TCU Senate passes resolutions on Indigenous People’s Day and #TheThreePercent demands

Tufts students rally for institutional changes at colleges across the country during a National Day of Action with Harvard students in Porter Square on Nov. 18. Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily

Over 40 students attended Sunday night’s TCU Senate meeting to hear senators discuss two major resolutions on Indigenous People’s Day and solidarity with #TheThreePercent. Some of the students held signs with messages such as “#TuftsWithTheThree.”

The first resolution called for the university to recognize Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day and was submitted by Chair of Student Outreach Committee Benya Kraus, LGBT Community Representative Parker Breza, Diversity & Community Affairs (DCA) Officer Anna Del Castillo, a sophomore, and TCU Vice President Gauri Seth, a junior.

Before opening the floor for debate, senators watched a video comprised of interviews with students speaking in support of the resolution.

In the video, Kraus spoke about how Columbus Day is painful to indigenous people and others who have been marginalized.

“The whole concept of naming a day after genocide and violence and colonization and just the complete wiping out of a population of a people, of a land — I think that concept is so painful, not just to indigenous students, to indigenous people, but I think that pain is connected to all that people who have [had] their history silenced,” Kraus, a sophomore, said

Sophomore Amanda Ng Yann Chwen said that Tufts, as a powerful institution, should not celebrate Columbus Day.

“I think our struggles are connected and I think, as an international student, I cannot be silent about this because the shit that people in my country as a postcolonial society have to go through,” Chwen, who is from Malaysia and Singapore, said.

The video ended with the phrase “Tufts University students in solidarity with Indigenous People” on-screen. The authors then spoke briefly about the resolution itself.

“It’s extremely important to many students on this campus,” Breza, a first-year, said.

Kraus added that a similar resolution also calling for the university to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day was passed on Sept. 28 of last year but that it was ultimately voted down by the faculty. A month after the resolution passed in 2014, students organized the first-ever Indigenous People’s Day rally on Oct. 13 to “commemorate, mourn and celebrate the lives of indigenous peoples.”

On Nov. 16, members of the Senate organized a working group to draft and implement the current resolution in the LGBT Center.

“This year, we plan to not only write and pass a similar resolution, but also work together to ENSURE that it leads to sound policy changes,” the Facebook event for the working group said. “We are determined to see Columbus Day renamed to Indigenous People’s Day on all Tufts University calendars next year, and hope to build a strong coalition with other Tufts students who wish to see the same and be part of the political process in order to ensure that this happens.”

Columbus Day this year, which fell on Oct. 12, was not an official university holiday due to the late start to the semester, according to a Sept. 21 article in the Daily.

The Tufts academic calendar, which lists all university holidays scheduled through the spring of 2020, indicates that Columbus Day will be celebrated as an academic holiday in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

“AS&E faculty members officially vote on the academic calendar for several years at a time, and those calendars are posted online,” Jillian Dubman, secretary of the faculty in the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, told the Daily in the Sept. 21 article.

Kraus explained that the resolution was important to disrupt the dominant narrative, to question it and to draw greater understanding from it.

The resolution stated that Columbus Day, which falls annually on the second Monday of October, “overlooks a painful history of colonialism, enslavement, discrimination and land grabs,” including the fact that the university’s campus historically belonged to indigenous people. It also explained that other universities such as Cornell University and the University of California at Berkeley have adopted Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day, as have nine cities. States such as Hawaii, South Dakota, Oregon and Alaska also do not celebrate Columbus Day, the resolution said.

In light of all of that, the resolution “urges Tufts University to recognize Indigenous People’s Day, in place of ‘Columbus Day’ on the second Monday of every October.”

Following a brief debate, during which the resolution’s authors spoke about their plans to successfully implement the proposed resolution by working closely with faculty members, Senate passed the resolution unanimously.

Senators next considered the second resolution, titled “Resolution Demonstrating Solidarity with #TheThreePercent,” which was submitted by approximately 70 individuals, including TCU Africana Community Representative Fatima Ajose.

Ajose, a sophomore, explained that by passing the resolution, which outlined nine demands to the administration put forth by Black-identifying students under the name #TheThreePercent, Senate’s would demonstrate solidarity with #TheThreePercent.

