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The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

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History repeats itself with BIPOC demands

History+repeats+itself+with+BIPOC+demands

Students  gather outside of Raub Sellow in protest of Sept. 30. BIPOC students who spoke at the protest submitted demands to the school following the incident. (Rob Nguyen/TKS)

Students gather outside of Raub Sellow in protest of Sept. 30. BIPOC students who spoke at the protest submitted demands to the school following the incident. (Rob Nguyen/TKS)

Demands for change from BIPOC students are a constant cycle at Knox College

Demands brought forward by Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students at Knox College in February and again in September have sparked campus-wide discussions about racism and equity, but a long history of similar BIPOC student demands leave students and faculty wondering what, if anything, is different about this time.

As far back as 1969, BIPOC students have been bringing demands to Knox administrators. For the most part, these demands have been brought by Black students, usually affiliated with A.B.L.E., but MEChA has also released a set of demands and the most recent set of demands are not affiliated with any one BIPOC student group on campus. 

Still, with each new set of demands released, many of the same points are echoed over the 50-year record of demands that can be accessed through the Special Collections and Archives in the Seymour Library. Most of the demands can be put into six categories: recruitment of more Black students, hiring of more Black faculty and staff, diversity training, dialogues, reparations and more scholarships put aside specifically for BIPOC students.

One of the most frequent demands that continue to be asked of Knox today is that more Black faculty and staff be hired. When A.B.L.E. gave their original 10 demands in February of 1969, six of them asked for more Black faculty or staff to help Black students feel more comfortable on campus. A.B.L.E.’s February 2020 demands also asked for more Black faculty and staff to be brought on at Knox. 

Students called for more Black faculty and staff in May of 1992 and April of 1988. In 1988, A.B.L.E. even demanded that Knox send them a report with updates on their search every two weeks. 

Anne Ehrlich, Vice President of Student Development, said that Knox is searching for more people with diverse backgrounds to hire whenever there are job openings. She suggested that one reason that it can be hard to find BIPOC candidates for faculty positions is because doctorate programs themselves are based in white privilege. 

Ehrlich said it can also be hard to convince BIPOC individuals that they’ll enjoy working in a small Midwestern town at a small school identified as a “Predominantly White Institution” (PWI). Coming to work at Knox could prove to be an isolating experience for BIPOC candidates.

Tianna Cervantez, Executive Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, echoed Ehrlich’s point saying that it can be hard to balance the disadvantages of living in a small town and working at a PWI to make Knox look more attractive, but Knox administrators are trying nonetheless.

Cervantez empathizes with the frustration that BIPOC students are feeling. She said she’s disappointed that demands have to continue to be brought up, and she feels the need for action that students are pushing for. Cervantez wants to remind students that some things take time.

Cervantez and Ehrlich both pointed to work being done by Mike Schneider, Provost and Dean of the College, as an example of how Knox administrators are working to ensure that more Black faculty and staff are brought on.

Schneider said he is working on overhauling the hiring process to instill anti-racism within it from start to finish. He does not think there is any way that the hiring process can be fully inclusive and anti-racist with a simple integration of a few changes. 

Initial changes to the hiring process include implicit bias training for hiring committees and one member of the committee, called the diversity advocate, being there solely to ensure that diverse candidates are being considered for positions.

Still, Schneider recognizes that a truly anti-racist process will have to start when a department starts to think about hiring someone new. Right now, the process starts after a committee has already been made. 

Another common demand throughout the years has been that staff, faculty, and students take part in diversity training. The reasons for and the specifics of what those trainings entail have varied, but demands for racial diversity training started cropping up in demands given by A.B.L.E. in April of 1988. 

The students who gave the 1988 demand wanted training for advising staff. They said that they had been misadvised at times because Knox advisors didn’t have enough one-on-one interactions with students who belonged to what they described as minority groups. They suggested advisors take part in workshops and have more one-on-one interactions with students from marginalized groups.

In July of 2017, students in MEChA demanded that Knox provide formal training to Campus Safety officers to ensure that they are informed about immigration policies. They demanded that counselors and Counseling Services receive specific training so they can help students struggling with issues related to immigration. Finally, they demanded that Knox offer annual Know Your Rights workshops led by lawyers and paid for and hosted by the college.

