This week’s sit-in at the Colgate University admissions building ended peacefully yesterday upon the release of a joint statement from the activists and the administration. In that statement, the administration pledged to take action on most of the 21 proposals for change that the Colgate University Association for Critical Collegians (ACC) had put forward.
The joint statement is lengthy and detailed, and I don’t have the familiarity with Colgate’s internal workings that I’d need to fully assess it. A few facts do, however, seem to leap out:
First, ACC is taking some tangible victories away from this action. The administration is promising new diversity trainings, a revamping of campus tours, cameras on campus buses, and a variety of other concrete actions. ACC even won a pilot implementation of the free transportation program I mentioned in my previous blogpost, which I’d assumed was a non-starter. Yes, there’s a lot of “we will review…” and “we will explore…” in there too, but Colgate is pledging to put real money behind real change as a result of the sit-in. That’s impressive.
Relatedly, more than half of the promises made by the administration carry a specific deadline for implementation that falls before the end of this calendar year. New work-study positions to improve access to services for underrepresented and first-generation students will be filled by the end of October. New scripts for campus tours highlighting POC, women’s, and queer spaces on campus will be in place by early November. Something like a dozen different promises will be fulfilled before the end of the fall semester. And if it doesn’t happen, the students will be able to hold the administration accountable.
ACC have really set themselves up well here. Because the sit-in came at the beginning of the academic year, and because they successfully demanded a specific, accelerated timetable for administration action, they’ll be able to tell really soon whether the administration is fulfilling their promises, and they’ll have the rest of the academic year to hold admins’ feet to the fire if they aren’t. As I tweeted last night, I’ll be shocked if there isn’t a big butcher-paper timeline up on the wall of some student activist office or apartment right now, listing all the deadlines enumerated in the agreement in chronological order with specific students delegated for monitoring each one.
I often tell student activists who ask me how to grow their campus organizations that you build a movement by winning. When you win something, anything, folks see the possibility of winning more, and they look at you (and at themselves) as people who can make those victories happen. ACC just got themselves a big win to start the school year, and every one of the deadlines that comes over the next nine months is either going to be another win or an opportunity for another passionate action. It’s going to be an exciting year at Colgate. (And I see from Facebook that folks who participated in the sit-in are already talking about what they’re going to work on next.)
One final comment about the way the sit-in went down. ACC occupied the Colgate admissions building around the clock for more than a hundred hours. Their list of demands was long and ambitious. The instigating events behind their protest were mocked by more than a few people as insubstantial. But at no point did the administration ever — to my knowledge — threaten or even consider criminal charges, police involvement, or disciplinary action. Instead, the sit-in was handled the way campus sit-ins were typically handled a generation ago — as a negotiation between members of the campus community.
In the last few years we’ve seen campus administrators use batons and pepper spray and mass arrest against peacefully protesting students. We’ve seen guns drawn and bones broken. We’ve seen students coerced into promises not to exercise their First Amendment rights for the remainder of their time on campus. Some of these tactics have been effective in smothering student protest, at least in the short term, at least on some campuses. But they’re reprehensible, and they’re poisonous. They’re a violation of the obligations of administrators toward their students, and they’re a violation of the fundamental principles on which a campus should be founded.
So kudos not only to the students of ACC, but also to the administration of Colgate University. Both groups did well this week. And both set a standard that’s worth emulating.