On Saturday, May 15, Carls Talk Back flooded the meeting room of the Carleton Board of Trustees amidst their termly discussion. As part of a silent sit-in on Trustee discussions, students carried signs protesting the lack of student inclusion in decision-making about the college’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equity plan.
Carls Talk Back, an organization reestablished in 2022, represents a diverse body of students who see the IDE plan as unsatisfactory and out of touch with student needs on campus. Mariam Zewdu ’24, founder of the reestablished organization, said that students in the organization “took it upon themselves to act as we felt dismissed in the town hall meetings, CSA meetings, etc.” Zewdu emphasized the continual barriers and frustrations expressed by students who feel ignored and left out of discussions and decisions surrounding the IDE plan during its creation, even though the plan serves to respond to underrepresented students’ needs.
While students engaged in a sit-in in and around the Weitz meeting room, they protested silently, a decision Zewdu said was made to avoid the possible legal ramifications of creating a disturbance if the board were to respond with hostility. Towards the end of the Board’s meeting, Zewdu reported that an unknown board member was heard telling the Board to “say hello to the visitors on the way out.” As board members began to leave the meeting, some began to engage with the silent students, taking photos and videos of students and their signs.
“We were met with additional condescending questions/comments knowing we were doing a silent sit-in and wouldn’t respond, and even had one of our group members yelled at,” said Zewdu. “Trustees just stared at us like we were animals in a zoo.”
Wanting to assert their voices outside of the meeting, the group of protestors gathered in the Weitz atrium, chanting and engaging with a small group of Board members who stayed to hear students’ words. While Dean Carolyn Livingston left as these discussions began, Carleton and Board of Trustees President Alison Byerly lingered to speak with students.
Byerly denied hearing negative comments from the Board directed at students, saying that “if students felt kind of dismissed by the comments, it probably isn’t surprising because they weren’t engaging in conversation.”
Regarding Carls Talk Back’s concerns with the IDE plan’s shortcomings, Byerly acknowledged that the “formal, bureaucratic process of the planning mechanism didn’t really do a sufficiently strong job of incorporating a range of student voices.” While the administration created open committee meetings and met with the CSA, these efforts were unsuccessful in reaching the larger student body, leaving affected students feeling ignored and excluded.
While the administration has had difficulty effectively communicating, Byerly acknowledged the school’s responsibility in doing better outreach and inclusion of students moving forward. She suggested that the administration engage with the CSA and cultural organizations to give them more agency in the IDE planning process. “I should have been more aggressive in reaching out to different groups,” she said. Byerly also showed interest in the demonstrators’ suggestion to create a formal mechanism for students to address the Board, which would allow input from the CSA President.
Carleton CSA President Jancyn Appel ’23 spoke about the current state of the organization’s interactions with the IDE planning committee, saying that current discussions have been ineffective, with administrators being unprepared and unable to provide needed information to the CSA. “We constantly get told we don’t get student feedback. We don’t get student input… you’re in a room with 26 students right now, voluntarily giving you feedback and input,” she said.
Furthermore, the CSA has felt that their input makes no meaningful difference to planning committee decisions even though the CSA is listed within the IDE plan as a responsible party. Appel expressed frustration with the ambiguity of the plan’s discussions: “we have no resolution. We have no solutions moving forward. We have no action items. We have no actionability, reasonably speaking. How am I supposed to be a responsible party?”
Many of the CSA’s recommendations to the IDE planning committee have reflected the demands of the Ujaama Collective, who were fundamental in the push to establish an IDE plan, and both iterations of Carls Talk Back. As a mouthpiece for the student body, Appel and the rest of the Senate have pushed the administration to adopt these proposals.
“What’s great about these demands is this only bolsters the IDE plan,” said Appel. “…this is solving those gaps in that plan. [Additionally, the financial aid packaging revisions in the IDE plan are]not to be completed until July of 2025… what are we going to do in the interim?”
While current conversations in meetings between the administration and the CSA have been fraught with frustration, Appel remained optimistic of the CSA’s potential to serve as a meaningful bridge between the student body and the administration. Appel emphasized the effectiveness of the CSA: “the reason we don’t pay for laundry anymore, that’s because of CSA. We incurred that cost. That was like 40 grand to fix that. And so we take that on every year, that extra 40 grand that isn’t generated through laundry because we realize it is a huge point of equity to not have to pay for your laundry… things like that, of a student concern about not being able to afford laundry, translated into a campus cultural shift of not paying for laundry,” she said.
Moving forward, Appel hopes the administration will begin to treat the CSA as a professional voice in the IDE planning process and take the Senate’s suggestions seriously. While effective communication between the administration, the CSA and the larger student body involved with Carls Talk Back continues to be a project with much work to be done, it is clear that all parties want to move towards more effective avenues of engaging in these conversations. In order for the school to make changes to best meet student’s needs you must start somewhere, Zewdu said, “the first step is inclusion. To truly be an Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (IDE) plan, we must incorporate all the marginalized identities that were left out.”