#TheThreePercent first announced their demands during a Nov. 17 to march to Porter Square, when 200 Tufts students joined students from Harvard University and members of the surrounding community as part of a national movement calling for colleges to do more to combat racism. The demands included raising the percentage of Black-identifying students in the student body to 13 percent and increasing the percentage of Black-identifying faculty and staff to 13 percent to be in line with national averages of African-Americans in the United States.

“We are actually already in talks with the administration to fulfill these demands in some capacity or another,” Ajose said.

She explained that passing the resolution would give student representatives of #TheThreePercent greater leverage in lobbying the administration to meet the movement’s demands.

“The administration sees the TCU Senate as representative of the student body, so if this passes through Senate…[it shows that] the student body backs us as Black students on this campus,” she said.

Responding to various questions posed by senators, Ajose spoke in-depth about some of the resolution’s clauses.

She explained that the demand resolution clause calling for the university to increase the Africana Center’s budget by 25 percent is meant, in part, to help the center fund a pre-orientation program, similar to the Team Q orientation program at Tufts and the first-generation pre-orientation program at Williams. Ajose could not disclose the budget increase amount but said it totaled to “basically how much it’ll cost to put on an orientation of that size.”

One of the resolution clauses called for the university to “enroll a minimum of 200 Black-identifying students for the class of 2020” and to enroll a minimum of 13 percent Black students in years following that. Ajose explained that the reason why #TheThreePercent gave specific numbers for the enrollment of 13 percent Black students at Tufts was because Tufts has not increased its enrollment of Black students by a significant amount since around 1969.

According to a spring 2002 article by Gerald Gill, former Tufts professor and a historian of African-American history and race relations, there were less than 20 Black undergraduate and graduate students at Tufts in the fall of 1963 and approximately 40 by the fall of 1966. Gill wrote that between 1966 to 1972, the “Black student population increased by 700 percent” from 40 students to 289 students.

While enrollment of Black students remained steady at around 250 to 280 students from the mid-1970s to early 1980s, enrollment declined throughout the 1980s, according to Gill.

Ajose said that the recently enrolled class of 2019 had only 68 Black undergraduate students.

“[Tufts has] had decades,” she said. “Asking for 200 or demanding for 200 [Black undergraduates in the Class of 2020], it makes sense … [Tufts has] had way more than five years… other universities have already hit this number.”

Ajose next spoke about the clause to increase the minimum wage on campus, saying it will help students who are on financial aid hit their work study aid cap amount more quickly and allow them to maximize their financial assistance.

In response to questions about Supreme Court cases that make racial quotas illegal, Ajose said that she and students from #TheThreePercent “fully recognize and understand those Supreme Court cases,” adding that she was not going to disclose the exact nature of the talks between #TheThreePercent students and Tufts administrators.

One senator asked a question about the role of Tufts Admissions in the enrollment of students, noting that there may be factors outside of Admissions’ control that lead Black students to enroll at other universities. Ajose responded by saying that Tufts should accept more Black students to increase Black students’ final enrollment percentage.

In addition, she said that Tufts needs to create “an environment that is welcoming to Black students.”

“We don’t have enough Black people on this campus to have a diverse campus…that in itself takes away from the experience,” one student who was not on Senate said.

Phillip Ellison, one of the members of #TheThreePercent, said that it is also important for Tufts to produce a report comparing its outreach initiatives for Black students to those at other schools in the New England Small College Athletic conference (NESCAC) and in the Ivy League.

“We want every stone to be unearthed,” Ellison, a senior, said.

He added that Admissions could do more, for example, by compiling a list of Black alumni who have been successful in finance, education and racial justice.

Ellison said that it will take the trustees, faculty, administration, Black students and allies to make all of the changes.

“We’re already in talks with the administration to fulfill these [demands], so they are already in support of them I could say,” Ajose said.

Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin said he and other members of the administration met with representatives of the #thethreepercent last week to discuss the demands. Coffin explained that guaranteeing 13 percent Black enrollment would be illegal, since it would violate Supreme Court rulings made in 1978 and 2003 that ban race-based quotas. These rulings do not forbid colleges from setting goals to increase enrollment of under-represented groups — an important objective for Admissions, he said. Coffin, however, stressed that financial aid resources must be considered in the conversations about increased Black student enrollment, since the majority of Black applicants — as well as most other demographics — apply for aid.

