Last February, the Carls Talk Back movement began with a silent protest at the convocation speech of former white supremacist Arno Michaelis. According to its website, the movement aims “to transform Carleton College into a place that is accommodating to all students who attend, regardless of identity or need.”
Since then, the administration has responded to some demands of the movement, but organizers say they are still frustrated with the lack of action and communication from the administration. One of the main steps the administration has taken has been to suggest the formation of committees around specific demands. The organizers of Carls Talk Back have agreed to the committees under specific conditions involving time deadlines and transparency.
Another way the administration has responded has been to announce their intention to install washers and dryers in Freedom House and Casa del Sol. Over spring break, residents of Freedom House and Casa del Sol received an email informing them that washers and dryers would likely be installed in their basements by the time they returned. However, Bethany Bobo ’20, Carls Talk Back leader and Freedom House manager, returned after spring break to find both houses still without washers and dryers.
“I was really hyped to be able to do my laundry at home,” Bobo said, explaining that residents usually walk to nearby Stimson House to do their laundry. Bobo added that non-Stimson residents’ OneCards can only open one Stimson door, and only before midnight. Organizers of student activist movement Carls Talk Back (CTB) first called attention to the lack of washers and dryers in these houses eight weeks ago, in a list of policy demands addressed to college leaders.
Office of Intercultural and International Life (OIIL) Interim Director Brisa Zubia ’05 wrote in the March 13 email that Director of Residential Life Andrea Robinson and Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston had been working with Facilities staff “to look into the code issues that were preventing them from being able to install washers and dryers in Freedom and Casa.” She added that “they believe they have come up with some solutions and will be able to install the units over spring break.”
Old plumbing in both houses and a staircase too narrow to transport the machines down in Freedom complicated the installation process, which is now scheduled to be completed by “mid- to late-term,” according to an email from Livingston to Zubia, which Zubia forwarded to Freedom and Casa residents on April 2. Until Monday, April 2, Zubia herself had not been notified about the delayed installation of the facilities, and residents had not received an explanation for the delay.
When asked for comment, Maintenance Manager Mitch Miller noted that the Dean of Students Office (DOSO) would have more information.
Director of Residential Life Andrea Robinson told the Carletonian in an email, “when [Residential Life] inquired about washers and dryers in the past they were told it was not possible. While they are collaborating on requests made through #CARLSTALKBACK, the overall discussions are being coordinated by other offices and administrators on campus.” “[It’s] the lack of communication and lack of transparency that’s frustrating,” Bobo said, referring to this situation as well as the administrative response to CTB in general.
“In terms of [administrators] taking us seriously,” said CTB co-leader and CSA President Apoorva Handigol ’19, “I think we’ve had both wins and losses”– and the effort to install washers and dryers “count[s] as a win.” Handigol said CTB will “continue to organize collectively, using our bodies to take up space.” “A lot of the power of this movement has been that we are demanding, and we’re critical, and we’re not taking no for an answer,” Handigol said, “and that’s something that social movements at Carleton have not done enough of.”
When asked for her thoughts on CTB, Zubia added, “If they feel strongly enough about what they’ve put forth, there’s a reason for it, and we should listen.” Zubia recalls past student demonstrations, such as a rally and “die-in” in front of Sayles Cafe in protest of campus incidents of microaggression, in which “that was it … [student action] never went any further than that.” She said CTB is different because it has “a plan in place, and a process.” “Carls Talk Back is not just Class of 2021 to Class of 2018 students,” Handigol said. “It’s this organization we want to make intrinsic to Carleton. The people who will constitute CTB will always be changing, and will be making the movements sustainable for years to come.”
As far as responses from faculty and staff, Zubia said, “I think I’ve heard a little bit of everything. I think I’ve heard other administrators of the college just asking why such demands were being requested, and I think it comes back to not everyone understanding every single request that was made by students. And then if you have a conversation or if you’re someone that’s able to provide a little bit more background information, they’re like, ‘oh, that makes sense.’”
On the other hand, Zubia said that some administrators “will completely understand where these demands are coming from and say ‘yeah, it’s about time that a group of students came together and just made these requests more clearly to the administration.’” Zubia added that the need for “conversations around diversity, equity and discrimination is bigger than OIIL.” When asked about areas of campus reform to focus on in the future, Handigol said they “can’t necessarily tell you what demands we’re prioritizing. We can’t even rank these [issues],” although they noted that “there’s a lot of talk about disability justice on campus” recently.
Handigol went on to mention an incident in admissions last week, when tour guide Audrey Kan ’18 “was giving a tour to prospective students and their family, and one of the students who visited had a disability and was in a wheelchair, and they ended up getting stuck in an elevator in Weitz.” “It was extremely frustrating for me as a tour guide to not be able to fully accommodate the person who was in a wheelchair because I didn’t want them to feel like they were a burden or that the college didn’t care about them, which is exactly how the whole situation seemed,” Kan said. “The incident showed me that while Carleton may care about some buildings being ‘accessible,’ they aren’t as concerned about making things easy – not impossible or extremely difficult – for people who need those accommodations. I also think that Carleton needs to work better about communicating the little accessibility that they have, such as putting clear signs around buildings that tell people where the elevators are located and alternatives for if elevators are not working or work differently than expected.”
In addition to interviewing CTB leaders, the Carletonian attended a CTB chair meeting but was not allowed to record the conversation. The topic of discussion at the meeting was the movement’s next steps. “The college institution is almost the most political place you’ll ever be in,” Bobo argues. “I feel like what we’re doing on this campus is very representative of what we want to see in the world.”