Student protest continues at Hampshire

  • Hampshire College campus Courtesy photo—Hampshire College

@cmlindahl
Published: 4/20/2016 5:58:59 PM

AMHERST – In the midst of several days of civil unrest on the Hampshire College campus, several dozen students carrying mattresses temporarily blocked traffic on Bay Road Wednesday as part of a protest against the school’s handling of sexual assaults.

Classes at Hampshire were canceled Tuesday afternoon as administrators held an open forum to address student demands including divestment from fossil fuels and privately-held prison companies, more budget transparency and further support for underrepresented communities, including students of color.

After an emotionally charged meeting, classes were canceled all day Wednesday, which was announced in an email by acting President Eva Rueschmann.

“The administration has received numerous requests from students who urge us to respect their anger, pain, and frustration by creating time to reflect on the stories shared and to care for each other,” she wrote. “The community meeting was emotional and painful for many of us.”

Peer chaplains and counseling services were made available to students Wednesday, while administrators held open office hours, according to the email.

In an earlier email, Rueschmann wrote about a number of things school officials are doing to address student concerns. They include a review of the Title IX sexual discrimination process, which includes sexual assault policies and a previously planned task force on racism.

Despite Rueschmann’s assurance that administrators were listening to the concerns of students, many still felt unheard.

Dozens of students carrying  about eight mattresses beginning at 1 p.m. marched from the library, through campus, to the admissions building and to the campus police station on Bay Road in Hadley, according to protester Mia Pan, a Hampshire student.

Pan said that administrators and residential life staff are silencing victims of on-campus sexual assault and failing to hand down consequences to known perpetrators.

Campus police officers parked at either end of Bay Road to direct traffic. Hadley Police eventually were called to the scene. There was little confrontation between law enforcement and demonstrators, Pan said.

The action ended around 3 p.m. at the Red Barn on West Street in Amherst, Pan said.

Student activists interviewed Wednesday night said there are currently many different groups of students advocating for various causes.

And as other students who are predominately white demand change from administrators, the group of activists interviewed, all of whom identify as black or brown, say that their voices and the voices of other students of color are not being heard, student Xavier Torres said.

“These demands were supposed to be all-school demands,” Torres said, referring to recent demands given to administrators. “In actuality they were demands written by white students that basically stole from, exploited and erased black and brown students.”

Some of their concerns include racism on campus, including staffing issues at the Cultural Center, which is a resource for students of color and undocumented students, said Gabby Garcia, also a student.

Garcia said she and other students felt unheard by administrators at the Tuesday meeting. 

“At this point we are disillusioned with the administration,” she said. “We feel like we are asking for help and they are not responding.”

A college spokesman did not return a request for comment Wednesday night.

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.


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