Willamette University: more transparency needed
In this issue, the community responds to administrative decisions that have led to tremendous disillusionment, anger and resentment. The sudden dismantling of Zena Farms shows the lack of care for invaluable community resources and student input; the changed location of the E&E raises concerns of disregard for students of color and makes literal symbolic marginalization; the loss of Cynthia Stinson means even less trust for those who need it most: sexual assault survivals. In light of former ASWU President Shamir Cervantes’ resignation, it is time more than ever for Bearcats and community members alike to say “#IstandforWU
Transparency lacking in decision to change E&E space
By Tiffany Chan and Camille Debreczeny
The Student Center for Equity and Empowerment: the name is a mouthful but the size of this space is not nearly as big as it suggests. Ironically, the one space on campus devoted to marginalized students is located on the physical margins of campus. Still, the E&E has a tremendous impact on students of underrepresented identities at Willamette. For many of us, this is the one place on campus where we feel comfortable and safe from the taxing daily reality of navigating a predominantly white University with little institutional support for students of color.
The E&E was formed in Spring 2012 in response to students, groups and organizations advocating for a space on campus that folks with marginalized identities could identify with. Four students from an American Ethnic Studies theory and methods class — Delia Olmos-Garcia, Humberto Marquez, Bridget Hinton and Natividad Zavala — invested hours of work, emotional labor and heart into creating such a space on campus. The E&E’s original location was in the Matthews Academic building, which was considered a temporary first step before advocating for a better space. It was windowless and hot, basically built on top of a boiler room, and students complained of headaches and sweat. We also experienced hostility and misplaced accusations directed at us from WU staff who worked in offices next door.
In the summer of 2015 we received a surprising campus-wide email about the E&E being moved across campus to the art building and branded as the “Inclusivity Hearth.” We were shocked and hurt and pissed. The decision to move students happened over the summer when little-to-no students were on campus. There were muddled communication attempts to inform students of the changes. In these conversations, students ultimately expressed that moving from Matthews to the Art Building was a premature choice and that we should try to find a place that would better fit our needs.
But to be honest, administration didn’t really give a shit about that. We were given false promises and administration raised our hopes up about having a more permanent space that took students’ consideration seriously. Students were made to believe that this move was a discussion where we had input, only to have that input completely disregarded. It was forced, an ultimatum. Either take this new space in the Art building or have nothing.
Our old space may have been a steaming hot boiler room, but we molded it with love and care into a space that began to reflect what we wanted. Now we had to start this process all over in another cramped space that none of us would want to remain permanently.
How can administration make these decisions when they have never stepped foot into the E&E? The new space is small, two rooms divided, cramped with couches, books and bodies. There’s not enough space for the increasing number of students of color who come to Willamette every year. What baffles us is that Willamette continues to recruit students of color but then shrinks the size of the spaces that are designed for them. You’d think they’d do the opposite, yah know?
The E&E is seen as a cute little tidbit that Willamette can brag about in their pamphlets (if they even choose to mention it) but honestly it feels like a lot of the administration doesn’t give any shits about the impact the E&E has on students. We feel disposable, invisible. Easily tossed aside when we’re not seen as lucrative. Not really a part of the campus unless it’s for Willamette’s “diversity” campaign.
It took three years to build up the culture of the old space and to get students comfortable. The existence of the space was spread through word of mouth among students. This process takes time and work for people to understand that the space is available to them. Not only is it about letting the students who need it know that this space exists, more importantly it’s students creating that feeling of comfort and belonging among one another.
To have the E&E constantly uprooted is a way to disrupt that process of community building and to erase the labor of students who came before us. The Art Building space has been framed as a “temporary solution” suggesting that if it doesn’t work out, we’ll move again. Which hidden corner of campus will we be displaced to next? How many times of starting from scratch is it going to take before we find a permanent place that outlives the students who created it? The students who were originally involved have graduated and it is so easy for their work to be forgotten, and for new generations of students to have to constantly organize and struggle for this space and build it up when it’s already been done before. It’s a frustrating cycle and it’s not sustainable.
