Deans discuss Pugh Center Banner Removal

After a week of inquiry, the administration finally found the Spa’s “NO RACISTS, NO HOMOPHOBES, NO RAPISTS, NO AGEISTS…” banner in a club room and subsequently issued a work order for the banner to be put back up. The banner—which belongs to the Women of Color Alliance and Feminist Alliance—had previously been taken down from its position hanging  over the Joseph Family Spa. The banner removal remains shrouded in mystery; even Colby’s administration is unclear as to why the banner was initially removed.

Dean of the College Burrell-McRae ’94 told The Echo that it is true that in mid-August, right after the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, several members of the administration were walking through the Spa and noticed the banner. The administration started to question the context of the banner and “began to think about how we could convey the most welcoming and accessible message about our values in relation to that particular moment,” especially considering that the class of 2021 is the most diverse class that Colby has ever admitted.

Burrell recalled wondering whether the banner truly was the most effective method of reaffirming Colby’s values to the greater community. She wanted to know “how do we create a strong welcome message to new students and their families that really foregrounds our commitment to equity, inclusion and social justice? In the context of Charlottesville, would the banner make some people feel anxious about coming [to Colby]? Were the families of students going to leave Colby with angst because they did not have the context for the banner?” Most importantly, Burrell wanted to start a campus conversation; “How do we create a context for people to feel like they are invited into conversations rather than closed out from those conversations?” Similarly,Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Betty G. Sasaki wanted to make the banner a “conversation point about how [Colby] expresses our values.”

Because of their desire to start a campus-wide conversation, Burrell and Sasaki reached out to student advisors from various Pugh Center student groups to invite them to discuss how the Pugh might be “most impactful in the ways in which we convey our messages.” Burrell insisted that “there was never any intention to remove the banner without student input.” However, because it was still summer, Burrell did not receive replies from all the student groups involved in the discussion and therefore decided not to take any action regarding the banner.

It was not until right when orientation began that Burrell noticed that the banner was gone. Burrell inquired about the banner among the staff and faculty but explained to The Echo that “to be fully transparent, we do not know who took the banner down. We genuinely did not know. This added to the feeling of confusion and sketchiness that something has happened. At this juncture, [the administration] has to be able to say if and when we messed up. But we have no idea who took the banner down.”

Even though the administration does not know who removed the banner, Burrell explained that “I feel like this issue has caused a lot of confusion. I’m really sorry for that confusion… the story has grown legs and that was never intention.” In fact, Burrell is adamant that she viewed the banner as a “wonderful opportunity to engage with our students and to address what is preventing us from feeling included and valued. Somehow it got completely switched to something else.”

Burrell also stated that the issue has shown her that “there is a lack of trust” between the administration and the student body.” Sasaki reaffirmed that the administration is “committed to building trust, to build those lines of communication, to be transparent and accountable.”

Both Burrell and Sasaki take issues regarding social justice very seriously. In fact, Burrell herself is a social justice advocate; when she was a senior at Colby, she worked with several classmates to “start the work that eventually became the Pugh Center.” The Pugh Center is dear to her heart, and she recognizes that the administration needs “to work harder to have a place where people feel like they belong. Being visible, being valued, being heard, being understood—to me, these are important. For a community like ours that’s small and can have a feeling of being close knit, how can we exist so that no matter where we are we’re thinking about these issues. This is not meant to be easy. We’re willing to own that.”