Letters from 2020 - 20 Demands from BSU, BLM, and the Ethnic Studies Department
This page holds the 3 letters from the BSU, BLM Committee, and Ethnic Studies Department written in 2020, collectively, these letters have come to be known as the “List of 20 Demands for Campus-wide Racial Justice."
Dear Saint Mary’s Community,
I am Shilei Bell-Lipsey, a rising junior who loves her community. This May, I was elected to serve as the 2020-2021 President for the Black Student Union and this is my message to multiple sectors of our community at this time.
To my Black Gael Family:
I wish I wasn't writing this to you. I wish instead this was a simple check-in after finals wishing you the best summer, but it's not. I am writing to you because our community has faced yet another injustice. George Floyd was killed by Officer Derrick Chauvin eight days ago. This came after police in Louisville, KY killed Breonna Taylor, white men in Georgia killed Ahmaud Arbery and many other tragedies occurred.
As I write to you, I struggle to find the words because my heart is heavy. Over the course of this week I’ve found myself spiraling through emotions, as I am sure you have too. From rage to crippling sadness, there hasn’t been a time when I’ve felt particularly steady. I want you to indisputably know a few things. Your feelings of anger, exhaustion, sadness, and whatever else you feel are real and valid. You get to feel all those, all at once, and all the time. This was a human life which was lost and has yet to see justice. You are absolutely allowed to feel however you need to about that. Please, I beg of you to take care of yourself, and your loved ones. Your emotional and mental health is extremely important. If you can’t watch the news today or tomorrow, that is ok. If you can’t respond to every DM or post every hour on social media, that is ok. Take a break as you need. I want all of you to take care of yourself. I’m trying to do the same by limiting my time on social media. We feel the need to constantly be informed, but we need to protect our own mental health right now.
Being Black is beautiful, celebratory, and gorgeous. Racism and divisiveness are exhausting. We are exhausted, not inherently, but because of what is happening to our people. I implore you to remember the teachings of those before us. The fight to equity is not won in one battle. While we need all 4 officers in George Floyds case arrested and convicted, the white supremacist who murdered Ahmaud Arbery convicted, and the officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor arrested and convicted, we need more! We demand more! We need power, freedom and the right to live. I’m not asking, I’m telling you that we will have it!
If you would like to get more involved, there are grassroots organizations that are and have been doing the work. They are supporting local Black Communities, organizing politically, and providing educational resources. Personally, I’ve been raised to organize, support and unite, and will continue to do so. There are so many different ways to do this. You can find and share resources across platforms to educate people. It is clear our own professors, classmates and administration are ignorant to the struggles we face on a daily basis, that they often perpetuate. You can make the choice to educate them and share resources or direct them to Google, but you are not responsible for educating them. If you cannot take that on, it’s ok.
To support financially, you can give money to reputable organizations. Groups that do the work 365/24/7 to empower and support the Black community. Calling officials like district attorney’s, police chiefs etc. is a great way to make a difference. They need to know we see what is happening and we will not let up until justice is served. There are many petitions going around which you can also sign for the arrest of the additional officers involved in George Floyd’s killing and the officers who killed Breonna Taylor. You can protest too. You can organize and march on city hall or a street of your choice in your city. What I ask is when you protest, know who is organizing it, not everyone is working toward the same mission. Some people are only there to agitate and break things, and they do not plan to support any black people after they break a few windows. I also ask that before you break the window of a building or burn it, know your why. Ask yourself what is the point? If you destroy a black owned business, you are not helping our community, if you destroy a business which supports the Black agenda you are not helping our community. We need to focus on our people having the right to live. If you are protesting please be safe. Your safety is my utmost concern. I want you to live, I want you to go unhurt, I want you to make it home. In that same tone please remember, COVID-19 adversely affects the Black community. Protest in mask, consider quarantining after you protest too. Whatever actions you decide to take, be safe.
