I would like to remind folks that just because we cohabitat in a so-called “liberal haven” does not mean that there aren’t problems that marginalized students encounter at this predominantly white institution. Once we acknowledge the inequities in our space, we then have to recognize the need to become an equitable space for marginalized students. Although most students have an awareness of this, we cannot simply stop there — we have to take the initiative to alter how Carleton works through effective and democratic practices. The question we must ask as a community is: How can we disrupt the status quo on campus and make meaningful change? The answer is through organizing social movements on campus.
The recent social movement on campus was steered into motion by the Black students of the Ujamaa Collective; some of the founding members have graduated from Carleton College in the past two years.
The Ujamaa Collective has dedicated the past two years to advocating for an equitable and comfortable environment for marginalized students on campus. In response to the murder of George Floyd, the Ujamaa Collective presented a list of demands, which centered around the protection of Black students on campus, for administration to answer. Alumni withheld their funds until action was taken to resolve the neglect of marginalized groups on campus.
Two years later, those who have been active in the process from the start have agreed that little has changed. Although change is a process that takes awhile, it remains disappointing that we will likely not see any concrete change realized until after we graduate.
We are approaching the two years since the demands were presented to the public and we finally have a final draft of the solution — the IDE plan (Inclusion, Diversity and Equity). Will it be effective?
The IDE plan is a 40-page document of objectives in absence of a comprehensive timeline—only breaking down the logistics on a year-by-year basis. So far, the aim is to complete the majority of the objectives by 2025. Some of the objectives will have a completion year of 2028/2029, which is ridiculous and actively harms and prevents students, particularly students of color, from meaningfully interacting with and influencing the IDE plan. While the IDE plan is marketed as something that serves marginalized students, it feels like another shutdown method that forces future students of marginalized backgrounds to bring attention to these problems.
Despite its recent approval, many of my peers and I disapprove of the plan.
The CSA did not approve of the initial draft of the IDE plan, and their concerns were dismissed by the administration and the Board of Trustees. While focusing on “the Black experience on campus,” the plan failed to properly support Black students while also neglecting to shed light on other marginalized groups on campus. The plan was contingent on approval by the Board of Trustees — consisting of a majority of whom are white alumni who attended Carleton many decades ago — majority-white alumni, that attended Carleton many decades ago, instead of being concerned with current students, particularly students of color, who deal with the repercussions of the plan in present time. Town halls asked for student input, but no evidence shows that student input was actually taken into consideration. Why do they pat themselves on the back for creating a plan that most students who are paying attention to do not support?
I’ve spoken to students who were originally involved in the process but ended up parting ways with it because their voices were not being heard. Those who participated in the working group had difficulty attending the meetings, as they were scheduled during their class periods. Additionally, the general Carleton student body does not have the time nor energy to dissect a 40-page plan filled with empty words like, ‘consider,’ ‘evaluate,’ ‘assess’ and ‘examine.’ The administration has not made the effort to make the plan more digestible for students. They have failed to acknowledge the student groups, particularly the Ujamaa Collective, and their grassroot efforts that got the ball rolling.
With the recent approval of the IDE plan, and its shortcomings, we should look back into the past to learn more about organizing on campus and how those movements are still relevant today.
A couple of students and I had conversations with two active members of Carls Talk Back to gain insight into the process of organizing on campus during 2018 to 2020 — before the pandemic. Sarah Rost ’19 and Alexis Tolbert ’20 were both displeased with administration and lead Carls Talk Back with their peers. After the transition to online courses and many of the founding members graduating, Carls Talk Back dissolved. In its short time, a few of their demands were accomplished.
Carls Talk Back was a student activism group that formed in 2018 in response to the invitation of a former white nationalist, Arno Michaelis, to speak at a convocation. Tolbert and Rost stated that when they met with Dean to express their concerns, the Dean disregarded them. With this, Carls Talk Back wrote a list of demands. The list of demands ranged from small, digestible goals for administration, such as installing washing and drying machines in Black and Casa Houses, to large, systemic changes, such as the creation of additional ethnic studies programs and increasing the annual fund of SHAC. Carls Talk Back gave the administration a set time to reach these goals or else students would retaliate. They were able to connect with the student body on social media and organize several protests to aggravate administration by staging sit-ins in certain offices.
Now, you might think it is a little silly to “disrupt the status quo on campus.” Perhaps you hold an individualistic attitude that the issue doesn’t concern you or that your actions will generate little change. Take a step back and grasp the reality that we, as a collective, need to cease driving over the potholes and overlooking them; we need to stop and examine the structures that create the potholes and fix them. Unfortunately, it is the task of students to examine the structure and hold hands with the administration. Inactive students, we need you to enter into, not withdraw from, the Carleton organizing atmosphere on campus. We cannot let horrific bureaucratic and undemocratic practices dictate the rules of this college. But for now, I live here, in Carleton College — the bubble I have chosen to live in from the fall of 2020 until the spring of 2024. In Northfield, the population barely touches 20,000 with 2,000 students at Carleton, so this is the community I am in — without oxygen support — and I am suffocating.
No institution is perfect, and I am aware of that, but that does not mean that we should allow marginalized students to sink into a dark, deep hole and leave them behind. Carleton students need to understand that acknowledging one’s privilege is not enough to destroy the barriers put in place; instead, being a true and actionable ally without tokenizing your marginalized peers is how we can demolish the status quo. Students can only do so much, so we have to put pressure on administration to listen to marginalized groups on campus to sew up the rough patches. It is time for our community to heal, and we can only do that if everyone is working together, side by side, to establish an equitable and comfortable community for marginalized students on campus.
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