Dear President Alison Byerly,
I am a Carleton College sophomore who has been involved in Divest Carleton since Spring Term of my freshman year. I participated in creating signs for, occupying and protesting at the Weitz during the October Board of Trustees meeting. As I’m sure you have heard many times now, Carleton’s peer institutions have already divested. With the climate crisis affecting more people with each passing day, it is frankly ridiculous that the Carleton Board of Trustees has only just now committed to voting on the issue.
I was, therefore, confused by your November 3rd, 2022 “Office of the President” publication on the Board of Trustees meeting. In a section on Divest’s occupation, you note that “the Board recognized and respected” our “passion.” While we acknowledge that some board members did ask us genuine questions, voiced their support or kindly gave suggestions, we also endured racist remarks, were shouted at and bullied. I would like to take specific note of interactions with board member Nicholas J. Puzak, who belittled a student in a filmed and publicized incident. Mr. Puzak has had similar interactions with students in the past: at a Carls Talk Back protest last spring, he screamed in students’ faces. Most people, I would venture, would not consider this respect. So yes, some board members treated us with respect. But it is ridiculous that the fact that the many who were blatantly disrespectful and condescending of student voices are being so smoothly glossed over in your letter. It is a disservice to the board members who did treat us well to group them in with members such as Mr. Puzak.
In addition, on Saturday night, we were informed by a member of campus security that we must leave the Weitz by 12:00 p.m. the next day, a time when the building is open to the public, because of a concert that was going to take place. On Sunday, we talked to a member of campus security who speculated that if we did not leave the punishments could be suspension or police intervention, depending on whether or not we showed them our OneCards. He also informed us that it was you specifically who was ordering us to leave. Now that the Board of Trustees had left, now that we were
no longer as visible, it seems our freedom of expression was no longer protected. While it was kind of you to allow us an “exemption” from the fire safety policy, our occupation was an act of free expression. Your “exemption” was an act that should be natural on a college campus: upholding student free speech. It was not a gracious gesture; it was the bare minimum.
When I was sixteen years old, I met with the CEO of my charter school system to discuss the lack of support and recognition for transgender students in the schools she had created. During this conversation, the CEO questioned my motives and intelligence. Students who had questioned this CEO’s actions in any way had had similar, if not identical, experiences in the past. After the meeting, the principal of my specific school, who was the only other person in attendance, told the CEO that they absolutely could not talk to her students in such a manner. Knowing that a person who represented me was directly defending me influenced my activism at that school, and I didn’t back down from defending my community. I have been disappointed in your inaction in defending us — your students — from similar attacks.
Divest Carleton is not always polite. But that impoliteness is born from the anger of misleading promises on divestment timelines you have made us. We were given the strong impression that the board would be voting on divestment this October, which turned out to be false. While Divest is excited that a solid commitment to voting has finally been made, students — and not just Divest — have been hurt by these damaging interactions with the board. Our trust has been broken. The vote might help fix the climate crisis, but it will not repair that trust. I am now almost twenty years old, yet I am still a young person whose classmates have been screamed at by a person three times their age for standing up for what we believe in. And you have allowed this to continue.
Class of ‘25
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