UMass coalition releases demands for anti-racist campus

  • UMass Amherst campus Massachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism

Staff Writer
Published: 8/3/2020 7:08:33 PM

AMHERST — The newly formed Racial Justice Coalition at the University of Massachusetts has released a list of demands to university officials aimed at creating an anti-racist flagship campus.

The organization began with a document of demands that UMass senior Zach Steward started the day after the police killing of George Floyd — mainly as an “info dump” of relevant information, Steward said. But when Steward joined forces with fellow senior Emily Steen and junior James Cordero to form the organization, which focuses on the experiences of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) at UMass, the 19-page document developed into a map toward becoming an anti-racist campus, its co-chairs say.

The list of demands includes measures such as emergency floor meetings and community forum guidelines following hate or bias incidents; defunding UMass police and reallocating money to new and existing public safety resources; establishing a racial justice hearing board; increasing funding for academic resources for BIPOC students; increasing recruitment and hiring of BIPOC students, staff and faculty; requiring all undergraduate students to take a social justice course; and requiring anti-racism training for all students, faculty and staff.

In response, UMass issued a preliminary nine-page document addressing each demand on July 30. The document, sent to the Racial Justice Coalition by UMass Secretary of Diversity Carla Montilla, details current practices and ways that the university is looking to “respond more efficiently” to racist incidents on campus. UMass officials will meet with Steen and Steward to further discuss the demands, Montilla said.

The organization builds upon historical efforts by Black and brown students to uplift people of color at UMass, Steen said, including a list of demands sent for a similar purpose to the university administration in 1970.

“This is not a new issue, and this is something that we’re finally working to see through after 50 years,” Steen said.

Steward echoed this sentiment, stating that the university talks about inclusivity but does not take appropriate action to promote it.

“UMass itself has had 50 years in order to make its minority students — and in the particular context, its Black, Indigenous and people of color — feel safe and welcome on this campus, and they have failed at that mission,” he said.

“They continue to fail at that mission every single day the longer they refuse to hear our concerns, the longer they refuse to hear our voices,” Steward added.

Over 1,400 people had signed onto the list of demands as of Monday, including nearly 1,100 students, 53 student organizations, 214 alumni, eight faculty members and 102 family or community members connected to UMass.

In conversations with administrators, Steward said that an official raised issue with the proposed racial justice hearing board, citing confidentiality and privacy concerns. 

But Steward said the goal of the board is “simply to ensure that if there is a racist incident on campus at any time, and if the survivors of said incident want there to be some action taken, that there is some action taken.”

He added, “The administration tends to fall short when it comes to tackling laying responsibility on the people who brought harm, and when it comes to ensuring the safety and security of those of us who go here who aren’t white.”

In response to the demand for a racial justice hearing board, the university said that it has a University Hearing Board that oversees alleged code violations in partnership with the Student Legal Services Office; Center for Women and Community; Advocacy, Inclusion and Support program; and Center for Health Promotion. 

“The university would benefit from a peer led facilitation/mediation/conflict resolution/restorative justice board/group as an alternative resolution option for students,” according to the university’s statement.

The university is having “ongoing conversations” about the group’s demands to defund the police and invest in new and existing public resources, according to the university’s statement.

The Resident Assistants and Peer Mentors Union, which Cordero also co-chairs, has incorporated the Racial Justice Coalition’s demands into its ongoing bargaining process with the university, but Cordero said that the university has refused to bargain over these demands. 

University spokesman Ed Blaguszewski did not comment specifically on the bargaining, but said that the university will continue to speak with students about the demands. 

“It’s a range of important issues that we’re committed to talking with the students about short-term and long-term,” he said.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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