Financial aid, cultural space, chaplaincy among issues raised
About 300 students walked out of class to gather at the steps of Blanchard Tuesday to protest a lack of action within the administration. The rally stemmed from a list of demands compiled by a group of "concerned students" and presented to President Joanne Creighton and other members of the administration earlier in the day. According to Simon Ruchti '97, the demands were met with either negative or ambiguous responses.
According to an Office of Communications publication distributed to student mailboxes Wednesday, administration responses to the demands for maintaining the Assistant Dean of Students position, the Frances Perkins office and the Eliot House budget were that there were "no plans for changes." According to the publication, the administration also agreed to the students' demand to strike the reference to SAT scores from the Plan for 2003.
At the Wednesday afternoon rally, Sungwon Park '98 read each demand to the crowd. Among them were maintaining a need-blind admissions policy, and allocating cultural space for Asian and Asian American students and lesbian/bisexual/transgendered students by the end of the 1996-97 school year; creating an Asian/Asian American Studies program, hiring at least one tenure track Asian/Asian American professor, and hiring four permanent chaplains of varied backgrounds by fall 1997.
The student negotiators organized on the previous Friday and Saturday, and attempted to meet with Creighton on Sunday evening. A mass e-mail sent from Betsey Brada '97 claimed that the student committee went "to President Creighton's house, at which point they [were] rudely treated by her husband, who [spoke] for her." The committee suggested to Creighton that "it would be wise to meet with them," and a meeting was set for Monday morning.
The students on the negotiating coalition are Ruchti, Park, Laura Betts '99, Amanda Sapir '99, Chavvah Penner '97 and Miki Yamada '00. Fabiola Tafolla '97 opened the rally at 1:15 pm on Tuesday and said the protest had not been planned to interrupt Preview. Prospective students attended a picnic on the green scheduled to end at 1 pm.
"We're here because we love Mount Holyoke. We're doing this to make this a better place for you," Tafolla said to those Preview students still gathered on the green. "We will not let the traditions of Mount Holyoke die down. We are angry and we walked out of our classes because we think that these things are important," she said.
Ruchti, who voiced her anger at what she called avoidance tactics of the administration, said "Joanne applauded our interest in our education," adding that the President requested raise for the fact that "we've stayed single sex." The administration's responses to the student demands, which had been tape-recorded and listed on paper, were burned with the help of a prospective student in front of the crowd.
"Creighton doesn't understand the principles upon which Mount Holyoke was founded," Ruchti said.
The administration of the College expressed dissatisfaction with the representation of their answers at the Tuesday rally.
"I think they presented a distorted picture of the things we had said to them" Dean of the Faculty Peter Berek said later.
Student negotiators said they argued with administrators for over 25 minutes to be able to tape record the meeting. The tape-recording was finally agreed to "on the condition that we wouldn't use it," Ruchti said at the rally.
On Wednesday Assistant to the President Phil Buchanan said the administration had initially objected to the tape recording but that now it had "no objection to the release of a full, accurate, unedited transcript of the discussion."
The Office of Communications released a list of student demands and administrative responses on Wednesday, and distributed them in student mailboxes.
"I agree with the demands that we've presented," Student Government President-elect Avery Oullette '98 said in a telephone interview. She added that "I really want to see more negotiating between the administration and the student negotiating team before any extreme action is taken."
Amy Auzenne '97 spoke at the rally. "This fight is bigger than the people who are playing the parts. We need to be honorable," she said. "We have a legitimate cause. The way that our chaplains have been treated is dishonorable."
After several more speakers, including students from the University of Massachusetts, expressed their anger towards the administration, Ruchti led students on a march throughout Mary Lyon Hall and the library. About 150 students marched past Creighton and several deans' offices, and then went on to move through the library.
The rally resumed at 6:30 pm on the steps of Blanchard displacing the forum on racism planned for 7:30 pm. The protesters marched to Creighton's house and held a candlelight vigil on the front lawn. ABC affiliate WGGB TV 40 reported on the event on their 11:00 pm newscast. It was also announced that the next meeting between the concerned students and administrators would take place today at 10 am in the Eliana Ortega House. A rally in support of the negotiators will take place simultaneously.
The student protesters are in the process of sending a letter to the Board of Trustees asking that "the trustees reevaluate [Creighton's] position," Betts said.
