UVM students call for resignations over white pride signs

BURLINGTON — More than 200 student protesters descended on the main administrative building at the University of Vermont Tuesday demanding reforms and the resignations of top officials.

The rally was timed partly in response to the recent rash of racially charged signs posted on the UVM campus as well as other Vermont campuses and universities nationwide .

At UVM, small signs with slogans like "innocent lives matter, not guilty ones," and "white privelaged [sic] and proud of it" were taped last Thursday on a section of a display case in the student center that contains information about the Mosaic Center for Students of Color.

Officials with the UVM Bias Response Team sent a message to students and staff condemning the posters and announcing that they had been taken down due to violating UVM's posting policy. Officials said they do not know who posted the messages.

Harmony Edosomwan, a student organizer and president of the Black Student Union, said the rally was originally planned for next week, but was pushed up because of the signs and a hunger strike started by a UVM staff member to protest racism on campus.

Protesting students accused university leaders of giving students of color only passing attention, and delegating campus issues around race and diversity to officials lower on the administrative ladder. They called for the resignation of university President Tom Sullivan, Provost David Rosowsky and Vice President for Student Affairs Annie Stevens.

"We're announcing it here for the first time. We're calling for the resignation of President Tom Sullivan," Edosomwan said to a cheering crowd of students.

The protest began on the steps of the Waterman Building and moved into the main atrium, just steps away from Sullivan's and Rosowsky's offices. A UVM police officer guarded the entrance to the offices throughout the rally.

In response to a request for comment, UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera provided a statement from David Daigle, the chair of UVM's board of trustees, affirming the board's confidence in all three officials.

"I wish to express my unwavering support for the senior leadership of the University of Vermont," Daigle said in the statement. "President Sullivan, Provost Rosowsky, and Vice Provost Annie Stevens each have a deep and steadfast commitment to the principles of diversity, inclusion, and equality that are important to our University."

This is not the first time such posters have appeared at UVM.

Signs that read "It's ok to be white," appeared on campus last November, and in January posters that depicted people of color who are also suspects in local criminal cases, including one man who was acquitted of a courthouse rape, read "Stop importing problems, start importing solutions."

Two other recent incidents have highlighted racial tensions at the university. A court case against a student who was allegedly overheard making racist and threatening comments over the phone was dropped in January. And the group that organized Tuesday's protest, NoNames for Justice, got their start last year after a Black Lives Matter flag was stolen from a campus flagpole.

After it was revealed through a public records request by the campus newspaper, The Vermont Cynic, that a UVM first-year student was behind the theft, students marched on the Waterman Building and gave administrators a list of demands.

The demands students gave to administrators then were similar to the demands delivered on Tuesday.

The students are asking the administration for university-wide diversity and inclusion training, more faculty of color and LGBTQA faculty, renovated diversity courses, mandatory training for Greek life, more funding for diversity and the renaming of campus buildings that protesters say are named after racists.

John Meija, the assistant director of off-campus services at UVM's office of student and community relations, started a hunger strike Friday with a similar list of demands, but said the university's leadership appeared unmoved.

"What they're doing, in my opinion, is waiting out student activists," Meija said of campus administrators.

Tuesday marks day five of Meija's strike.

In a message sent to the entire UVM campus Tuesday morning, Sullivan condemned the posters.

"Regardless of whether the messages come from within or outside our community, we condemn them to the fullest extent. We have no tolerance for racism in any form," Sullivan wrote, directing people to a letter on the university's website about its diversity initiatives.

He also said the university is offering Meija medical support, though Meija had yet to hear about any offer.

"No one has contacted me, and certainly no one has offered me medical assistance," Meija said Tuesday afternoon. Corredera said a medical team was trying to make contact to offer the assistance, but had not succeeded as of 5:30 p.m.

Meija said the hunger strike has started to take a toll, with decreased energy and appetite.

"People told me that at day four your body stops signaling for you to eat, because it finally gets the message that you're not going to. And it's true, I don't feel hunger pains," Meija said.

Experts say a human can survive without food for up to about 60 days. Meija said the hunger strike will continue until all student demands are met.

"I am willing to die," Meija said.


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