Skidmore students plan Monday protest – masks mandatory, in-person participation optional

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Categories: News, Saratoga County

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A coalition of Skidmore students of color are planning to kick off the year with a protest on campus and a message to college officials and the broader community: stop the racism now.

On campus and in the Saratoga Springs community, that racism manifests in both subtle and overt ways, according to Skidmore students from Pass the Mic, a campus collective devoted to supporting marginalized communities and organizers of the protest planned for Monday, the college’s first day of classes.

From direct discrimination at the hands of professors and local police to the added burden of existing as one of the few students of color on a predominantly white campus, the student activists argued students of color at Skidmore have suffered too long and outlined a litany of policies they say can create a more just and inclusive campus.

“This is systemic and it stemmed from years of Black students and students of color suffering in silence,” said Sanjna Selva, a senior international affairs major and one of the protest’s organizers.

Working remotely from all over the country for weeks, the students, now cocooned back on Skidmore’s campus, hope to spark activism and reflection among their classmates with a protest that will include an opportunity for students to share personal experiences.

“This isn’t an isolated action in response to an isolated event,” said Adia Cullors, a senior majoring in history and classics. “This is the result of years and years and years of neglect by Skidmore towards its Black and Indigenous students, a lack of protection of them.”

The organizers outlined a list of nearly 20 policy demands for college officials, including the creation of a “zero-tolerance policy for racism,” regular anti-racism training for all professors and students, increased donor transparency, expanded funding for Black Studies and other programs, the prohibition of local police from campus and a recognition that the campus is built on the stolen lands of native peoples, among many others.

“We are tired of this, we are going to start holding you fully and publicly accountable,” Cullors said.

The organizers – who said they expect around 100 students and faculty to gather at the protest Monday – have highlighted the importance of health and safety measures as they promoted the protest on social media. Organizers met with college officials about their plans and appeared to receive tacit approval that their plans comply with the college’s new pandemic-era restrictions.

The student organizers said the protest was not open to people outside campus and have asked only those who have received a recent negative test result or finished a two-week quarantine to attend in person – creating a virtual alternative for people to call or email college officials about their support for the protest. “If you are not 100 percent sure through testing and quarantining that you are COVID-free, please stay home and participate (virtually) instead,” the organizers said in promotional materials. They said organizers will enforce the mask and distance requirements and have spare supplies if needed.

Organizers also explicitly connected the health precautions to the underlying message of supporting Black lives, noting how the pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and Hispanic communities and calling on participants to examine how their behavior may harm those communities.

“The impact of COVID is so inseparable from the Black Lives Matter movement, because this pandemic has really evolved to be almost warfare on Black communities and lower-income communities,” Cullors said, noting the privilege inherent in Skidmore’s ability to conduct regular testing of students and staff throughout the year and the lack of that ability in many of the hardest hit communities. “If you say you are for Black lives then you need to be for Black health, you have a responsibility to quarantine and social distance.”

Malchijah Hoskins, a junior sociology major and the vice president for inclusion and outreach in student government, said for students to genuinely engage in the protest and support students of color they have to think about not just police violence against Black people but also disproportionate health outcomes and other ways Black communities are hurt.

“For someone to truly be present at the protest, they have to understand all the systems that intersect and harm the Black body,” Hoskins said.

College officials in a statement Friday acknowledged the planned protest and said President Marc Conner “has expressed his and the college’s support for the right of students to protest peacefully,” indicating they were satisfied by the students’ plans to maintain social distance and require masks.

“Administrators have been in contact with student organizers regarding their plans and we understand they will be taking the necessary precautions, including social distancing and mask wearing,” college spokesperson Sara Miga said in a statement Friday.

With racial justice protests sweeping the country, including regularly in Skidmore’s backyard, and a new college president, Marc Conner, taking the reins at Skidmore over the summer, the student activists see an opportunity to lay the groundwork for deeper change on campus.

The students say their list of demands, which has been posted on social media but will be formally outlined at Monday’s protest, not only covers a wide range of subjects, but is also critical to holding the college accountable to its espoused values.

“The college vocally takes a stance, saying they have a commitment to anti-racism,” Hoskins said. “The way they are spending money and taking in money should reflect that as well.”

The students called for effectively banning Saratoga Springs police from the Skidmore campus, describing a history of Saratoga officers acting with hostility toward students of color, something they said is well known among students but goes unaddressed by college leaders. The students also want to see more transparency about the school’s own campus safety officers, asking that their disciplinary and complaint records and professional backgrounds be made accessible to students.

“When you have a police presence on campus, it doesn’t create an atmosphere of safety,” Cullors said. “When I see police on campus, I’m scared in a place where I’m supposed to be safe.”

The demands also call for the firing of three Skidmore professors by name, professors that the student activists said are “openly and unapologetically racist toward students.”

A demand added after the organizers solicited ideas from other students calls on the college to “acknowledge that it is built on and benefits from the stolen land of the Haudenosaunee, Mohawk and Mohican people” and demands a “comprehensive plan to pay reparations through labor and fiances to these indigenous nations.” A separate demand calls on Skidmore to invest resources “into the underserved Capital Region community” through volunteer service and financial donations.

The Pass the Mic students over the summer also created a mutual aid fund, raising money so that Black students and Black community members can apply for funds – in grants ranging from $15 to $100 – to help support their needs. The students said the efforts are targeted toward students who need help to cover expenses for travel, supplies, books, groceries and other costs. They have raised over $10,000 and are starting to process applications for funds. Donations can be sent through Venmo to @mutualaidfundptm.

The student organizers plan to expand their efforts beyond Monday’s back-to-school protest and have already started up communications with other activists in the region. They highlighted All of Us, a regional organization formed by Schenectady activists, and called on supporters to fund the organization.

“We wanted synergy and to work with folks all over the region,” Hoskins said.

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