“A conversation about increasing our Black enrollment must be connected to a conversation about generating additional resources for need-based aid: Tufts cannot significantly expand our Black enrollment until those resources are secured,” he told the Daily in an email. “While President Monaco is actively raising these endowment funds, the demographics of recent classes reflect the constraints of our aid budget. It is also important to underscore another critical access policy we maintain: Tufts meets 100 percent of the demonstrated need for all students offered admission, something many colleges can no longer afford to guarantee.”

Coffin added that though Admissions is open to speaking with students and alumni about new yield strategies, the low enrollment rates should not be attributed to poor recruitment.

“Our travel and outreach strategies generate a large and talented pool of Black applicants each year from across the US, and the undergraduate admissions staff is committed to aggressively and creatively managing this effort,” he said.

TCU President Brian Tesser, a senior, said that the demands “were really intentional, they weren’t arbitrary” and that they would “affect actual change on this campus.”

Several senators asked for clarifications about resolution clauses and a few introduced amendments to change things in the resolution. One amendment that ultimately was accepted by the authors for the resolution was about increasing the enrollment of Black-identifying students to a minimum of 13 percent, instead stating that the enrollment of Black identifying students at Tufts would be “comparable to the number of Black-identifying students in the United States” to account for population and demographic changes.

TCU Treasurer Shai Slotky added that #TheThreePercent students were doing “monumental work.” He expressed confusion about some of the amendments and clarifications that other senators were speaking about, saying that the resolution was written by Black students for Black students and that Senate should not try to change the specific language of clauses.

“Why we’re making any changes to this at all is beyond me,” Slotky, a junior, said.

The resolution ultimately passed by a vote of 25-1-1.

Earlier in the Senate meeting, two student organizations also appealed for supplementary funding.

Parnassus, a weekly writing circle on campus, appealed for $37 to fund refreshments at their upcoming leadership meeting. According to founder of Parnassus Julia Malleck, a senior, the event will center on the cultivation of leadership and will be used to discuss the future of the club, as most of its members are seniors.

Referencing Senate’s policy to not fund food for meetings or food as incentives, however, Allocations Board (ALBO) members voted to not fund the event at all. Eventually, TCU Senate pass ALBO’s recommended amount of $0 by a vote of 17-11-0.

Tufts Bikes then requested supplementary funding of $2,864 to build a bike repair station outside the Mayer Campus Center that could be used at any time by any student to repair and readjust their bike. According to President of Tufts Bikes Claire Stone, the repair station would help make up for the limited hours of the Bike Shop located in the Crafts Center. Tufts Facilities Services Department has refused to fund the proposed bike repair station, saying that the responsibility falls under Student Services’ justidiction and it is not directly under Facilities’ purview, Stone, a junior, said.

Many members of ALBO, including Seth, took issue with Facilities’ denial to fund the repair shop. According to Seth, the Student Activities Fee should not be used to fund anything related to facilities, which a bike repair station would fall under. Other members of ALBO and Senate, however, felt that the universal benefits of a bike repair station for any Tufts student with a bicycle was enough to warrant Senate supplementary funding.

Senate, after overturning ALBO’s originally recommended amount of $0, eventually agreed to pass Tufts Bike’s requested amount of $2,864 by a vote of 15-14-0.

Senate then passed funding of $3,022 for Tufts Quidditch, $265 for the Tufts American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), $966 for Tufts Tamasha, $0 for Tufts Film Series and $1,504 for Tufts Association of South Asians (TASA). Except for Tufts Quidditch, which passed by a vote of 26-2-0, all other votes passed by acclimation.

At the end of the meeting, various Senators gave updates on their individual projects.

Correction: The previous version of this story may have been misleading in its direct comparison of the total number of Black undergraduate and graduate students in 1966 — 40 students — to the number of Black undergraduate students that were enrolled at Tufts as part of the Class of 2019 — 68 students. The article has been modified so that two different measurements were not compared directly. A quote from the TCU Africana Community Representative was also clarified to explain that the reference to #TheThreePercent demand for the enrollment of at least 200 Black-identifying students is for undergraduates in the Class of 2020. The Daily regrets this error.