Stating they were tired of feeling unsafe and marginalized on campus, a group of students of color demanded change and an apology during a board of trustees meeting in Seattle on Friday, Feb. 12.
The 18 students who announced the statement are part of the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation, a student-run organization founded this year. It is not directly affiliated with the Associated Students, but AS president Belina Seare is listed as a member.
At the point in the meeting when Seare was asked to report to the board, she introduced the student group. They came forward and delivered a prepared statement.
“As people with institutional power, it’s your responsibility on this campus to prioritize the safety of ALL students, especially those who experience violence at disproportionate rates,” the group said. “We need you to recognize that safety doesn’t look the same for all students, nor does violence,” the statement read.
While the statement was read to the trustees, Seare stayed seated until the end of the speech, when she raised from her seat and left the meeting with the students.
Copies of the statement read at the meeting were also posted around campus in the days after the meeting.
Political science professor Vernon Johnson, who has worked with members of the group in the past, finds the group to be some of the most active students on campus.
“I think that some of that group of students are some of the most radical ones that we have here on campus in fighting for racial justice, equity, inclusion and appreciation for diversity with respect to the issue of race,” Johnson said.
During the meeting, the group of 18 discussed what they plan to do through their organization.
“Our presence in this space will not suffice as addressing the violence that is on our campus. This is the beginning of confronting the systemic powers that perpetuate these violences,” the group said. “For these processes to begin on the most basic level, we demand an open apology.”
Through the statement, the students explained their actions were in response to the university’s way of handling events that took place last quarter, including AS President Belina Seare being threatened through social media and sophomore Tysen Campbell being arrested and charged with malicious harassment.
“As a group of concerned students who have been consistently forced to respond to the
events of last quarter, especially in defending and supporting specific students after they experienced rape and death threats at the hands of their peers at this institution, we continue to be worried about our own safety and that of our fellow students, especially Black students and students of color,” the group said in the statement.
Johnson believes the scope of the group’s statement was wider than the events in November.
“Given what happened to our AS president, who is one of those students, and the group of people around her last fall, it’s fair to say that they have been in a state of psychological trauma,” Johnson said. “Not only from what happened in November, but seeing that as a culmination of a series of things in which they have been fighting for acknowledgement of their concerns about safety on the campus, but also fighting for a deepening of the university’s commitment to racial equity and inclusion.”
Director of communications Paul Cocke finds the group’s concerns to be important and part of an issue that is impacting more than just Western.
“There are very real concerns in our society, including at Western, about the lack of sufficient and necessary progress toward discrimination not only in the larger issues of movements such as Black Lives Matter, but also in the daily experiences people of color have as they live day to day,” Cocke said in an email. “Whether those occur in a grocery store, in a traffic stop, in a classroom or in their daily lives on campus.”
The group also alluded to the university’s handling of recent requests made by students of color who were threatened and didn’t feel safe. In the statement, the group said President Bruce Shepard and other school officials did not take accountability or responsibility for students who felt unsafe on campus, calling on the board of trustees to make a change.
After the group finished reading the statement to trustees, the students refused to have a discussion about the issues they presented, Cocke said.
“The board of trustees attempted to engage in a dialogue with the students on Friday morning, but the students chose to walk out on the trustees as that attempt was made,” he said.
The group also called campus administration violent, saying that the safety of students of color isn’t regarded as part of the general safety of campus.
Other ways the group found administration to be violent included changing narratives of marginalized students to justify inaction, denying basic student needs, claiming acknowledgement of the importance for students of color to have space yet denying the space and more.
“Creating divisions amongst students is violent,” the group said. “Your neutrality is violent. The silencing of our voices is violent.”
After the incident in November, the university held debriefing sessions for students. Western is also in the process of reviewing the student code of conduct which includes improving the Title IX processes based on best practices, Cocke said.
To improve racial relations on campus, Cocke said the university has utilized several approaches: campus-wide listening sessions, the Faculty Senate, President’s Taskforce on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity and the campus Equity and Inclusion forum.
“In terms of physical safety Western is a very safe campus,” he said.
Members within the club include Andrea Tompkins, Ashley Arhin, Aisha Addish, Xandra Peter, Justin Yau-Luu, Ben Hochsprung, Dillon Baker, Grimes Venters, Milka Solomon, Alzata Davis, Aminata Amie, Elva Niterika, Tahila Natachu, Burger Burger, Dayja McMillan, Belina Seare, Weni Unahreb and Riley Lim.
The group announced there will be a meeting at 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26, in the Miller Hall Collaborative Space for students of color to discuss with administration their needs and demands on campus.
“We’re all anxious to hear what they have in mind and we want to be in a position to be supportive,” Johnson said.
The Student Assembly for Power and Liberation was contacted for an interview, but did not respond.