By Samuel Butterfass – [email protected]
After a six-second video of Johnnies chanting “build that wall” on the Link surfaced on Facebook, a group of students brought the schools’ sense of community into question.
On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the same day that dual protests in response to the video took place at the Gorecki and Sexton bus stops, the Cultural Affairs Board (CAB) released a list of demands via email to the institutions and the student body. These demands aimed to “work toward inclusivity.”
The demands include steps to improve inclusivity at CSB/SJU through holding students accountable for hate speech, improving faculty and staff diversity, revisiting the common curriculum and including diversity training for every professor, increasing funding for Intercultural and International Student Services (IISS) and other cultural groups on campus as well as releasing annual progress reports on these initiatives.
This is not a complete list and the demands continue to be modified by CAB as more students give input.
The demands required a response both President Mary Hinton and Michael Hemesath by Friday, Feb. 10.
Hinton formally responded on Friday, and Hemesath formally responded on Monday, Feb. 13.
Before formally responding to the CAB letter, Hemesath wrote an opinion piece for The Record and published a blog post both relating to the protests.
Hemesath’s opinion piece said he doesn’t believe it’s appropriate for institutions to take a stance on political issues.
Hinton’s letter promised to employ the Benedictine values of
Listening and Seeking Counsel and to gather data for “strategic meetings with students, faculty and staff” regarding the issues raised by the CAB.
On the Sunday, Feb. 12 meeting of the CAB, Hinton’s letter was read aloud to members and supporters in the Murray Hall conference room. At that point, Hemesath had not yet responded.
Students started the meeting by reflecting on the week’s events.
“At first I was still angry,” said Brenda Montes, CSB senior and student manager for IISS. “I’m feeling a little calmer now, but still very persistent.”
“I came here in 2013 and my very first year there was a protest on this campus and I stood in that protest. My last year here…there’s, again, another protest,” said Kenea Andrews, CSB senior. “The students are asking for the same thing.”
The 2013 protests were in response to end-of-year party themes that enforced negative racial stereotypes.
Some students brought up the idea of increasing open dialogue with students of opposing views.
“We can’t genuinely have an open dialogue with people that agree with each other,” said Sydney Robinson, CSB sophomore and one of the main organizers of the Feb. 7 protests. “Change is not going to happen if it’s the same people.”
Several students at the CAB meeting expressed discouragement and felt that their efforts weren’t necessarily having an effect on the campus climate and inclusivity goals.
SJU sophomore Jaheer Jones brought up the idea that years ago it was legal to lynch somebody with black skin like his, but that people generations before them struggled to change that for the sake of their kids and grandchildren.
“You have to keep in mind that you’re doing it for someone else,” Jones said.
CSB/SJU are not the only Minnesota private colleges grappling with issues of politically charged speech.
The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, also of the Benedictine tradition, experienced an incident similar to the one on the Link.
At a student sit-in responding to President Trump’s executive order on immigration, a student with an opposing perspective put up a sign reading “build that wall.”
Steve Lyons, their Vice President of Student Affairs, released a statement responding to the event.
The statement shared sentiments of the one released Feb. 6 by Fr. Doug Mullin, Vice President of Student activities at SJU.
“Our Benedictine values instruct us to listen, to be open to views and ideas that are different from our own, and to treat others with human kindness and dignity,” Lyons said. “When we fall short of this through actions or words, then hurt, anger and feelings of being unsafe occur. This is not who we are. And it is contrary to what a college like ours aspires to.”
This suggests that the events unfolding at CSB/SJU are part of a larger issue.
The CAB intends to continue communication with the CSB/SJU presidents through the semester to track progress on their demands.