I don't have all the answers, although the fixer in me wishes I did. I wish I could control others' opinions of our community, but I can't. What I can do is hold on to my community, tightly and fiercely. I can hug, high five, hip bump and show you how much I care. I am taking up space to ensure our voices are heard and valued. I am projecting others into spaces to show we are not a monolith but a diverse community of different people.
Going forward, the 2020-2021 SMC Black Student Union will continue to do the things we have been and take even more action. We are going to continue to unapologetically support Black owned businesses as frequently as we can. This includes caterers we hire, or places we order food for events. We will keep supporting our community, organizing clothing and necessity drives similar to what we did this past year. Educating our people is a huge part of what we do, and we will continue making sure our members are informed on current events.
Many of our students may not know how to register to vote or submit forms for absentee ballots. I believe it’s my job as BSU President to help them. We will help all the members of BSU get registered and know their polling location/ ballot information. We have to vote y’all! We will connect more with other Black Student Unions and local organizations to support them, learn from them and stand in unity with them. I am here for you and I want to hear any and all ideas you have about ways we can better support.
To our accomplices:
Thank you to all of those who've actually done the work. If you've called district attorneys, police chiefs, or grassroots organizations this applies to you. If you've donated money for protestors bail, shared grassroots organizations, and educated your own community this applies to you. To all of those I personally have seen taking the call to action, thank you. Your work does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Please continue to check on your Black friends, classmates, colleagues, and family. We are in need of care, understanding and grace right now. Thank you to all campus teams and organizations who’ve also spoken up in support. A special thanks to the SMC teams and orgs who immediately stepped up.
I would like to address those who’ve been silent or inactive. Let me be clear, if all you've done is put "#BLM" in your social media bio and posted a Martin Luther King Jr. quote before moving on like nothing happened, you are not being an ally. If you want to show up at our annual Black Light Dance or pool party, we need you to be a better ally. If you are a lover and indulger of Black culture, we expect more of you. If you find that you are not doing the work and want to, there are resources for allies to utilize. Rachel Cargle, a Black community educator has resources for allies here. The Saint Mary’s library also has resources available here which our librarians say have been a help to them.
To the Associated Students Executive team, Associated Students Senate, and Campus Activities Board, how do you plan to educate the masses on our campus about their implicit biases and anti-Black sentiments? Have you reflected on your own? If not, now is the time to do so! To all the executive teams of other student organizations, how will you educate your members? What support do you plan to show to the Black community? Go ahead, get on the horn with your team and make a plan of action!
Any of you who know me personally, know I constantly say "collect your people." To break it down, talk to folks who share identities or space with you who are not Black. That means your same gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, culture, age, level of ability etc. Collect your people, swiftly. Being an active accomplice is not easy, but it is something you need to do. I encourage you to look at your communities, the spaces you occupy and challenge the people within them. Be a leader for change.
To SMC Administrators:
Yesterday we received an emailed letter from President James Donahue entitled, “Black Lives Matter.” He once again avowed his commitment to the mission of our campus, specifically 3 Lasallian Core Principles. While I am glad to have finally heard from him, I do have questions. What exactly does this commitment look like? As an AS Senator, I’ve heard him use the word “committed” a lot. We don’t have a single Black member of the Counseling and Psychological Services Department on campus. Is that your commitment? He’s shown selectivity in addressing Black injustice in the past too. As a Black student leader, that does not feel like commitment. We want to know how he is going to continue to support the Black Lives Matter Committee. This means true, actionable support. I implore you, President Donahue, alongside the entirety of your cabinet, school Deans, and Department Chairs to figure out what actions you will take in the light of new injustices. I understand actions have been taken, and those are appreciated. However, our current situation is a clear indication that more action is needed. We want these new actions publicly known, I will hold you accountable, and the BSU will hold you accountable. Let the Black community of this institution know your plan, and we will make sure to tell you what does and does not help us. Listen to your students, your colleagues, your friends in my community.
