Protests against violence erupt during big weekend

Written by Jake Bleich, Kiernan Somers, and Carli Jaff

Over the past week, prospective students and alumni alike were met with two different protests stemming from long-simmering student anger over several incidents of violence on campus. The protests came at an especially tenuous time, as the weekend hosted both the Spring Board of Trustees meeting and prospective students of the class of 2020.

On Saturday, April 16, nine Colby students staged a silent protest outside of the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center (SSWAC) moments before a private meeting held between Trustees of the College and senior staff. Members of the Women of Color Alliance (WOCA) led the protest. The protesters were demanding the expulsion of their alleged attackers. The students had taped simple phrases over their mouth, many stating, “Expel Our Attackers,” which was also displayed on a banner blocking the doors of SSWAC.

In a Facebook post titled, “Expel Our Attackers: 04/16/16,” one protester stated: “There are simply too many people on this campus who are forced to live with our attackers and rapists. Although a few trustees talked to us many more simply ignored us and pushed past…” The post continued, “…we hope this action sparks more dialogue within the administration and student body at Colby about those we privilege in instances of ‘reported’ assault and about the physical and psychological damages that come with being forced to attend the same school as those who have harmed us.”

In addition to photos of the protest, one student uploaded a short video to Facebook entitled “Video of a Few Reactions”. In this video, trustee and Colby alumna Anne Clarke Wolff ’87 can be seen talking to the protesters, saying, “[The Board of Trustees is] here from Thursday night until noon today, and we are free reign. Any student could schedule anything with any of us, and we would all jump for joy…if you want a discussion, we’re an open board. Feel free to reach out to any of us…we want to do something, but we need to be fact-based.”

In the same video, both Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students James S. Terhune and President of the College David A. Greene can be seen interacting with the protestors for a few seconds, ducking under the banner, and going inside the building. When asked for a comment, Greene said in an email, “It is accurate that I interacted with the students for a moment only. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I know that I thanked them for coming out and for addressing such an important issue.” Greene continued, “It is important that we find multiple ways to express our perspectives and concerns about campus culture and climate. A civil and respectful demonstration, as was the case here, can be a very powerful expression of ideas and beliefs.” In an interview with Terhune, he reaffirmed that, “Peaceful protest…is an important dimension of free expression.”

On April 19, more than 60 students gathered outside of the Diamond building for a march around campus. In an email sent the previous day to several students, organizers wrote that the march was “protesting many acts of physical and psychic violence on Colby’s campus. We will end on Dana Lawn where there is a Farewell concert for admitted students.”

In addition to carrying signs, many of the protesters went topless, covering their chests with images of vulgar Yik Yaks. The protesters walked throughout campus, chanting phrases such as “Stop the violence, no more silence,” until they arrived at Dana Lawn, where surprised prospective students and parents watched. After the protest concluded, many members of the protests joined the prospective students and passed out flyers.

“The march was about stemming violence on campus and advocating for increased accountability,” Brian Martinez ’18, a member of the march, said. He continued, “Many students have felt and been attacked without reliable recourse, specifically without a reporting process that students feel squares with the College’s stated values. Usually people end up posting their positive, negative, and neutral thoughts on these protests on Yik Yak. We’ll see how the campus responds.”

Over the weekend-long Trustee summit, “the Board reviewed the College’s new and planned efforts for addressing sexual assault and student conduct issues,” Greene wrote in a campus wide email. In an email to the Echo, Greene said, “With regard to sexual assault and student misconduct, the deans have initiated conversations with student groups to understand where the College’s procedures and policies fall short and how they can be improved. There are some procedures that are mandated by federal regulation and there are others where we have more flexibility.”

Greene continued, “While there is no perfect system, I want to make sure that we have an effective and trustworthy system and that we understand it will need to be dynamic to address different circumstances and changing norms and regulations. I do not anticipate major changes to our policies and procedures in the weeks remaining in this semester, but I do hope we will have improvements in place for the start of the next academic year. I am also encouraged by our search for a dean of the college, who will ultimately oversee these processes. Many of the candidates have offered creative and thoughtful ways to approach the disciplinary process and broader cultural change.”