An Open Letter to University of Vermont
Board Chair David Daigle, President Thomas Sullivan, Provost David Rosowsky, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Annie Stevens, and Director of Student Life Daphne Wells
From Faculty and Staff in the Department of English and the Film and Television Studies Program
We are writing to communicate our strongest objection to the March 18 letter sent from the Center of Student Conduct to students who participated in the February 26 NoNames for Justice rally and celebration in the Waterman atrium. Among the nine students who received this letter are two of our outstanding majors, Seth Wade and Harmony Edosomwan. We are concerned that this judicial process that purports to protect the campus and students from harm will instead negatively affect their academic work and their emotional well-being. Additionally, this course of action will further alienate students whose aim was to better the situation for everyone by creating a more egalitarian university. We find the letter, and what it threatens, to be a true injustice, and we are dismayed at the tack taken by those in charge. Rather than punishing these students, the university should be promoting them as what is best and most prized here at the University of Vermont.
With this letter and in defense of Seth, Harmony, and all the targeted students, we register our objections to the following.
Willful misapplication of UVM policy: UVM’s Policy on Campus Demonstration prohibits conduct that presents or threatens “violence or endangerment,” that would do “damage to ... University property,” that “persistently or significantly interferes with, or obstructs the activities or operations of the University,” or that denies “free movement” or “use of University facilities.” The aforementioned protest did none of these things.
Coercive Use of “Restorative Practice”: The case rests on nonspecified “incident reports.” Recipients of the March 18 letter were told that, as a group, they must concede in advance that they have violated UVM policy and, moreover, have done “harm” to unnamed individuals; the letter warns that in the absence of such concession, the students will be subject to a formal disciplinary hearing. The actions of these students do not warrant such admissions. Further, the threat of punitive action and the lack of transparency regarding the “incident reports” manipulate the very concept of Restorative Practice.
Targeting of Students of Color and Other Marginalized Students: Among the many students who attended and spoke at the rally, the nine students who received letters from the Center of Student Conduct are female, queer, and/or of color. The targeted students not only come from marginalized identities but are leading advocates for creating a university that in practice, not just in word, rejects “bigotry, oppression, degradation, and harassment” and challenges “injustice toward any member of our community” (“Our Common Ground”). The university should commend, not punish, these outstanding members of our community.
Trespass of Students’ Right to Advocate for Their Learning and Community Climate: In the February 26 rally, like the occupation whose one-year anniversary the students were marking, these students were advocating for racial and gender equity and justice on the UVM campus and across the state. The institution’s punitive response infringes upon students’ right to a just and equitable learning environment.
We call on you as well as on the Office of Student Conduct to remedy the harm you have done to these students with the following measures:
Drop all investigative and other punitive measures regarding the February 26 rally.
Issue a public apology to the students.
Affirm the right of students to protest and advocate for their learning conditions and
Acknowledge that the rich history of social justice activism at UVM has defined and
distinguished this university.
Acknowledge that in this rich history students have at times not only used bullhorns but
also challenged administrators, organized sit-ins and occupations, and taken other measures that have brought positive change to the University by sometimes disrupting business as usual.
Recognize that redress for injustice is incomplete and that UVM’s history of social justice protest necessarily extends into the present.
We further recommend that each of you consider the need for your own participation in “Restorative Practice” and open reflection on the harm you are doing and have done to our students.
We are prepared to take our objections and demands to the court of public opinion—including by circulating this letter to the local, state, and national press. However, for the good of all students at UVM, we hope that you will collectively reverse your course, starting by rescinding all threats of sanction and punishment for the February 26 rally and by apologizing to the students. This would be a step toward articulating what we actually value on our campus.
Sheila Boland Chira
Mary Lou Kete
Sarah E. Turner
Hyon Joo Yoo