Lower Levels of Observable Activism this Year, Campus Notices

Christian Foley ’20, Staff Writer

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Dickinson, a campus normally flooded with student led activism, has been unusually quiet so far this semester. 

“While I haven’t been on campus I’m surprised there hasn’t been much open activism given the political climate,” Kevin Ssonko ’20 a member of the Student Liberation Movement (SLM) said while studying abroad in Italy.

Groups around campus such as the SLM, Black Student Union (BSU) and College Republicans and Democrats have made their voices heard in the past. This semester, despite national events like the midterm elections, none of these groups have been engaged as they were in years prior. Ssonko believes that during election season, groups such as College Republicans and Democrats put their energy toward voting rather than other forms of activism. College Republican member Trystin Golowski ’20 reiterated that point saying they spend a lot of time phoning, knocking on doors and talking to people to ensure people vote as opposed to events specifically tied to the Dickinson campus. 

“Activism is always happening, the question more so is whether it is visible,” Ssonko said. “As long as there are oppressed people in places, there will always be people resisting oppression, and that in itself is activism.”

President of BSU, Quadrese Glass ’19, stressed this point saying, “Activism has many faces. It is not just the protestors in the street…. I encourage people to enact social change in your own way.” Glass acknowledges that there is always work to be done to ensure inclusivity, but by continuing a dialogue, some of the injustices felt on the Dickinson campus and the wider community can begin to be broken. Provost and Dean of the College Neil Weissman, who has been supportive of past student led events, is not overly concerned at the lack of open activism this semester. “There is also a strong tradition of civility here,” Weissman said. “Dickinsonians prefer to talk things out.” He believes past examples like the joint resolution put together by the Student Senate, College Republicans and Democrats and the Student Liberation Movement has “had a considerable impact on campus.” 

Former Vice President and Dean of Student Life Joyce Bylander was an active link between the students and faculty. Having retired in the spring of 2018, Bylander replied via email “activism takes many forms…. I trust that if students have issues they will continue to engage the college and each other in meaningful actions as citizens of the Dickinson community.” Bylander gave credit to students in the past for events like the Friendsgiving “blackout” and believes a college campus can be transformed by activism. “The college has changed a great deal – for the better… in twenty years.”

Here for less than a semester, Peter Labracio ’22, believes Dickinson is an inclusive campus. “I haven’t seen any student-led activism during my time here…. But I also haven’t seen any incidents where students have not been welcomed or have been disrespected either,” Labracio said. “I haven’t seen any hate here.” Labracio has appreciated his professors’ ability to maintain inclusivity to students of all backgrounds. However, he believes it is up to the students to continue to ensure that Dickinson remains a welcoming campus for all. 

 “I hope that students will continue to respond to serious concerns about their experience at the College, by engaging administration and faculty in dialogues designed to create appropriate change,” Bylander said. “As long as channels of communication remain open and people are willing to negotiate with each other, in good faith.” 

Past events at Dickinson such as the “blackout” during the Friendsgiving dinner in 2015 has given the college a reputation for students who are willing to fight for inclusivity. At this demonstration, students Erik Rivera ’17, Breahna Pierce ’17, and Jahmel Martin ’16 along with fellow supporters all dressed in black gave a speech calling out the lack of inclusivity for students of color as well as LGBTQ students, and the many others who feel separate from the Dickinson community. This event led to many dialogues between students, faculty, and administration including a list of “Asks” which were demands by the students of actions they deemed necessary the college make in order to further promote inclusivity for all students. 

There is still work to be done at Dickinson and “In order to ensure inclusivity… students and faculty must mobilize all efforts toward doing so,” Ssonko said. “Issues of injustice are everyone’s problem, not just the communities they effect and if there is gonna be any hope in making not just our campus but our world a better place, it’s gotta be all hands on deck.”