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Carls Talk Back shifts to action-focused approach

<tember 13, the Carls Talk Back student movement sent an email listing items that had been accomplished since last spring’s follow-up groups. According to the email, these seven items are: the installation of washers and dryers in Freedom House and la Casa del Sol, compensation for travel time in off-campus work-study jobs, the presence of two new staff members of color in Student Health and Counseling, the excusal of student athletes from practices that conflicted with Carl Talks during New Student Week, the informing of students of their right to miss class on religious holidays, the inclusion of mental health issues in New Student Week programming and a policy of non-penalization of dining hall workers who miss work for illness or injury.

Separately, on May 31, 2018, an all-campus email signed by the Tuesday Group and the Community, Equity and Diversity Initiative (CEDI) listed 31 actions that the college had already taken or was planning to take as a result of the findings of the follow-up groups. When asked what actions had been taken by the college specifically over the summer, Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston said in an email, “As a part of the CEDI Action Team on Inclusive and Accessible Bathrooms, the College continued planning the addition of more all-gender and ADA-accessible restrooms. Consistent signage for all-gender and ADA restrooms in public spaces will be installed this term. The convocation website has been updated… [and] Key messages were updated in 2018 New Student Week.”

When asked if more actions or working groups were planned for the fall, Livingston said, “The College will continue to address matters identified in the May 31 communication to the community. No working groups are planned.”

The emailed update from Carls Talk Back comes after follow-up groups consisting of students and various members of the college administration met throughout the spring of 2018 in response to the formation of the Carls Talk Back student protest movement and their publication of a list of demands.
Some of these accomplished goals, however, are different from the original demands. That original demands list asked the college to “Hire a queer person of color or a womxn of color as a full-time therapist” and “Cancel classes on significant religious holidays including, but not limited to, Eid and the Jewish High Holy Days.”

When asked about the fact that the first day of classes occurred on Yom Kippur, one of the Jewish High Holy Days, this year, Alexis Tolbert ’20 said, “I can’t speak on behalf of the whole movement when I say this, but I personally believe that the school is trying to make it seem like they’re giving us what we want, while also doing as little as they possibly can to satisfy us. But the disconnect there is that, until these demands are explicitly met, we aren’t satisfied.”

Tolbert is one of the original leaders of Carls Talk Back. Referring to the actions taken so far, she said, “That’s all great, but we know that these are kind of the low-hanging fruit. But with that, now that we have gotten the low-hanging fruit taken care of and we have gathered the knowledge that we need about the issues that we’re pushing for, we want to move more towards an action approach to fulfilling our demands.”

Gaby Tietyen-Mlengana ’20, another leader of Carls Talk Back, said that the group was shifting its approach. “This year we’re really trying to focus on student mobilization. So instead of relying so much on administration for doing things, we want to get stuff done ourselves,” she said. “The demands are kind of like an outline, but not everything’s super set in stone. Because, just like the campus, we’re changing. So it’s more about what the campus needs at this time, and we’re very willing to be flexible and move and evolve.”

Moving forward, Livingston said, “A key goal is that ongoing dialogue should remain a priority as well as tapping resources and channels for shared governance.”

Carls Talk Back has seen some interest from first-year students. Tietyen-Mlengana said that some first-year students attended the group’s open house earlier this term. “Like I said, we’re evolving. So, what are issues that first-years have, or things that they want to bring to the table? That’s really important to us, too.”
This action approach, Tolbert and Tietyen-Mlengana say, is not yet fully fleshed out, but it will include new forms of collective action.

“What can we do that forces administration to change a policy, instead of having to go into discussion?” Tietyen-Mlengana said. She gave an example of what such an action might look like: “If everybody signs up for Africana studies classes, then the department has to expand. Instead of going to the administration and saying, ‘expand the Africana studies department,’ instead of having to just rely on continuous conversations with the administration, waiting for things to get done, we should just get moving and do it now.”

Tolbert gave a different example of such hypothetical action. Referring to the example of class starting on Yom Kippur this year, she said, “In this action-oriented plan, an example I used was, ‘well, what if nobody goes to class on the first day?’ Obviously that wouldn’t be something that we could do, but that’s kind of what we’re moving towards.

“I think that if it is so that our Jewish students have to make that choice, what is it for us to say ‘we’re not going to go either, out of respect for them’?” Tolbert continued. “That’s the kind of culture shift that I’m looking for. I’m looking for a culture of solidarity and unity. And so I feel like even though I threw that out as an example… it’s a good example of how we can start to change the culture of the college. And I think that’s really what Carls Talk Back is about, or what we want to be about. I think, initially, it was just, ‘we need our institution to change,’ and not ‘we need to change our institution.’ That’s kind of what we’re moving towards.”

Tietyen-Mlengana and Tolbert both said that the group will be holding a meeting soon to establish more concrete action plans.

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