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The Carletonian

Carls Talk Back Holds Town Hall to Solicit Input From Community

<turday, May 12, members of the student protest movement Carls Talk Back held a town hall meeting in the Weitz Center. Riley Irish ’19 and Zhi You Koh ’19 facilitated the discussion. Student organizers fielded questions, asked for input and feedback and shared a drafted statement of purpose and the proposed future structure of the organization. They then shared what discussions and decisions had taken place in the follow-up groups convened by the Dean of Students Office.

According to its Facebook event page, the meeting was “intentionally scheduled during the trustees meeting in the Weitz so that they know we’re here and have to interact with us.”
According to Bethany Bobo ’20, one of the original founders of Carls Talk Back, administrators have taken action on three of the original demands from the list written by Carls Talk Back organizers in February. These are the demands for student workers in the CCCE to be compensated for their travel time, for student workers for Bon Appétit to be allowed to take off work when sick without penalization if they cannot find a shift cover and for washers and dryers to be installed in Freedom House and la Casa del Sol. Bobo specified that the first two are finished, while the washers and dryers are not.

“The main thing with that is just the communication about it,” said Bobo. “Even just with the residents of the houses; we didn’t get any communication saying they were going to come into the house and do work in the basement. That was midterm break, and so it’s been almost two weeks now and the washers and dryers still aren’t there. So, I think there hasn’t been much communication around those successes on the end of the administration, and it’s hard for us to communicate when, yes, we know things are getting done, but we don’t really know how they’re getting done.”
Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston also brought up these three original demands when asked what the administration was currently working on.

“Some of the concerns such as transportation to and from student employment sites, washers and dryers in two cultural houses, and clarifying work expectations for students in dining are being worked on,” she said over email.
Apoorva Handigol ’19, another founder of Carls Talk Back and CSA President, said that the movement did not originally want to prioritize any demands over others, but has since shifted its thinking.
“We didn’t want to prioritize different demands, because how does that make sense, how can we say that some are more important than others?” Handigol said. “But through these groups, we’ve really realized how we definitely have to be more strategic in what we ask for when. Our demands committee has been re-structuring the demands in order of priority based on feasibility.”

At the town hall meeting, student representatives from each of the five follow-up groups convened by the Dean of Students Office gave updates from their initial meeting. These groups are working conditions, academic curriculum and planning, communications, infrastructure and accessibility, and accountability and reporting. Students shared what demands had been rejected by the administration, as well as what other ideas emerged from the meetings.
Students shared successes, such as the three demands that the administration has conceded to, and differences of opinion. Student representatives to the academic curriculum and planning group shared frustration that administrators had rejected the idea of modifying the academic calendar to cancel classes on religious holidays such as Eid and the Jewish High Holy Days.

Livingston said that the follow-up groups have been effective so far.

When asked what would take place over the summer, Livingston said, “[In] Fall 2017, an inclusive and accessible bathrooms working group was charged by the Tuesday Group to implement recommendations from the Community, Equity, and Diversity initiative (CEDI). This group will continue their work this summer and into next academic school year.”

Handigol is not in any of the five follow-up groups, but has been meeting with administrators throughout the term.
“I think one thing is making sure that we still have the ball in our court while we’re working on this movement,” they said. “We are becoming like the reactionary side rather than the proactive side. I think it’s important to see how we can make sure that we’re still the group that’s calling the shots and not the people only responding to whatever administration is handing to us.”

Handigol reflected on the nature of dialogue between Carls Talk Back organizers and members of the administration.
“Personally, in meetings that I’ve had with the administration, sometimes they make me forget how important specific demands are or how I’ve been personally hurt by things that we are pushing for,” they said. “It’s hard, because whenever we’re in the large group of students with other Carls Talk Back students and we’re organizing toward that next demonstration, that next protest, that next meeting, it’s easy to feel really empowered by others. But once you’re doing the hard work with administration, it can get really tiring. So I think being able to figure out how we can still collectively be the movement initiating change, rather than just reacting to administration.”

Handigol is also the second CSA President to serve as a liaison to the Board of Trustees, sitting on the Board’s student life committee, the first having been Walter Paul ’18. The liaison position is a two-year pilot program and differs from the Carls Talk Back demand for a student with voting member status on the Board, because the CSA President does not vote in Board meetings. Handigol clarified, “Even though it’s a two-year pilot, it’s basically permanent; everyone is happy with this choice. But I’ll be trying to figure out how I can make this an actual form of representation, rather than just administration being able to say, ‘Oh, well, we have representation here and here and here.’”

The student movement is currently reorganizing its structure. In the proposed plan, the demands and research committee, currently one of five internal committees of Carls Talk Back organizers, will cease to exist, as demands will be voted on at larger meetings. Four committees will remain in addition to a Steering Committee, which will be composed of, among others, the chairs of those four committees. Carls Talk Back will hold elections some time before the end of spring term.

Looking ahead, Livingston said, “The next step is to create a document that will be sent to the Carleton community highlighting efforts and detailing next steps. This document will be distributed the end of this term/beginning of the summer.”

“We, as the leadership that we have right now, are solidifying what our leadership would look like and how that structure works to be the most democratic and the most logistically sound,” Bobo said. “And so we’re still kind of working out the kinks, and obviously I don’t think we’re going to be perfect and we’ll probably have to change within a year. But just making it something that is very logistically sound and a structure that can last, so that next year, when we have people graduate, we can have those positions filled in a way that’s going to keep it moving.”

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