Commission hears campus concerns with diversity issues

By Casey Novak, Collegian Staff

Various members of the University of Massachusetts community gave their personal recommendations to the Commission on Campus Diversity at a public forum last Thursday.

The forum, which was held in the Campus Center Auditorium, was held for those who could not attend a Dec. 9 forum.

Many topics were brought up at the forum, including the recent decision to purchase tasers, or the new picketing code, which no longer allows protests inside a University building if it is considered disruptive.

However, many speakers went far beyond that.

As Andres Gomez, from the student group Take Back UMass, stood before the Commission, he ripped his nametag, saying that who he is does not matter.

“I stand before you blindfolded and gagged with my hands tied behind my back. You are my blindfold and this microphone is my gag,” he said.

“We do not need a commission of outside experts to tell us what the problems of our University are. We know, but we are not being heard. When [the University] says they are color-blind in the admission process it is true – they only care who can pay and who can pay the most,” he said.

Erin Naomi Lemkey, also of Take Back UMass, asked the commission to think about the two words quality and agency and what they have to do with this University.

“What you see here is university administration with a long-term plan to unhinge itself from its community in its statewide obligations to provide affordable, accessible and supportive education to poor and working class students of all races,” she said. “UMass is stuffing this campus to the gills with as many out-of-state and full fee paying students as possible. It is no secret they are acting more like consumers than clients.”

Lemkey requested that the Commission formulate a document to be signed by the Board of Trustees, the president, and every chancellor. The document, she said, would commit them to the protection and continuous funding of all cultural agencies.

President of SEIU, Thomas Coish, expressed his dissatisfaction with how the University functions.

“It seems that sometimes the University has to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing during situations far too often,” he said.

Coish also said that the Stonewall budget has been slashed by 40 percent.

“There is an administration here that is not only anti-students of color, but also anti-youth.”

Joannah Whitney, who has a disability that affects her mobility, brought up handicap accessibility.

She said that due to construction around the W.E.B. DuBois library, construction trailers have blocked off the handicap accessibility to the building.

Whitney also said that 100 percent of the computers on this campus that are intended for public use could not be used by someone with hand tremors or arthritis.

“If these problems don’t affect you or someone around you, then you probably have not noticed,” she said. “I’ve been routinely treated as if my needs are bazaar and completely unreasonable.”

“As a community, do we need to educate ourselves more on diversity issues?” Whitney asked the Commission. “Yes, because the University does a very poor job of self-monitoring.”

Joanne Levenson spoke on behalf of the student family population at this University, saying that although a small population, they are a significant one.

“There are approximately 600 of these students on campus, and about 450 meet the rank of so-called high priority needs. And we believe out of that population around 40 to 60 percent are also members of ALANA,” she said.

Although Levenson said she did not think this is typical treatment of a student parent, she told the story of one young mother who came to her after she had been living in her car with her two year old.

“Her apartment with family housing wouldn’t be ready for a month so she was told to get a hotel until they had room. We figured out that getting a hotel would cost approximately $1,000 for a month,” she said. “This should not happen.”

Levenson said that if this was an undergraduate without a child that came to the school, housing would have been found for her. She added that many of the young women and men who are parents are on welfare and have to work 20 hours a week in order to preserve that stipend as well as take a full course load.

“This is a huge burden on our students. I hope that [the commission] recognize the position of these students.”

Nora Ritchie, a SGA senator, told the commission that students are what make this University possible. She asked them to demand that the University live up to it’s past promises and current obligation.

“We need to be in this for the long haul. This is critical for the success of the university.”

At the close of the forum, Commission Chair Orlando Taylor said a public statement will be made on March 1.