As racial tensions have swept the country following the police killings of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor and countless others, Brooklyn College faces its own racial reckoning.
On June 11, the Puerto Rican Alliance published a letter to President Michelle Anderson, criticizing her email of support for communities of color. Anderson’s June 2nd email mentioned systematic racism and higher COVID-19 cases for people of color and linked to Anderson’s We Stand Against Hate initiative, a program of lectures, workshops, and concerts about race.
“We work through classes, programs, lectures, and teach-ins to understand the legacy of systematic racism in this country, using the critical academic lenses afforded by the liberal arts and sciences, humanities, and creative arts,” Anderson said in the email.
In their open letter, PRA stated that the email “lacked a clear message of support, concern, and any true commitment to acting upon the conditions that inform the experiences of Black, Indigenous, Afro-Latinx, Latinx, and Students of Color at Brooklyn College…” The group also criticized the We Stand Against Hate campaign, calling it “a spectacle of virtue signaling that the university profits from financially and uses it to boost its supposedly progressive band.”
The letter went on to make a list of demands of the BC administration. The group first requested the removal of the NYPD and BC Public Safety from campus. They demanded that the Africana Studies Department be prioritized in academic and fiscal planning for the next few years, and requested the hiring of Caribbeanist scholars, the hiring of a Black, Latinx scholar, and the replacement of necessary components for the Africana Studies and Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Departments to thrive.
“For Africana Studies, Caribbeanist Scholars; for Puerto Rican and Latino Studies, a scholar of Bilingual Education,” they wrote.
In addition, the group demanded the reinstatement of the Center for Black Studies and the Center for Latinx Studies and ensured financial support for the Black and Latino male initiative for the next decade. They also asked for the creation of an endowment funding scholarships, activities, and travel programs for BC students of color and the immediate reappointment of all Indigenous and POC adjuncts.
The group wanted the immediate nullifications of restrictions that keep members of the neighborhood off of the campus, as well as an assessment of BC’s cafeteria staff’s rights. They demanded that the administration release a letter supporting adjuncts and rejecting tuition hikes proposed by the CUNY board of trustees.
Lastly, they demanded Brooklyn College to “submit a detailed action plan, by the 30th of August, 2020, that explains how they will implement these demands over the course of the upcoming academic year 2020-2021.”
Shortly following PRA’s open letter, the BC Black Faculty and Staff Organization, Faculty of Color Group, and the Latino Faculty and Staff Organization released a similar set of demands in a blog post. The June 16th post to BC’s Public Service Commission blog demanded the “funding and protection of culturally relevant programs,” a living wage and clear path to promotion for all jobs at BC, and a more diverse faculty. The piece also requested a change in promotion and tenure policies and the appointment of a Diversity Mentorship Coordinator and Staff Ombudsperson. Lastly, the groups requested the removal of NYPD and a “reimagining of campus safety” that would include the prioritization of de-escalation tactics and mental health.
On July 2nd, President Anderson sent out an email outlining an “Anti-Racist Agenda,” citing the “experiences, concerns, and ideas” of students and faculty as inspiration. The agenda included the hosting of six listening sessions for the BC community, the organizing of an Implementation Team for Racial Justice, and an analysis of admissions, retention rates, and graduation rates to pinpoint racial disparities. As per the faculty’s blog post, Anderson also promised the appointment of a Faculty Mentorship Coordinator and a Staff Ombudsperson.
“We must alter systems, policies, and practices to advance an anti-racist agenda,” Anderson wrote in the email.
Anderson sent out a second email on July 8th, clarifying some details in the agenda and announcing a draft for a set of responsibilities for the Diversity Mentorship Coordinator and Staff Ombudsperson. She also condemned the ICE decision barring international students from returning to U.S. campuses.
Several days later, Chief Diversity Officer Anthony Brown and Human Resources Director Renita Simmons hosted the first Listening Session. Over 100 participants, mostly BC faculty and staff of color, tuned in to express feeling underappreciated and disadvantaged in promotion opportunities.
“There is a general agreement that a culture change on these issues is needed,” Anderson wrote in a third email on July 14th.
The same day, a newly formed group called the Anti-Racist Coalition at Brooklyn College organized to discuss the same issues. The Coalition is comprised of many of the BC students, faculty, and staff who wrote the June 11th and 16th letters to Anderson.
“We’re students, staff, and faculty who recognize that systematic racism is a primary impediment in institutional change at BC,” the group’s website states.
On July 14th, the Anti-Racist Coalition led a Facebook live student-run Town Hall, where students, faculty, and alumni spoke of systemic disparities and token support.
“In my entire time at Brooklyn College, I may have had three black professors, all of whom were men,” said speaker Stéfon Charlot, a recent graduate. “Brooklyn College is a neo-liberal institution. Neo-liberalism creates the ideology of cultural homogeny; however, it also creates exclusions based on differences.”
“Empathy is not allyship,” said student Diamond-Marie Gonzalez.
According to Assistant Professor of Sociology and ARC member Lawrence Johnson, President Anderson reached out to the ARC shortly after the town hall and the group requested a meeting.
“It is the hope of the coalition that Michelle Anderson will be willing to work with members of the BC community who has been at the forefront of addressing racism on campus and whose professional careers deal with racism,” Professor Johnson told the Vanguard.
On July 23rd, President Anderson sent forth an email announcing that the administration had held meetings to discuss diversifying the faculty. She also reported that the Roberta S. Andrews Center for Teaching and Learning was now offering training to faculty, and that the Office of Diversity and Equity is developing an online anti-discrimination training for faculty.
Lastly, Anderson announced that BC had been awarded a $150,000 grant, devoted to support immigrant students, from the Robin Hood Foundation, a charitable organization based in New York City.
“I look forward to working with you to ensure that our collective efforts result in a better and more just College environment,” Anderson wrote.
“Brooklyn College is listening to all of its constituents — students, faculty, staff and the larger community — to address issues of equity, diversity, fairness, and inclusiveness,” a BC spokesperson told the Vanguard. “The College is grateful for all of the input it has received during these critical times.”