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Open letter to President Byerly and Carleton trustees

President Alison Byerly and Carleton Trustees,

As some of you may or may not know, Carls Talk Back originally began as a silent protest at the convocation speech of Arno Michaelis — a former white supremacist — in February of 2018. Later, it evolved into an all-encompassing movement that advocated for and presented several demands that aimed to “transform Carleton College into a place that is accommodating to all students who attend, regardless of identity or need.” 

Of course, the approval of the Community Plan for Inclusion, Diversity & Equity — otherwise referred to as the IDE plan — has been largely touted by the administration as the one-and-done solution to achieve such goals. In reality, many students — especially those whom the plan was meant to serve — have found both the process of its creation and the ultimate result to be insufficient, problematic, and concerning. With the support of its original founders, a coalition of students, many of whom are leaders of cultural and advocacy groups that define this campus, has chosen to officially reestablish Carls Talk Back as a response to these shortcomings. 

This was done out of the imperative need to hold our institution accountable for its failures to address our discontent; out of solidarity for the diverse identities and groups on campus that deserved to be empowered in this process, but instead found themselves cast aside; and out of a deep faith that this institution has the power and capability to do better, but not without the non-negotiable input of students in the process.  

Namely, we find the blatant contradiction inherent within the nature of the newly approved IDE plan to be deeply hurtful. On one hand, it was, and continues to be, framed as something that guarantees improvements on the wellbeing of marginalized students (particularly Black students) on campus; yet, on the other hand, it has systematically elected to ignore the voices of those very students. Our peers who were involved in working groups have testified to facing various challenges — these include being unable to attend meetings that were scheduled during class periods, as well as finding their ideas from verbal discussions being misconstrued or reworded when they were written down. Although town halls were meant to gauge student input, there was no evidence student input was actually taken into consideration. Furthermore, student accounts have criticized the tone of the town halls as being defensive rather than seeking to genuinely address student concerns and confusions. 

Most importantly, this plan is contingent on approval by the Board of Trustees, which consists mostly of alumni who attended Carleton many years ago and has limited representation of certain marginalized identities (e.g. BIPOC and disabled people). The plan does not answer to the students — namely those who initiated this process and those who will confront the repercussions of the plan. This is best demonstrated by the fact that the student-elected Carleton Student Association did not approve of the initial draft plan and found their concerns dismissed instead. 

Furthermore, we find that the plan does not sufficiently credit the students who were the originators of this work. The Ujamaa Collective’s name is not present on the actual IDE plan itself, and the original Carleton website that presented its list of demands is now deactivated. Additionally, while the IDE plan was directly in response to the Ujamaa Collective’s demands, it still stopped short of integrating its complete list. 

We refuse to accept the product of a project that was originally promised to serve and listen to us, and yet provided us with no structural mechanism to hold the institution accountable for these promises, and has proven consistently that our voices were (and continue to be) ignored. Our reestablishment of Carls Talk Back is not only a reminder of the lack of progress seen within our institution in the past few years; it is also a rejection of this willful ignorance and exclusion. 

Our list of demands — presented within the QR code displayed below — articulates many of the needs that various groups did not see met by the IDE plan. This includes a wide range of unique and non-generic demands that all require explicit naming and integration. Diverse strategies are needed for diverse groups — the statement that “the lens of Black experiences to create a plan that addresses the needs of all community members” is an unacceptable one-size-fits-all approach. While the vague language of the IDE plan does not necessarily preclude some proposed changes outlined by our list, we reassert the need to explicitly name the diverse (and marginalized) identities present on campus and their specific needs. Students cannot truly see themselves represented without unambiguously concrete language — vagueness leaves room for unnecessary uncertainty and, critically, escape from responsibility. Moreover, our demands aim to democratize decision-making power within the enforcement of the IDE plan to respect and honor the indispensable perspectives of students. 

We unapologetically demand your attention to our presence and concerns, and we await your response with urgency.

Signed, 

Carls Talk Back, re-est. 2022

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