Smith Students for Social Justice Present Demands to Administration
Jamie Mastrogiacomo ’22
Assistant News Editor
Read the article in Chinese here.
On Thursday, April 11, the Students for Social Justice and Institutional Change (SSJIC) held a protest outside of John M. Greene Hall. This demonstration was held the day after Smith’s first Inclusion in Action conference, where sessions were held to discuss issues regarding diversity and inclusion.
The demonstration was also planned in response to the hiring of now-former Campus Police Chief Daniel Hect, whose anti-immigrant and pro-Trump Twitter likes made undocumented students and students of color say that his presence made them feel unsafe on campus. However, following a protest at Hect’s panel at Smith’s Inclusion in Action conference, he was placed on administrative leave.
SSJIC acknowledged his being placed on leave as a win, but they also reminded fellow students on Wednesday evening that it was only the first step. “We want him OUT,” they wrote in an email to students. “NO PAY. NO POSITION. NO POWER.” They stressed that Thursday’s demonstration would focus on calling for the administration to meet their demands beyond the removal of Hect.
Early Thursday morning, students began preparing for the protest. Chalk writing of the SSJIC’s demands appeared across campus, and the letter of these demands was posted on doors, in classrooms and in houses. At 12:30 p.m., a crowd of students wearing red in solidarity with SSJIC gathered outside the steps of John M. Greene Hall. People held up signs reading “IF IT’S NOT ACCESSIBLE TO THE POOR IT’S NEITHER RADICAL NOR REVOLUTIONARY,” “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and “NO MORE EMPTY PROMISES.” One sign towards the front of the crowd read “This is all unpaid student labor, do your job admin.”
Organizers began the demonstration by reading an open letter to the Smith administration and community. “As students at a Predominantly White Institution, organizing around the issues that students of color face is difficult because we are drowned out by white voices,” they said. “In the process of collecting demands, our coalition has expanded to include undocumented students, students of color and low-income students.”
Students then read these demands, which address issues regarding curriculum, health services, accessibility and policing. They were primarily inspired by a list of demands created by undocumented students in March of 2018. They also drew inspiration from the Weaving Voices Archive, which outlines demands originally made by black students in 1969. Subsequent demands, most of which have been unmet, were made by other marginalized groups in the years to follow.
The 28 demands read at Thursday’s protest were “the most basic and of the most immediate concern,” according to SSJIC. They announced that in a week’s time, they would release an action plan with more demands.
To the crowd, they said, “We will take our fight to every house, every office and every person that needs to be fought.”
The demonstration continued with members of marginalized groups sharing their experiences at Smith. Among the issues discussed were the lack of safety that students felt on campus and the lack of support that they received from the administration. Students from Hampshire College also read a statement of solidarity from Hamp Rise Up.
The first half of the demonstration concluded with a dance break, reflecting SSJIC’s aim to bring students together in the process. “This is a time to be serious about what’s wrong,” they wrote in an email earlier this week, “but we’re also showing them that this brought us together and that this has brought us power.”
As students thanked organizers and reflected on their experiences, they expressed a disdain for performative activism and emphasized the need for positive change. In response to sentiments that a protest could not bring such change, one student said, “That mentality is what keeps people stuck.”
Students remained at John M. Greene Hall until 4 p.m., when they walked to College Hall to present their demands directly to the administration. They carried banners and signs while alternating between chants of “HOLD SMITH ACCOUNTABLE” and “DECOLONIZE THE INSTITUTION, WE WANT A REVOLUTION.” Upon arriving at College Hall, they surrounded President McCartney’s office. The corridors of College Hall could not hold the high number of protestors, and many filed up into the third floor. Chanting continued until McCartney listened to SSJIC’s list of demands.
Addressing the protestors, McCartney said, “There are some things that I know I can do…Are we working on everything on your list? No, but now I have the clarity.”
Responding to the students’ demands, McCartney said that the school could meet SSJIC’s demand to establish a Learning Disability Fund, which, per the SSJIC’s list of demands, “would cover the costs of testing for low income students who cannot afford to be tested for and diagnosed with learning disabilities.” She also said that the school could hire two new full-time mental health counselors. The specific demand called for two trans counselors, and to this, McCartney said that the administration would try to the best of its ability.
Finally, McCartney asked the organizers to think about who will work with the administration on meeting these demands. She implored students to email her, come to her office hours and communicate with her on any further issues that they have.
Members of SSJIC thanked McCartney along with all of the demonstrators who came to support the cause. They affirm that their demands will be met, saying, “if we have to organize something like this again, we will.”
For more up-to-date information on SSJIC and their mission to make Smith a more inclusive campus, sign up for their mailing list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.