We are still here at Willamette four fucking long years later because of spaces like the E&E. Students of color can come here to find others who they can identify with and just unload about the racist heterosexist bullshit that happens on a daily basis. We can find people who listen to us cry or talk about the readings for our next class. Rooms are just places with walls but it’s the people who build them with critical love that make them special.
By Mady Denstaedt
It’s disquieting how much Willamette students are willing to accept from administration. It’s become a ritual component of being here: around finals of spring semester, the students (and occasionally faculty) learn about decisions made without consultation. Anger and frustration sweeps through the populace before studying resumes and summer arrives. By the time fall semester starts, the student body has collectively forgotten the transgressions of the year before.
Our amnesia is the most powerful resource the leaders of administration have. If we retain our complaints, if we demand change, Willamette could not go forward. This school is a business. We, the students, are the beating heart of this business. We give Willamette its name and face and reputation; we are products, consumers and employees. Without us, there is no school, there is no business and there is no Willamette.
Why have we ceded our voice? Why have we accepted the administration’s behavior when administration needs us infinitely more than we need them? Why are we outraged among our peers and complacent among our administrators?
The philosophy behind #IstandforWU is about student empowerment and student liberation. The power dynamics currently preserved within the student/administration relationship is not inherent. The treatment and attitudes that allies and students alike receive is unacceptable.
If the students of Willamette are not satisfied, the administration has failed. I am not satisfied. When I walk through campus, I hear dissatisfaction from my peers. It’s time for our leaders to be held accountable for their failures. It’s time for the student body to reclaim its power.
We are not asking for full control; we’re asking for cooperation and transparency. We’re asking to feel safe, and unattacked by our administration. We’re asking that we answer to each other. That being said, we do understand our power. #IstandforWU is a platform to reclaim the voices of students and student autonomy. We deserve a satisfactory education. We deserve transparency. We are done forgetting the crimes of last year just to have them be recommitted again.
If the administration would like to move forward, it’s time for our complaints to be heard. It’s time to hold our leaders accountable for their failures. It’s time to recognize the power of the student body and our mutual obligation to each other. #IstandforWU is a refusal to be silenced, ignored, or forgotten. We advocate for the voice and wellbeing of every student. We advocate for the future.
Leaving survivors with less
By Madi Rotter
The announcement of Cynthia Stinson’s removal from Willamette came as a great shock to me, and continues to be a source of unrelenting disbelief. Cynthia’s work on this campus brings continually increased stability to the once-volatile structures of the Title IX office since her work began following the Sigma Chi events of 2013. Her presence and dedication to the needs of marginalized and vulnerable populations on our campus contributes to our community goals of inclusivity and respect. The uninformed decision to remove such a vital member of our WU community sets our University back to a place of distrust for the Title IX process, a distrust that Cynthia has so diligently worked to remedy.
The needs of survivors of interpersonal violence and their allies are often not solved solely by improvements to structure. While I and others agree in large part with the coexisting need to improve resources (specifically, the need to separate the advocacy and investigative pieces of sexual assault response), the ability to make this decision should not have to come at the cost of losing an individual who serves as a vital assurance of student safety and success in our community.
In light of recent administrative actions that have devastated campus, the top-down approach and the neglect of stakeholder voices in the process seems an eerie déjà vu. I can assure you that none of the SARAs were consulted, neither any survivors nor the folks who make up the network of “coordinated care” response that the University provides. The rhetoric that I continually hear is that students shouldn’t be consulted in personnel decisions regarding decisions affecting our day-to-day experiences. However, what I’m also hearing is that the decision to restructure our advocacy response, and subsequently the removal of Cynthia Stinson, is in response to the needs of the students. These two sentiments are entirely contradictory. If administrators intend to make changes in response to student need, they must be willing to ask for input about what these needs are during the decision process.
