Salem students issue ‘call to action’
Sit-in is used to protest what is seen as unfit living conditions and racism
BY TEVIN STINSON
In response to unfit living conditions on campus and alleged xenophobia, racism, and sexism going untreated, earlier this week more than 100 students at Salem College participated in a sit-in protest demanding action be taken at the liberal arts women’s college founded in 1772.
As of Wednesday, April 12, at the time of The Chronicle’s publication, students still occupied the lobby of Main Hall. On day two of the sit-in – Tuesday – Junior Karina Gonzalez said they will stay put until the board of trustees and administrators instate policies that address their concerns.
“We have to hold everyone accountable for all these actions and the only way we’re going to do that is by adopting policies that fix the living conditions and address all of the components of the call to action that haven’t been addressed.”
Just before noon on Monday, April 10, students arrived at Main Hall armed with signs and a 10-page list of demands including:
*All board members, administrators, and faculty members be required to undergo at least 16 hours of diversity training a year.
*The board reflect the racial composition of the student body. Of Salem College’s 1,100 students, 7 percent are international students and 40 percent of undergraduate students are students of color.
*New health and counseling staff members be hired reflecting the racial composition of the student body.
*Transgender students who identify as women be considered for admission.
*A new system of faculty evaluations be set up to hold staff members accountable for their actions in classes.
Ed Jones, director of communications and public relations, said the administration offered to sit down with students but they declined that offer and continued their protest.
“We offered to meet with the students to discuss the contents of the document. They have advised us that they prefer to continue their sit-in until action is taken. We respect their rights to express themselves in a peaceful manner.”
According to protesters, minority students daily are met with racist comments and hate rhetoric from fellow students and professors. Senior Alex Harris said although students have been through all the proper channels to make their complaints known, in the past those cries have fallen on deaf ears and nothing has changed.
“We’ve been trying to fix these issues for years now, so we’ve been to the meetings yet nothing has changed, so now we feel the need to take direct action and make sure that they listen to us,” Harris said.
Sophomore Lorina Morton said while the student body is expected to uphold an honor code, staff and administration at Salem College aren’t held to the same standards.
“We are bound by an honor code that we sign at the beginning of every school year but that code isn’t applied to the faculty, staff, and administration. That’s a big concern that we have. If we are bound by the contract, why aren’t they also required to do so,” asked Morton. “If you expect us to be respectful and treat everyone the same, we should expect the same from you.”
As if dealing with professors that refer to black students as “those people,” and tell Hispanic students they will never succeed in life isn’t enough, students also have to deal with unfit living quarters and inedible food in the cafeteria, they say.
During an interview with The Chronicle earlier this week, Senior Leniece Linder, who serves as president of Salem College’s Black Americans Demonstrating Unity (BADU) organization, said the dorms on campus are infested with termites, roaches and rodents and the food has caused several students to get sick.
“It has become routine here for students to be diagnosed with food poisoning,” said Linder. “We are at the point where professors aren’t even surprised when students get sick, that’s how common it has become.”
In an email sent to students, faculty and staff, Salem President Lorraine Sterrit and Vice President Susan Calovini said they were reviewing the list of demands.
“We care deeply about our students and we acknowledge the importance of the concerns that they have raised. We commit to working with students, faculty, staff, administration, and the boards in order to respond to the call to action.”