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Skidmore Students Make Demands For Racial Justice

Students march at Skidmore College
Lucas Willard
Students march at Skidmore College

Students at Skidmore College rallied for racial justice on the first day of classes Monday.

Monday night’s rally in Saratoga Springs was organized by the student organization Pass the Mic. Adia Cullors, one of the demonstration’s organizers, spoke into a megaphone.

“It’s unfair and shameful that again and again we have to take time away from our education to pressure Skidmore administrators to treat us with respect,” said Cullors.

Pass the Mic prepared a list of 19 demands to college administrators.

The first on the list is to create a zero-tolerance policy toward racism, the last a dialogue with new college president Marc Conner.

The protesting students walked the short distance down North Broadway to Conner’s residence, where the demands were read aloud.

Then, Black students took turns sharing stories of racism they’ve experienced on campus and in the City of Saratoga Springs. Stories ranged from stares and looks on the campus that is 88 percent white, to being called the N-word.

First-year student Olivia Berenson said she was afraid of coming to the private liberal arts college after an incident in the city just weeks earlier.

“Seeing what happened in July made me kind of frightened to come to a school that I knew was mostly white, but it made me frightened to see that my peers and I might not be treated – well, definitely – wouldn’t be treated the same way,” said Berenson.

On July 30th, a Back the Blue pro-police rally was held in Saratoga Springs. A crowd of mostly white demonstrators marched to Congress Park, where they were met with Black Lives Matter counter-protesters. The groups traded insults and threats and were kept apart by mounted police.

After the rally, several Black Lives Matter protesters continued their demonstration on Broadway, before police in riot gear used pepper bullets against the line of mostly young residents. The city has defended its actions that night.

One student claimed a man in a “Make America Great Again” hat confronted her in a coffee shop, yelling “USA, USA!”

The list of demands by Pass the Mic includes the firing of faculty members who attended the Back the Blue rally.

Four days later, Conner, sworn in as Skidmore’s eighth president earlier in July, pledged to involve Skidmore students to talk through the events with city officials.

Saratoga Springs resident and Skidmore student Julian Tushabe, who attended the July 30th protest, was invited.

“I was the only Black student there. We’re talking about the things Black students want to see changed at our school. But we don’t have Black voices being heard,” said Tushabe.

Tushabe said he feels he’s been asked multiple times to attend the meetings with city officials because he’s Black. An African immigrant, Tushabe said he’s been pulled over and questioned by city police his entire life – the first time at age 12.   

President Conner was not made available for an interview with WAMC, but a statement delivered by college spokeswoman Sara Miga said Conner has “expressed his and the College’s support for the right of students to protest peacefully.” Miga said the college would address students’ concerns through “ongoing community dialogue.”

On Sunday, in a message to students in the virtual convocation for the Class of 2024, President Conner said the “twin events” of the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody “have brought into relief the stark inequities in America and the outcry for anti-racism efforts and racial justice.”

“This is why I announced on my first day, in my very first message the Presidential Initiative for Racial Justice at Skidmore. On September 1st, I will share more details on that plan after a summer spent in dialogue with many of our constituencies on these issues and how best to address them at Skidmore.”

The list of demands by Pass the Mic is posted below:

  1. Skidmore must institute a zero-tolerance policy toward racism among faculty, staff, students and administrators.
  2. Students must be given full access to all Campus Safety officers’ background records (including police complaints of those who are formerly officers), and an accessible database of all complaints against current and previous Skidmore officers must be created and made public.
  3. The immediate firing of Mark Vinci, David Peterson, and Andrea Peterson.
  4. Skidmore must institute mandatory and reoccurring anti-racist training for all professors and students.
  5. Skidmore must make all of its investments public.
  6. Skidmore must make all of its donations public.
  7. Skidmore must reject all donations from the Koch brothers and denounce the racist and oppressive nature of the Charles Koch Foundation and its ties.
  8. Skidmore must allocate a significant number of resources and funds back into the underserved Capital Region communities including expanding faculty and student volunteering and financial donations.
  9. Skidmore must create a comprehensive safety plan for all BIPOC students in Saratoga, especially students living and quarantining and living off campus.
  10. Skidmore must acknowledge that it is built on and benefits from the stolen land of the Haudenosaunee, Mohawk, and Mohican people.
  11. 11. Skidmore must also make a comprehensive plan to pay reparations through labor and finances to these indigenous nations.
  12. Skidmore must pledge to ban all police presence from campus including as responses to disputes and for large-scale public events.
  13. Skidmore must allocate increased funds and institutional support for the Black Studies department and for the creation of other departments and courses focused on the study of African history and the African diaspora.
  14. Skidmore must immediately fill the positions of the OSDP office & Social Justice Center.
  15. Skidmore must make institutional practices more transparent and accessible to students.
  16. Skidmore must make all bias reports filed against professors/faculty public and accessible while concealing the identity of the person who filed.
  17. Skidmore must ask for and receive permission from BIPOC students before using their image in any promotional materials.
  18. Skidmore must provide safe on-campus housing at no additional charge to students living with/near their sexual abusers.  
  19. President Conner must hold an address/dialogue that is open and accessible to the entire student body, during which all students have the ability to speak and ask questions without limitation.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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