This decision comes with severe consequences. Though Dean Thomas has only just arrived, the breach in trust that this decision caused will be a challenge from which the Title IX office must recover. Most importantly, this distrust prevents students from accessing the crucial resources that they need for their academic and personal development. This decision comes at a great cost to the community of inclusivity that we’re actively working to create. The administration cannot expect to achieve success through structure if people cannot trust the individuals within that structure. This decision sets us far back on the goal to be one of the forefront institutions responding to sexual violence, a goal articulated at the time of Cynthia’s arrival.
I echo the protest of students and faculty who demand a reconsideration of the decision to remove Cynthia Stinson from the fabric of our community. I write with the belief that students, staff and faculty deserve to be heard, and will continue our activism until we are heard, not just in protest, but in preliminary conversations before decisions are made. I write with a belief that sustainable solutions will happen when the administration responds to our call for a community of collaboration and love. In solidarity with a community affected by the many inconsiderate administrative decisions regarding the Academy, Zena Farm, the E&E and many others: I stand for WU.
Zena: An unexpected uprooting
By Sam Spengler and Kyle Batisky
Like many of you in the WU community, we were both surprised and inspired by Shamir Cervantes’ decision to step down from his post as ASWU president and to call for the resignation of Dean Moore and President Thorsett.
This, along with Professor Duvall’s endorsement and subsequent accounts of institutional violence in posts and articles like “Why #IstandforWU” make it painfully clear that the tendency of Willamette’s upper administration to ignore student and faculty concerns not only serves to disenfranchise longtime stakeholders invested in University programs, but also endangers the health and safety of marginalized students who are most affected by recent University cutbacks.
These unilateral and often misinformed decisions made by WU’s governing body are not unique to the Willamette Academy, the Center for Equity and Empowerment or the American Ethnic Studies program. They are symptoms of larger systemic problems that have enabled this administration to break promises made to our community, silence outspoken individuals and accuse affected groups of misleading the public while running misinformation campaigns of their own for the past several years.
As some of you may remember, food production at Zena Forest was indefinitely suspended last January amidst supposed concerns about the land’s conservation easement. This decision came less than six months after the farm’s advisor of five years, professor Jennifer Johns, was suddenly let go prior to the beginning of the school year. The void left by Johns’ absence, who had served not only as the principal manager of farm activities but also as one of Zena’s chief faculty advocates, contributed heavily to the events that transpired next.
Beginning in the fall of 2014, the administration proceeded to strip Zena of the very structures which had enabled food production: a deer fence surrounding the main production field, access to the onsite farmhouse which served as the property’s only refuge from poor weather and, finally, the authorization to grow crops on the land. These decisions were not only made contrary to the advice and consent of WU students and faculty involved in the program, but came during a time when the University was increasing its efforts to advertise the farm to prospective students and market itself as a “green college”.
The choice to dismantle Zena Farm was not necessitated by negotiations involving the conservation easement as we were initially led to believe, but rather by active resistance and ignorance on the part of administrators who consider conservation goals and farming to be antithetical and who fail to recognize the value of agricultural experience within a region that contains not only incredible potential for food production but also tremendous migrant worker populations and problems of food insecurity.
During our two meetings with Dean Moore prior to the suspension, we were promised that the University would fight to protect the farm while simultaneously being asked to channel our energy into on-campus gardens. When we finally managed to speak to President Thorsett the following spring and present him with an online petition that had garnered over 500 signatures and 130 individual comments demanding the reinstatement of food production at Zena and student representation in future decisions involving the farm, he, too, was dismissive and hinted that he could easily wait us out until graduation if we were to escalate the issue.
Though Zena Farm has a much different history and lesser stakes than programs like Willamette Academy, which engage primarily with Salem community members and provide resources to underprivileged youth, both organizations share a common mission of empowering students to educate themselves about opportunities and issues with which many were not previously exposed.
Unfortunately, both of these organizations also share the distinction of being singled out for “cost-saving measures” by executives within our administration who are seemingly ambivalent to the concerns of current students and deaf to the voices of past participants who feel betrayed by recent changes. It’s long past time that we hold these leaders accountable for the mistakes they’ve made and join our peers in demanding transparency and inclusivity from the administration moving forward.