Senate resignation triggers campus-wide examination
Nathan Tolfa and Alessandra Roggero
News Editor and Campus Life Editor
At the ASWC Senate meeting on Feb. 12, fourth-year Rudy Marquez voiced his frustrations with the Leadership Experience and Programs Office (LEAP) and the ASWC Program Board for his alleged and unethical ousting of his position as Special Event Co-Chair and Marketing Chair. His explanation for their decision was “other than unprofessionalism, racial discrimination.” Marquez wanted to step down from his position on Program Board while continuing to volunteer on the Whittfest Committee. He was told by the directors of Program Board that he could either continue working for both Program Board and volunteer on the Whittfest Committee, or do neither.
“When I actually looked at it, a lot of the people on the Whittfest committee are white,” said Marquez. “A lot of the people that I interacted with in that meeting were white, and it had nothing to do with my experience. Even though I started Whittfest, it had nothing to do with my involvement because I have been on Program Board for all four years now, and so like when I kept asking them, it’s not in your Constitution, why do I have to get kicked off? Why? And they just kept saying, I’m sorry, it’s non-negotiable.”
Marquez feels like he was targeted by certain members of the “Student Life Department.” “I personally felt like they [singled me out]. And I think the sad part was that when I addressed it with them, they made me seem crazy,” said Marquez. “The fact that they took forever to respond to my emails, the fact that I saw them on a constant basis [and they ignored me], and the fact that they’re white . . . made me seem like I was crazy, which was really annoying.”
When asked if Marquez had any substantial evidence — emails, or conversations with Program Board — he replied, “No. I think like what I said earlier, it doesn’t make sense why I was kicked off [Program Board] and the fact that they just happened to be white, I just feel like this is the main cause, and I wish I had more but that’s [it].”
Though Marquez has no tangible evidence to back his claims of racial bias from Program Board, other students have made similar claims of racial discrimination from other staff members. Fourth-year Esther Hills, President of Black Student Union (BSU), claims to have overheard a conversation between two staff members in which one administrator questioned why another administrator would choose to work with BSU.
Following last week’s Senate meeting during which Campus Relations Director Eryn Wells, First-Year Class President Jenna Gelinas, and Residence Hall Representative Nati Yitayew resigned, a number of students met and formed the Student Advocacy Coalition of Whittier College. Their mission statement is still under revision, but as of now it reads: “The Student Advocacy Coalition aims to, in alignment with the mission statement of Whittier College, improve the quality of life for all members of the campus community. More specifically, our goal is to aid students in finding the most appropriate efficacious avenues to voice their concerns, and seek to empower them to become engaged members of the broader Whittier College community.”
“I think [the Coalition] was formed out of necessity,” said third-year Detrick Manning, the club’s co-President. “We were all brainstorming. That night after Senate, a group of us in the office, Rudy Marquez, myself, Tayler Scriber, Eryn Wells, Jesus Delgado and Jenna Galinas were all doing our best to formulate a clear mission statement.” The Coalition intends to operate as an advocacy group for students who feel that the school does not listen to their concerns through traditional channels, which include ASWC Senate and other advocacy-oriented offices on campus.
“We are trying to be a body for students to express their concerns,” said Manning. “I think that recently, there have been a lot of issues at Whittier that have not been addressed in the way that the student body thinks they should have been addressed. And so we just want to make it known that we feel as though these issues do need to be addressed and we’re going to do our best to advocate for students.”
The Coalition is currently advocating for an investigation into the mistreatment of certain students by Whittier College’s administration. The investigation was started following a meeting between the Coalition, Whittier College President Sharon Herzberger, Human Resources Director Cynthia Joseph, and Dean of Students Joel Pérez on Feb. 13. The exact nature of the allegations being addressed is currently unclear, though the Quaker Campus hopes to follow up as the investigation progresses.
“Our short term goal right now is to [focus on] this investigation that has been opened by HR director Cynthia Joseph, and President Herzberger,” said Manning. “[HR has started to] gather statements from students — written statements outlining what their grievances are, and attached, if they have any proof or receipts.”
“Emails to HR should contain where [the incident] happened, when it happened, what happened, and who was involved,” said Manning. “And then any [relevant] emails or text messages or anything like that should be attached. Students can send these directly to Cynthia Joseph, the Director of HR’s email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can hand deliver them to her at her office.” Manning also stated that if multiple students witnessed the same incident and none of them feel comfortable speaking out alone, they can file a joint report.
“Our long term goal in general is to become a permanent body,” said Manning. “Right now we just registered under Social Justice Coalition so we’re considered a club … over the summer we want to restructure and then make ourselves an official body on campus that runs adjacent to Senate … that’s not to say that Senate tables in the past have been bad, it’s just that for anybody, for a table of full time students — some of whom work, do research, and other things — it’s just a lot to take on. So I feel as though the best way to get these concerns answered and actually handled efficiently is to have a separate body.” The Coalition held their first meeting last Friday in the SLC.
Since the Coalition’s first meeting, Co-President Eryn Wells has clarified that she resigned from her position on ASWC Senate due to grievances with specific administrators, not the entire LEAP Office. “I do not think all of the administrators under LEAP are negative people, or have any sort of biases towards students,” said Wells. She named two administrators (whose names have been removed to protect their identities), and continued, “when I resigned, I had [Administrator X] in mind . . . I was specifically referring to [Administrator X] and [their] supervisor [Administrator Y] when I resigned.”
Some Whittier students feel that these issues are systemic, and extend beyond the individual stories that have recently been shared by students at the College. Third-year Ashley Shah said that, “It’s worth noting that many of the problems or concerns being brought up now are reiterations of problems brought up before. Not only do administrative offices display patterns of racism, ableism, and misogyny, which go unpunished, but they often refuse to listen to complaints lodged by students or listen and then refuse to deal with them.” As mentioned above, Marquez claims to have experienced a similar situation, in which administrators ignored or avoided his requests to meet and discuss his frustrations with the school.
“We should think deeply about why these complaints are repeated and about what the administration of this school could have to gain from both exhibiting prejudiced behaviors and refusing to punish these behaviors,” said Shah. “Is it so unimaginable that a school which is run like a business and which relies on corporations and large private donors for funding does not always prioritize the interests of its students? If we live in a society which places profit above all else, it makes sense that our school would too. I also think it’s despicable that so many complaints have been lodged by students of color when our school markets itself on its diversity and receives funding for being a Hispanic-serving institution,” said Shah.
As the current investigation into racial discrimination and/or bias by administrators on campus progresses, and as the Coalition continues to evolve, the Quaker Campus will continue to report on both student and administrative perspectives in the coming weeks.