Student reaction to the rally was mixed. At an informal discussion held in the South Rockefeller dining hall on Wednesday night, several students voiced their disagreement with the protests. One student commented on the lack of attendance at the EPC forums earlier this year, which discussed the move from need-blind to need-sensitive admissions. "There were forums and informational sessions taking place all year - these protesters should have been attending those," she said.
"I think it's too little, too late," another student said.
"I was one of the students who was at the forums, and who took the class on the financial structure of the College over J-term. I think it's clear students all recognize forums have not been productive places to voice our opinions. Students have seen that when we go to forums, what we say at forums doesn't even have the credibility for someone to take minutes," Sapir said in an interview.
Park said "All we want is to have our voice heard and for the administration to take us seriously. The point of our group is not to separate ourselves from the student body. We work for students. We're concerned students."
"I think the group of people who are working towards this are in complete solidarity. We're not speaking for the entire campus," Betts said of the Thursday morning meeting. "Our goal is to get our demands met."
Administration response to student demands
At a meeting on Tuesday, College administrators gave preliminary responses to a list of student demands presented by Laura Betts '99, Sung Park '98, Chavvah Penner '97, Simon Ruchti '97, Amanda Sapir '99, and Miki Yamada '00. The administration group responding included President Joanne Creighton, Dean of the College John Rapoport, Provost Peter Berek, Chief Financial Officer Mary Jo Maydew, Ombudsperson Rochelle Calhoun, and Interim Dean of the Chapel John Grayson. Below is the summary of the student demands and administration responses.
Student demand #1: Keep need blind admissions for all students, including FPs and international students.
Administration response to #1: The College will continue to be need blind for 90 to 95 percent of all admissions decisions. The College has never been need blind for FPs and international students. The College will continue to fully fund all admitted students' demonstrated financial need and continue for all students the aid policy under which they were admitted.
Student demand #2: Remove any mention of SATs or any other standardized test scores in the EPC document.
Administration response to #2: The EPC has decided to remove this language from the document.
Student demand #3: Allocate one house each for the Asian/Asian American and Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender community by the end of the 1996-97 year.
Administration response to #3: There is an ongoing process addressing requests for cultural space, led by ombudsperson Rochelle Calhoun, who will facilitate campus discussions. In the fall, the results of these meetings will be combined with the recommendations of a group studying the larger issue of space use on campus. Decisions about cultural space will not be made prior to that time.
Student demand #4: Create an Asian American studies program and hire at least one tenure track Asian/Asian American professor within this program.
Administration response to #4: Faculty and dean are working to develop more coursework in Asian American studies and a structure within which an Asian American studies program may evolve, perhaps using Five College as well as Mount Holyoke resources. Two new faculty with an interest in Asian American studies began teaching at Mount Holyoke in September 1996, and a tenure track faculty position to enhance attention tot he Asian American experience will be actively discussed in next year's review of the curriculum and of faculty appointments.
Student demand #5: Maintain the assistant dean of studies position as a liaison for ALANA students.
Administration response to #5: The assistant dean of studies position will be maintained. The specific duties of that position are under discussion. Dean Rapoport has asked for a conversation with ALANA students about how to best meet their needs.
Student demand #6: Hire four permanent chaplains of varied background, in place by fall 1997, that are able to meet the needs of a spiritually diverse community and are selected by a search committee with at least 25 percent of the students making up the committee.
Administration response to #6: Interim dean of the chapel John Grayson has been appointed and has the responsibility to structure the chapel staff to meet student needs. It is expected that student representatives will be part of the search committee for a permanent dean of the chapel and will participate in planning religious and spiritual life at the College.
Student demand #7: No more financial cuts to Eliot House.
Administration response to #7: There are no plans for cuts in the Eliot House budget.
Student demand #8: Maintain the Frances Perkins office as it currently exists.
Administration response to #8: There were no plans to change the Frances Perkins office.
Student demand #9: Guarantee that a significant amount of money raised in the upcoming capital campaign will go to the arts.
Administration response to #9: The arts have been identified as a priority in the Plan for Mount Holyoke 2003, and studies of facilities improvements for art and music are underway. Goals for the upcoming comprehensive have not yet been determined. They will be set by the trustees in fall 1997.
Student demand #10: No more financial or staffing cuts to the arts program.
Administration response to #10: No additional financial or staff cuts are intended for the arts program.
Student demand #11: Reinstate the credit card payment option for tuition and general bills.
Administration response to #11: Doing this would cost the College $100,000 annually in bank servicing fees, and the College is prohibited by law from charging transaction charges that might have helped it recoup the cost.