By Ellen McGirt
March 12, 2019

While the world awaits the fuller story of Aunt Becky and her kids with the bad grades, there’s a substantive protest happening at Sarah Lawrence College, led by students who have earned the right to demand more.

First, the news. Actor Lori Loughlin, who played “Aunt Becky” on the hit show “Full House,” has been indicted along with scores of other wealthy parents for participating in a college admissions bribery scheme, which included cheating on standardized tests and bribing coaches to accept fabricated athletic credentials to better gain acceptance at elite schools.

Other people involved are William E. McGlashan Jr., founder and managing partner of TPG Growth, a Silicon Valley investment fund, wine baron Agustin Huneeus, Robert Zangrillo, CEO of venture firm Dragon Global, Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of the law firm Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, Elisabeth Kimmel, owner of Midwest Television, former Pimco CEO Doug Hodge, and actor Felicity Huffman.

But a lesser-covered story that’s unfolding now at Sarah Lawrence College appears emblematic of an equal and opposite issue.

Yesterday morning, a group of students calling themselves the Diaspora Coalition, entered an administrative and residential building called Westlands, for a 24-hour action to demand the college do better on diversity, better support students of color who are operating in a “worsening social climate,” and stop taking money from conservative donors like Charles Koch.

You can read their entire list of demands here, and I think you should. They’re detailed and specific, and yes, I expect to see similar versions at other colleges, soon.

From their statement:

We, the Diaspora Coalition, are a group of students who can speak to the injustices imposed on people of color by this institution on a daily basis. The Diaspora Coalition was established this fall in order to address the pain of marginalized students as well as to advise the administration on how to best address this pain. Each of us has seen this administration repeatedly diminish the hard work of student activists who merely want a quality education and the personalized curriculum that SLC promises. We extend solidarity to all people of color in the Sarah Lawrence Community, including international students, graduate students, faculty, and staff.

On March 11, 2019, the Diaspora Coalition, along with our allied peers, will occupy Westlands, make calls to the board, and present demands that describe not only our ideal vision for the school but also what we see as the only acceptable terms by which Sarah Lawrence can remain for the students and against hate.

Among other things, the students are lamenting the loss of their Chief Diversity Officer, Director of Diversity and Campus Engagement, and Assistant Director of Diversity and Campus Engagement. “We blame the administration’s lack of tangible commitment to diversity for these losses,” they write. They’re asking for the addition of tenured faculty of color to build up the college’s diaspora studies offerings, and therapists of color.

Many of the demands are designed to address the legacy of systemic inequality that makes college life difficult for many students of color, which includes a need-based food plan and free shelter for when the campus is closed. “A commitment that no student goes hungry includes graduate students and students that live off-campus,” they write. They’re also asking for a special office designed to meet the unique needs of first-generation and low-income students.

All of this is gradual-level inclusion work, by the way.

The sit-in has been using the hashtag #50YearsOfShame, a nod to a similarly themed 10-day 1969 protest at Sarah Lawrence.

“[Fifty] years later, we are left perplexed and frustrated with the administration’s choice to invisibilize the demands for racial justice at our institution for over five decades,” Coalition members wrote in a statement published by Popular Resistance. They report over 140 students who are occupying the building, and fifty alumni who have signed on in support.

The anger is not limited to colleges.

Not far from Sarah Lawrence, some high school students of color and their allies at the elite Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx, New York, erupted into their own occupation yesterday, frustrated by the administration’s alleged inattention to a disturbing student-made racist video and other ongoing tensions.

The students call themselves Students of Color Matter, and they want the video released publicly and apologies from each of the students involved. According to the New York Daily News, the video shows white students repeating the phrase, “crack n—-r.”

While a madcap scheme to get otherwise unqualified but wealthy students into prestigious schools may sound like late-night jokester material at first, the laughs die away when compared with reality – underfunded students of color going hungry or winding up homeless on school vacations, feeling unsafe on campuses, unable to learn their own history, or worse, not there at all.

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