Further, to the members of the Board of Trustees, we want to hear from you directly! As students we often hear your opinions and decisions through administration, but on this deeply concerning matter we want to hear from you as a collective. We want to know your plans to create legislation that holds this institution accountable for supporting the Black community connected to campus. The 5% of Black students at SMC needs administrators, and the Board to notice that your colleagues, and your students are not ok. We are exhausted and uncertain, even more than from the COVID 19 situation. We are working to get through this day by day, minute by minute, in fact; and so are many others. It should be known that many of you sitting in power are not personally affected by this. Get up and start doing the work, today, whoever you are, wherever you are. We appreciate your careful consideration of how this campus will be improved for the Black community.
President |The Black Student Union
BLM Subcommittee Letter
Black Lives Matter Committee Additions:
- Immediate increased investment in resources (e.g. funding, time, personnel) to properly facilitate the GUIDE training program for all faculty and staff, starting with the establishment of an expansion to the All Faculty and All Staff days every August, providing tier 1 & 2 GUIDE training. (Student/Faculty/Staff Retention)
- Requiring all faculty to be up to date on GUIDE training prior to receiving any support for professional development, consideration for promotion, participation in January Term, and/or being considered for IRB approval. (Student/Faculty/Staff Retention)
- Requiring all staff and administrators to be up to date on GUIDE training as a requirement for successful completion of their yearly personnel review. (Student/Faculty/Staff Retention)
- Enhancing the social justice component of Collegiate Seminar by shifting from a socratic discussion to a difficult dialogue model. (Recruitment Enhancement, Student Retention)
- Developing a process for the reporting and tracking of incidents of police harassment of our students by local law enforcement, and providing legal support for students who choose to pursue complaints. (Recruitment Enhancement, Student Retention)
- Hiring or contracting a Black counselor or psychologist who has demonstrated experience working with Black students, and demonstrated commitment to anti-racist, multi-culturally competent provision of mental health support. (Student Retention)
- Elevating the Senior Diversity Officer to a Cabinet-level position, and adding an independent ombuds office under a new department of college diversity, equity, and inclusion. (Recruitment Enhancement, Student Retention)
- Developing on-campus childcare, potentially using space in the recreation center as it was originally earmarked, open to use by faculty, staff, and undergraduate and graduate students with families. (Recruitment Enhancement, Student/Faculty/Staff Retention)
In addition to serving as a statement and listing of demands, this document will serve as the foundation for the Black Lives Matter Committee’s policy platform. While statements have an important rhetorical value, what is needed now is action. It is our fervent hope that our Saint Mary’s Community will discard the idea of contingent support. We hope our community will live up to the Catholic, Lasallian, and Liberal Arts values and traditions that we hold so dearly. The co-chairs of the Black Lives Matter Committee, in accordance with the charge given to us by the CCIE, “demand accountability of Saint Mary’s College of California, as a community and institution, to recognize and address, rather than react to circumstances of inequitable treatment of Black students, staff or faculty, particularly systemic racism at the institution.” We are committed to continuous dialogue and concrete, sustained action in service of this charge.
We stand with the Black Student Union and BSU President Shilei Bell-Lipsey in the call for support and understanding. We stand with Dr. Loan Dao and Ethnic Studies Program and the call for institutional change, as well as the supportive stance of Dr. Cynthia Martinez and Dr. Rebecca Anguiano and the KSOE Counseling Department Student of Color group. And we call to our allies to do the hard thing. We call on you all to change the fabric of our community, using all the tools at your disposal to identify, interrupt, and end every instance of anti-Blackness within and around our community.
We ask you to help us make a world where we (Black people) do not have to live in fear of the police, in fear of being abused by those in power and being thrown away at a whim.
We are living, breathing, human Beings. We are your equals in every way. We have never demanded more than the right to live our lives in peace.
