Demands negotiated; need-sensitive admissions stands, cultural space granted
by Sarah Gamble '98
After a 28 hour sit-in and takeover of Mary Lyon Hall, about 20 students protesting administrative inaction in issues of cultural space, academic programs, and financial aid policy vacated the building Tuesday night. The students, who were suspended late Monday night, left because they felt that staying in the building was no longer an asset to their cause.
"We have decided to vacate the building ... not because we feel that our concerns have been addressed. We are leaving because there is perhaps a greater good that our administration has yet to comprehend." Fabiolla Tafolla '97 said upon leaving the building. "We are not leaving because we trust that they will honor their word. We're leaving because we are women of courage, we are women of honor, we are Mount Holyoke women and we have to continue the fight."
The students took over Mary Lyon after a rally on Monday at which they stated that their demands were not being met. About 20 students sat outside Mary Lyon overnight and through Tuesday in support of the occupying students. The students' occupation was the second of its kind in a series of week-long protests held to affect admissions policies, cultural space issues, the lack of an Asian American studies program, and the recent loss of the college chaplains.
Two students remained in the building until approximately 9 pm, after the majority left at 7:30 pm. "We stayed in for a couple of hours to make sure that our hearts had a good intention, to make sure that [leaving the building] was not for any fear of punishment," Denise Groce FP, one of the two students who remained inside, said.
Catholic Chaplain Mary Sue Callan-Farley spent an hour inside with the two remaining students before they eventually came out.
"Mary Sue Callan-Farley did in one hour what our President couldn't do in three weeks," Amy Auzenne '97 said.
The 23 students inside were issued notices of suspension, contingent on their leaving Mary Lyon by 5 pm on Monday, by Dean of Students Regina Mooney soon after they took over the building on Monday afternoon.
Assistant to the President Phil Buchanan reiterated the notice of suspension just before 11 pm on Monday evening. Buchanan also announced that a meeting planned for 9 am in Betty Shabazz on Tuesday would proceed as planned but would not include the students inside.
By 4:45 pm Wednesday all 23 students had filed appeals to have their suspensions repealed with the Dean of Students Office. Individual hearings on the suspensions will begin today.
The occupation came after a series of rallies and protests and after the students had sat in and then taken over the admissions office last Thursday evening. The students spent Thursday night there and left the office Friday after Mooney told them they would be suspended if they did not leave the building that evening. The students also left because they attained an agreement from President Joanne Creighton to continue negotiations over their demands on Saturday.
After meeting with Creighton and other senior administrators at the Eliana Ortega House for five hours on Saturday the students and administrators left without having accomplished very much.
"Their idea of negotiating is giving us what we already have," Simon Ruchti '97, one of the student negotiators, said later.
The students called a press conference in front of the College gates at 2:00 pm on Monday and said they had made no headway and felt they had been lied to by the administration since they thought negotiations had made little progress on Saturday.
A revised list of demands released by the students on Monday consisted of five points. The demands included "student compromises." The first was to "postpone the decision to implement need-sensitive admissions for five to ten percent of applicants for one year, pending further education and understanding by the whole Mount Holyoke community." The demand addresses the recommended move towards a need-sensitive admissions policy in the Educational Priorities Committee Plan for 2003.
Currently, the College does not take applicants' financial standing into consideration when considering prospectives for admission. With need-sensitive, Admissions would consider financial need for the bottom five to ten percent of the applicant pool.
Administration response to demands
The 9 am meeting on Tuesday in betty Shabazz house proceeded as planned with Creighton, the College's senior staff members, Student Government President-elect Avery Oullette '98, student members of the Council on Student Affairs, the SGA Appointing Committee and student representatives to the Educational Priorities Committee Elizabeth O'Donoghue '97 and Jessica Rouse '99. The meeting lasted all day, producing further concessions by the administration to the student demands.
In a letter to the community read by Oullette at a campus announcement in the amphitheater at 4 pm on Tuesday, the President said the move towards need-sensitive admissions is necessary "in order to achieve financial equilibrium." The President also said the College will work on increasing student diversity as suggested in the Plan for 2003, hold more informational forums and discussions, and will ask the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid to monitor the implementation of the need-sensitive policy and report to the community. The Committee has one student member who is appointed by faculty members of the Committee and the SGA Appointing Committee.
The students also demanded "one separate space each, not including dining rooms, Blanchard Campus Center, or basement rooms, to the lesbian/bisexual/transgendered community and the Asian/Asian American community by the end of spring 1998."
In her letter Creighton also stated that the College had changed its position on cultural space. She announced a commitment to allocate space to both of the groups by the fall of 1998 which will "not be in Blanchard or in any basement space or basement rooms." There was no mention of dining hall space in the administration's response, although Director of Dining Services Dale Hennessey said she is not sure whether or not dining hall space would be available as cultural space by the fall of 1998.
The use of dining hall space, as well as most space on campus, is currently under review by outside consultant The Hillier Group in conjunction with other College committees. A recent survey on space distributed randomly to students showed that students might accept a move to four or five dining halls if it meant more food options.
