Prof asks faculty to form 'perimeter of protection' at protest

A department chair at Westfield State University asked colleagues to help promulgate a list of social justice demands in advance of a student walkout last week.

Laura Baker, the chair of the Department of Education, sent the list of demands to four professors “who work with groups of students who should have the demands,” asking them to forward the demands to those students “if you think it is appropriate.”

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According to MassLive, hundreds of students and faculty members vacated classes for about an hour last week to protest reports of racist graffiti and the assault of a minority student, during which the Education Department delivered its list of demands.

In her email prior to the rally, Baker fretted that “the student voice is missing” from the ultimatum, and asked the other professors to help her gather student input.

“Our demands are firmly planted in the commitments that we will not tolerate the behavior of those who engage in racist and violent behavior and that the elements of our institutional culture will not perpetuate the cycle of oppression for any marginalized and targeted groups,” she wrote.

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The list begins by declaring that “there must be a mandate that all faculty and staff are educated (many are mis-educated) about whiteness, white supremacy and that conversations must occur in all orientations, classes, meetings, dorms not just now in the ‘crisis,’ but as structural long-term policy. Readings must be disseminated.”

In goes on to ask that the university “name the oppressions and hate actions” directly, instead of referring to them vaguely as “biases.”

The list also urges the administration to stop “acting as if a ‘few bad eggs’ are the problem,” claiming that “this ignores the reality” that “racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, [and] anti-Semitism are the history of this country and are a part of WSU.”

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Despite this, Baker's ultimatum subsequently calls for an “action plan for paying for vandalism” because “when campus living spaces are vandalized with hate speech, and the perpetrators are not found and held responsible, it is unjust to require that the students who pay to call these spaces home be subjected to paying the costs associated with cleaning up after such assaults.”

Baker also demands that all students be required to take courses that “specifically and explicitly address white supremacy, racism, misogyny, homophobia, [and] anti-Semitism,” and that a plan be developed to keep people of color safe on campus by implementing a system in which “a person need only to make one call and a designated safe person meets and walks the caller anywhere on campus.”

After noting that “this is not a full list of all the demands that must be made”—she alluded to the need to pressure the administration to “negotiate a contract” with the Massachusetts State College Association faculty union—Baker went on to outline the plan for the “WALK OUT.”

“Faculty and staff are to create a perimeter of protection,” she began, elaborating that they should “take pictures of any counter-protesters” because “we demand those people have a meeting with the President for an educational plan to be determined by a newly formed Committee.”

Baker then made clear that the protest organizers would not brook any dissenting opinions during the protest, saying there would be “a group at the microphone” to evaluate anyone who wishes to speak.

“This WALK OUT is not a debate about the existence of these oppressions or the need for this work,” the email concluded. “This is about changing the culture of this university.”

In a statement following the protest, WSU released a statement saying that “the university administration is equally dispirited and disheartened by these acts and is working aggressively both to apprehend those responsible and to create a more civilized and tolerant campus.”

The statement also included a set of initiatives to fight back against the recent instances of racism, including a $5,000 reward for information about the perpetrators of the assault against the minority student.

“We are not alone at Westfield State, as college and university campuses across the nation are dealing with similar acts, yet that in no way minimizes our commitment to create a better climate on campus over the coming months and years,” the statement concludes, promising that “we will review the demands made at the rally by faculty, staff, and students and will seek to work with them in meeting them, where possible.”

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“The lack of dialogue with students who disagree with them shows they are not open to a debate of ideas or the inclusion of all students,” WSU student Matthew Sykes told Campus Reform.

“I’m conservative and have to consistently bite my tongue in fear of being failed for disagreeing,” he claimed, describing the climate on campus as being “toxic to those with different views.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @kassydillon