From the May-June issue of News & Letters
There were a series of meetings at the University of Vermont (UVM) in Burlington on Feb. 13 and 14, 2018. Several hundred students gathered to decry school administrators’ lack of response to campus racism and to support a UVM staffer who was on a hunger strike. This was part of ongoing protests against institutionalized racism and incidents of bias at the UVM.
On Feb. 15 demonstrators formed a number of lines across Main Street in Burlington during the evening rush hour. Police attempted to reroute the traffic, but the results were even more chaotic.
On Feb. 19, 400 to 500 students and friends streamed into the Waterman Building on campus. They chanted, “No fear! No doubt! Join our fight and walk out!” This effort to occupy the whole building was impressive! The protesters renewed calls for the resignation of UVM President Tom Sullivan and others, and hung posters supporting Black Lives Matter.
Sullivan then circulated a memo indicating that UVM would “expand” its “long-standing commitment to building a diverse, equitable and inclusive” community on campus. In response the protests became louder and more active. In large numbers protesters then occupied all the stairwells in the Waterman Building. They chanted louder and louder. The sheer noise overwhelmed all other activities in this central administration building.
President Sullivan then issued a second statement noting that he had “constructive discussions” with leaders of the NoNames for Justice student group and welcomed more dialogue. Nevertheless, he went on to complain of the actions of students who “chose to disrupt the operations of the University in several buildings…” Sullivan warned that UVM was “prepared to take all appropriate disciplinary and legal steps to address the situation should it continue.”
The NoNames for Justice student association had called for these actions, and its “leaders” met with deans to discuss their demands for racial equality on campus. The goals of the students include mandated diversity and equity training for university staff, as well as increased recruitment and retention of faculty and staff of color.