The administration's original answer to the cultural space demand was a commitment to making a decision for or against cultural space by the end of the semester.
The third demand was for the creation of an Asian American studies program in conjunction with the Five Colleges and the hiring of one tenure-track Asian American professor within such a program by the end of spring 1998.
The administrative response as of Tuesday was "The Dean of Faculty and Provost's goal is to have an Asian American studies program in place by the fall of 1998. Mount Holyoke will create this program and will appoint faculty to teach courses that serve the program." No specific mention was made of hiring a tenure-track Asian American professor and students questioned this in the amphitheater meeting on Tuesday.
Dean of Faculty and Provost Peter Berek said the professors in the program would be determined through the planning of the program which will occur next year. He said he would like as much student input as possible and thought that students would have more than one vote in the formulation of the program.
According to Berek, the faculty has the final say over curriculum decisions, including whether or not an Asian American studies program will be created and how it will look upon creation.
"I think there are many more faculty who have for a long time seen that as a desirable goal - to create an Asian/Asian American studies program," Berek said.
"It's something that has to go through the College's normal process of approving curriculum and hiring," he said.
As their fourth demand, students asked that the Assistant Dean of Students position be maintained as it current exists, "as the liaison to the ALANA groups, according to the description in the Student Handbook."
Creighton responded that the position will be maintained as it exists, split into two separate half-time positions, one as an ALANA liaison and one a coordinator of campus disability services.
Finally, the students demanded that the administration "ensure that the interim Dean of the Chapel has the authority and the funds in the Eliot House budget for the hiring of four permanent chaplains of varied backgrounds, and that the search committee to find these chaplains will be made up of at least 25 percent students."
In her letter, Creighton said the Eliot House budget will be used to provide "chaplains of varied background who can serve more of the needs of this spiritually diverse community than have been met in the past." Creighton set a goal of having chaplains in place to serve in the fall of 1997. According to Creighton's letter, there will also be a search committee for the permanent Dean of the Chapel, who will be "primarily a chaplain, not solely an administrator." A specific number of chaplains was not mentioned.
For a complete timeline of the events leading up to Monday's takeover, see box.
Sunday, April 13: Several students went to President Joanne Creighton's house at approximately 9:00 pm to request a meeting with her concerning the chaplaincy decision and a list of demands they had drafted. The result was a scheduled appointment for 10:00 am Monday morning.
Monday April 14: Creighton met with "concerned students" to discuss anxieties over issues such as cultural space, need-sensitive, the chaplaincy, etc. The result of the meeting was the scheduling of another meeting for the next day.
Tuesday, April 15: At 1:20 pm, a walkout and rally were held on the steps of Blanchard to discuss that day's meeting between student negotiators (SungWon Park '98, Amanda Sapir '99, Fabiolla Tafolla '97, Simon Ruchti '97 and Laura Betts '98) and members of the administration, including Creighton, in which the negotiators relayed to the audience that the recording of the meeting had been a prolonged point of disagreement. Many students spoke to the others who were congregated on the green, including a prospective student who burned the printout of the administration's responses in a trash can. After the rally, the remaining students marched, chanting, through Mary Lyon, the library and Dwight. Later that night, students convened at the back lawn of Pearsons (facing Creighton's house) and held candles and sung until approximately 11 pm.
Thursday, April 17: A meeting that was scheduled for 10:00 am with student negotiators and members of the administration never came into fruition. Instead, a letter was delivered to students outside the Eliana Ortega Cultural Center (where the meeting was supposed to be held) by Ombudsperson Rochelle Calhoun which stated that Creighton was no longer willing to negotiate with students who had "misrepresented" information from the previous meeting (at the rally on Tuesday). Later that afternoon, approximately 60 students went to Creighton's office hours and spoke with her in the hallway outside of her office. At approximately 4:00 pm, students initiated a sit-in in the Newhall Center (admissions), which, at approximately 11:30 pm became a takeover. There were approximately 100s students in the building.
Friday, April 18: At 3:00 pm Dean of Students Regina Mooney issued a letter to the students occupying the Newhall Center that they were risking suspension and were considered to be trespassing. Sixteen students remained in the building, while the rest protested outside. Three student negotiators met with Peter Berek, Joanne Creighton and Lisa Werkmeister Rozas (assistant dean of students) and agreed to vacate the building on the condition that negotiations would begin the next day.
Saturday, April 19: There was a 2:00 pm meeting at Zowie Banteah Cultural. Students negotiators and members of the senior staff met and discussed four of the six remaining demands for four and a half hours. The meeting resulted in the scheduling of another meeting during the week.
Monday April 21: Students took over Mary Lyon Hall after a rally at the College gates where they said they had been lied to and "dishonored" by the administration. Soon thereafter, the students in the building were informed that if they did not leave by 5:00 pm, they would be suspended. Twenty-three students stayed the night in Mary Lyon.
Tuesday, April 22: After a 4:00 pm meeting at the amphitheater at which announcements were made regarding the demands (see related article) all students but Denise Groce FP and Tamar Stratyevskaya '99 left Mary Lyon, who left an hour and a half after the others.
Compiled by Rebecca Mazur '00