotas are not used in the admissions process, she said, citing legality as well as the nature of a “holistic” admissions process.

Simone Wien ’16 said the activists will continue to push for the administration to execute each of their demands.

“Concepts of respectability and respectable modes of dialogue were never made to benefit marginalized communities in the first place,” Wein said. “So I think that’s something to keep in mind as we look for ways to address these problems.”

Huang is a former member of The Dartmouth senior staff.

The article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended: May 23, 2014

Proposals that Huang and Bishop said they felt could be accomplished easily included mandating sensitivity training for faculty members, not administrators, as the article initially reported. The story has been corrected.

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