Black Lives Matter. This is not a plea. This is not a slogan. It is a simple fact. It is a feather on the scale that measures one’s heart. And every word that is spoken in opposition to this basic reality weighs like judgment on that heart.
Dr. Zahra Ahmed, BLM Faculty Co-Chair (2020-2021)
Legacy Lee, BLM Staff Co-Chair (2020-2021)
Kulia Osborne, BLM Student Co-Chair (2019-2020, 2020-2021)
Dr. Bedford Palmer, BLM Faculty Co-Chair (2017-2018, 2018-2019, 2019-2020)
Jenee Palmer, BLM Staff Co-Chair (2019-2020)
ETHNIC STUDIES CHAIR LETTER
Dear Campus Community,
On behalf of the Ethnic Studies Program, I extend my solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the historical struggle for Black liberation in this country. I condemn the recent murders committed by police and white supremacists of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others not represented in the media, Now more than ever, we need educators and educational institutions to unequivocally stand in support of our Black, Brown, and students and employees of color as they struggle with the senseless, traumatic, and the disproportionate death in their communities from police violence on top of the disproportionate mortality of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. This moment is a part of the long history of oppression and dehumanization against Black, Afro-Latinx, Latinx, Indigenous, AAPI, LGBTQ+, and womyn by systemic power structures embedded in the ideology of cisheteronormative white supremacy.
I condemn the perpetual surveillance, policing, and militarization of law enforcement throughout this country. I condemn the police violence on journalists. I condemn the police provocateurs who incite violence to de-legitimize and distract from peaceful protests, an inherent right in every democracy. Yet, I believe that symbolic gestures and statements are not enough. To that end, I urge us to support the following national efforts:
- Convict police officers who engage in police brutality and murder, including the four officers charged in the murder of George Floyd.
- Defund law enforcement, especially for the purchase of military gear and training, such as training by the Israeli military.
- Remove ICE & CBP from assisting police against local protests.
- Reject the President’s call to send the military into our communities.
- Redirect funds from law enforcement to education, economic opportunities, housing and healthcare in historically oppressed communities.
- Make ethnic studies part of high school and college graduation requirements.
On Saint Mary’s campus, I am advocating for:
- Transparency in the monies used for law enforcement on our campus.
- Transparency in the police contract with local law enforcement, particularly Orinda PD.
- Transparency in any agreements SMC has with immigration enforcement.
- Requirements for meaningful diversity training as part of our contracts with any large, ongoing external vendors, including local law enforcement, Good Eats, and local businesses.
- Redirection of funds for policing on or near campus to fund the CCIE.
- Requirements for mandatory training on racism and white supremacy for all administrators, faculty, and full-time staff.
- Making ethnic studies a graduation requirement, and increasing the diversity of staff, faculty, and curricular materials to reflect the diversity of the Bay Area and the world.
- Hiring or contracting counselors of color in CAPS.
- Improving campus-wide access to and process for BIRT reporting.
- Recruiting and retaining people of color in the administration and Board of Trustees who hold the values of social justice and Lasallian education over corporate models and profit.
- St. Mary’s to fulfill its commitment to the End the Silence campaign, outlined by the President on May 13, 2016.
Finally, I ask that we reflect deeply on how we currently promote our diversity on this campus, whether it be through symbolic gestures, claiming HSI status, or engaging in Black culture. Are we also willing to stand for Black liberation? Are we willing to make ourselves vulnerable? Are we willing to sacrifice? Anything else teeters on exploitation of Black and Brown lives. Finally, I encourage our campus community members who have the economic capacity to donate to organizations doing ongoing transformative social justice work in under-served communities of color. Another world is possible.
In strength and love,
Loan Dao, Ph.D. (She/Her/Hers)
Associate Professor and Director
Ethnic Studies Program, FAH 240-11
St. Mary's College of California
1928 St. Mary's Rd, Moraga, CA 94575