Four out of A.B.L.E.’s six demands from February of this year asked for some sort of training. Two called for a section of new student orientation to focus on racial diversity and comprehension and for a week of each First Year Preceptorial to focus on the same. They also charged Knox with providing staff and faculty with mandatory racial diversity and comprehension training that includes an in-person element.

In response, Knox administrators—including Cervantez—worked through spring term and the summer to develop 5 workshops for faculty and staff. COVID and working around the schedules of hourly workers have made the in-person portion of the demands harder to fulfill, but Cervantez and the Executive Committee continue to work on facilitating diversity training for all Knox faculty and staff members.

Cervantez said that administrators have also been working on changes to the orientation diversity program to shift responsibility for those conversations off of students with marginalized identities. Changes were also made to the First Year Preceptorial (FP) course to ensure that all freshmen have at least one conversation about race. 

Of the 12 demands released in September, two of them called for training for students and staff. The authors of the demands asked for the students who hung Trump flags in their windows to participate in training about sexuality, gender, sexual assault and race. They also demanded that staff from the Athletics Department undergo sexual assault training centered around BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Daniella Irle, Director of Athletics, said that she has been working with Cervantez on diversity training for her department since the summer of 2019. When Knox shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Irle and her staff were able to attend a variety of diversity and inclusion webinars. 

Irle was hesitant to start any conversations with athletes during the summer months but said that many of the teams held informal meetings to talk about issues of racial justice and equity following the killing of George Floyd. 

Rain Garant, Assistant Director of Intercultural Life, began working with Cervantez, Irle, and Kim Schrader, Title IX Coordinator, to start having conversations with athletes about topics ranging from positive versus negative masculinity to issues of racism. These conversations are ongoing, and Garant hopes that he will be able to cultivate a sustained relationship with the Athletics Department so these conversations can continue throughout the school year and beyond.

Another common and related thread throughout the demands is a call for some sort of dialogue. The first of this type of demand first cropped up in 1988 when A.B.L.E. demanded that students and faculty who were accused of using derogatory language towards a student with a marginalized identity should talk to a counselor “until racial tensions are eased.

Since then, students with MEChA demanded that the president of the college hold at least one forum per term regarding issues that international students and immigrant students face. This was in an effort to establish an open dialogue between administrators and students.

In the most recent September demands, the authors of the demands called for peer educators from Intercultural Life to hold a dialogue with the students who hung the Trump flags in their windows. They also charged the Athletic Department with examining their own culture and taking steps to make the department welcoming to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students.

A final few common demands include reparations, recruitment of Black students and scholarship opportunities for BIPOC students. The 1969 demands charged Knox with recruiting and enrolling 100 Black students in the next school year and with making more scholarships available to Black students to make Knox more attractive to them. Demands in May of 1992 also called for more enrollment of BIPOC students.

The 2017 MEChA demands called on Knox to provide DACA students with any financial aid they may need should DACA be repealed. This February, A.B.L.E. demanded a $3,000 a year stipend for Black students as reparations. 

In September, BIPOC students demanded that any scholarships the students who put Trump flags in their windows had been awarded be revoked and redistributed to BIPOC students and that Knox expands the scholarship opportunities it currently has for undocumented students and DACA recipients. 

With so many similar demands coming up time and time again, it is fair to ask, what makes this time different? 

Cervantez suggests students think about new demands in the context of the progress that has been made since the last demands were made. She cited the fact that diversity training and workshops were not widely implemented at Knox until students fought for it to be in 2013 and 2014. 

Garant knows that if change is to be made, administrators, faculty, staff and students alike must make their own responses to demands being brought forward personal. He said that administrators lean towards organizational change but students want transformational change. Tension will always exist there.

Speakers at the sit-in outside of Raub-Sellew emphasized the need for students to hold each other, themselves and Knox accountable for racism on campus. 

It is likely that the demands posed to Knox administrators in September will not be the last. It is also likely the next set of demands will contain some of the same points as the demands from 50 years ago. Responsibility for holding administrators accountable for meeting demands may very well rest in the hands of students, and BIPOC students should not be fighting that fight alone.

I would like to send a special thanks to Micaela Terronez, Assistant Librarian for Special Collections, for all her help in locating the files, talking through the content in them and even tracking down some missing information.

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    Errol KaylorNov 21, 2020 at 12:20 am

    Thank you Sarah for writing this article! I had no idea that demands had been made so many times in the past, it was an eye opening read.

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