Students demand and negotiate with administration for Africana studies department
Published: Monday, November 7, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 14:11
Following yesterday's 42nd Black Solidarity Day Rally, students marched to Ballou Hall to present a list of their demands to university administrators, calling for academic equality for students of all social identities, as well as an independent Africana studies department.
Approximately 60 students occupied the office of Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney until University President Anthony Monaco, interim Provost and Senior Vice President Peggy Newell and Berger-Sweeney agreed to enter negotiations with the students.
Three student representatives deliberated for nearly two hours with the administrators, finally reaching a set of five points to which all consented, according to one of the student representatives and President of the Pan-African Alliance (PAA) Tabias Wilson, a junior.
The three administrators signed the agreement publicly in front of the occupiers following the finalization of its wording. The document includes a clause stipulating that Berger-Sweeney will ask members of the external review committee to consider releasing the entire Africana Task Force report with identifying information.
The document also guarantees that three tenure-track faculty members will be hired in the new culture and identity program, and that Africana studies will be at the core of the new program. It says that it is anticipated that initial faculty appointments will contribute to the Africana studies track and ultimately create the foundation for a major in Africana studies.
Administrators also agreed to host an open meeting for students to voice their opinions about the working group to develop the culture and identities program. Two students from and by the Pan-African Alliance will also serve as representatives to the working group.
The compromise also promised that students would receive updates on the progress made on Berger-Sweeney's five initiatives to foster diversity.
Wilson considers the document a win for students and was grateful for the administrators' willingness to engage in reasonable negotiations.
The march succeeded a rally held earlier in the day on the upper patio of the Mayer Campus Center, which was characterized by speakers' criticisms of Berger-Sweeney's proposed race, ethnicity and identity program.
Before the rally began, signs and banners were displayed representing such indignation. One banner showed a bowl of fish labeled "Latino," "Queer," "Black," and other traditionally underrepresented identities and was captioned, "The Comparative Race and Ethnicity/Identity Studies Program fishbowl — Please place all ‘others' here." Another summed up its message with the phrase "Eurocentric Curriculum."
PAA Vice President Jameelah Morris kicked off the event at noon, with a speech evoking the event's theme, "Occupy Your Mind."
"We call for all in attendance to question yourselves and all the gaps in your understanding of the world and the people around you," Morris, a junior, said. "So equip yourselves with the knowledge necessary to make change. After all, isn't knowledge power?"
PAA Secretary Brianna Atkinson offered the audience a brief history of the annual event.
"It is celebrated each year on the Monday preceding Election Day in protest of injustices and in recognition of the power and influence of the black community," Atkinson, a senior, said. "Traditionally, this is a day in which people of African descent and supporters throughout the country abstain from participation in social, political and economic affairs of the nation."
Black Solidarity Day first started at Tufts in response to the lack of an African-American society and an Africana studies department, according to Wilson.
"[An Africana studies department] is something we're still fighting for 42 years later," he said, explaining that the proposed program was an insufficient substitute for a full Africana studies department.
Wilson pointed out hypocrisy in portrayals of diversity on campus.
"According to a 2006 study by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Tufts boasts one of the largest gaps in white-black graduation rates among top schools," Wilson said. "While 92 percent of [white] students will graduate in six years, 20 percent of black Jumbos will not. This is a net decrease in graduation of 2 percent since 1998."
He believes there is no clear public evidence of improvement to these numbers.
"Receive these words as an obituary for complacency on our campus," he said.