A black flag peers from behind a now bare tree, false signs of winter obscures its appearance– scraping but a few leaves blocking its visage. Upon walking closer it reads “Black Lives Matter.” In just a short walk from the library to this building a few students look up at this new installation. They wonder why its there, how it got there, and maybe what it means. For some, this new flag’s worth and meaning lives as a symbol of progress, or rather its incompleteness. What next?
Walking through this building, McCullough, one finds a clutter of activities, all with offices, mailboxes, fried food, as well as bodies flowing in and out. Students leave messages inside on the chalkboard. The chalkboard for a few resembles student sentiments and intentions of the flag that hangs outside–mostly prompted by election results and reactions. Black Lives Matter is written a number of times, followed by messages of hope and community bonding. However, now, the message has been tarnished and wiped a way to read All
BlackLives Matter. It is, at least, a smack in the face to the students and faculty members that are and have been working very hard to at least get the sentiment across. The few students walk out of McCullough and back to the library. They will wonder again how and why this flag appeared outside of this student center, with all of its activity and representations.
The Black Lives Matter hangs behind them, a reminder of hard work or confusion. For a few years now, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained mainstream momentum and it is widely agreed that there are fundamental and systemic issues that contribute to the misfortunes and deaths of black people in America. It is no surprise that college students continue a culture of activism on their campus in an effort to refute institutional hypocrisy. Does Middlebury College agree that black lives matter (or should matter more than they do now) and are they willing to shout it out? Would they even hang a flag? We say “they” knowing that the source of these answers isn’t always clear, so we set out to find out more about the people who found they.
The first weeks of school are all about setting a tone and agenda. At the start, many groups of students set out to mirror their ideals of diversity and inclusion. This attempt and the aforementioned flag was prompted by a discussion in Student Government Association:
September 25th SGA Meeting
The meeting is adjourned, but the idea of a BLM flag is still on the minds of student representatives, throughout the night and the painful hours of 6am the following morning. How do we make it a message from the school, but also how do we make it genuine? How does SGA encourage student activism rather than craft it?
September 26th 6:14am
Leaders of the Black Student Union Nia and Clark are texted by David Pesqueira, a student representative on the SGA:
The following SGA meeting, Nia & Clark are invited in what appears to be an effort to collaborate and not take over. Nia & Clark, present the idea of a Black Lives Matter flag sponsored by the Black Student Union.
An AdHoc committee is created to get a resolution and plan organized.
The minutes of the meeting were as follows:
The AdHoc Meeting Plans their next steps. How much is a flag? Where do we get it from? Do we have to tell the school? What do we actually need to do? Does Middlebury College think that Black Lives Matter enough to let us put a flag up? (okay, that last one was my own).
The Student Government Association meets and discusses the pending resolution in brief given the short amount of time left in the meeting:
- SGA President Toy states the ideal plan is to hang the Black Lives Matter flag after fall break
- During this time BSU will hand out BLM wristbands, provide a Teach In
- All of this leading up to the Shaun King lecture on November 1st
- Senators ask: Has there been a public announcement? How long will the flag be up? Has the administration been contacted?
- No, not yet. Unsure. BSU has emailed Katy Smith Abbott.
Pending the resolution’s completion, students reach out to Center for Religious Life faculty members to get the flag up on their department building. Although the faculty agree with the cause, they state not having any power to decide on whether the banner can be on a Middlebury College building–it’s not their call.
A Facebook group message with over 43 students goes out to see if there’s any interest in creating a Black Lives Matter Flag. There appears to be no knowledge of the SGA led flag creation.
Despite coming to a conclusion to collaborate, students expressed fears of faux institutional support, ignoring BSU, and the ability to have the two projects coexist.
October 23rd (later that day):
Nia Robinson & Clark Lewis meet with David Pesqueria to draft an SGA resolution that will eventually be passed that afternoon. The minutes were as follows:
BSU gives out BLM jelly bracelets
The Black Student Union hosts Teach In: Introduction to Activism attended by 37 students is held in the library.
Senior Leadership Group votes on the resolution, supporting hanging a Black Live Matter flag or banner on campus. However, the group extends the resolution in effort to create a “zone for free expression.”
The Middlebury Campus releases an article, announcing Shaun King’s speech and the recently passed SGA resolution.
Will DiGravio writes, “In the resolution, the SGA also officially announced their support for the endeavors of the Black Lives Matter movement and the BSU. They also recommended that President of the College Laurie L. Patton meet with representatives of the BSU at the end of the fall semester to discuss the sending of an e-mail statement that would support and endorse the Black Lives Matter movement.“
Are students making the flag because of financial difficulty? Please let us know
BSU Email Response:
Faculty Email reply:
Nine students attend The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 viewing in Axinn
“Free Speech Space” The idea of the flag becomes part of a larger conversation for the SGA, as expected, on free speech in general on campus. If this flag and the flag pole is established, should then the student body anticipate raising awareness on several ideas.
Sounds like coopting and erasure, but alas this is a chronicle not truly an op-ed.
The minutes from the SGA meeting:
“From the senators, there is conversation and about the possibility of a flag war happening with the Student Initiative Pole idea. The example brought up is if someone wants to hang up an Israeli flag and then someone wants to hang up a Palestinian flag, so who would take precedence. They state also that the Free Speech zone should stress that it should not go against community standards.”
Members of The Campus attempt to clarify notes put out by the Office for Communications & Marketing, primarily from the Vice President for Communications, including but not limited to the following:
There is a lack of funds ($150) to fund a flag pole in order to raise the BLM flag, however, there is a desire to speak in the future once funds are available.
Meet the Press brings Shaun King to campus to deliver a speak entitled “Why We Must Say Black Lives Matter.”
Fox News includes Middlebury in its critique of PC culture on college campus. They make note of both the flag and the passed SGA bill.
Who do we talk to about putting the flag up? Should we talk to the athletic center directors?
Emails sent to faculty: dimensions of the flag
The Campus article, “In Support of Black Lives Matter” is published online.
Email sent out to meet with Miguel or give the flag to facilities
The Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of the College release an all student email, the message included the following:
The administration is taking this step to show its support for the BSU and for all students of color at Middlebury, to acknowledge the particular challenges they confront, to honor the vital and varied contributions they make, and to affirm that there is no membership in this community other than full membership. To be here is to belong here. Equally, we support BSU’s effort to draw attention to the compelling moral issues underscored by the Black Lives Matter movement.
This also is a first step to make all students’ opinions welcome in the public sphere. In the spirit of fostering greater rhetorical resilience (😒), we want to support the interests and efforts of all Middlebury College students and student organizations to present and advocate for their views without asking for or requiring administrative support.
A banner made by students goes up on the outside of McCullough Social Space.
Instagram posts go up, including this one.
Students rejoice in small steps toward institutional recognition
Student workers report that alums and parents, after hearing about the flag from Fox News, threaten not to make donations to the college for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, what they consider “an organized terrorist group.”
Community Council Meeting
Student activism on Middlebury’s campus surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement has been prominent and documented since 2014, when over 100 students gathered in Ross dining hall for a Die-In. However, in recent years student activism seems to lack direct recognition from the administration and even targeted admonishing. Student activism has been framed as rogue, pranks, vandalism, and symbolically supported by the college when the activism itself is symbolic. For some the desire is in proclamation, state that Black Lives Matter. A phrase that acknowledges the harm already done and refutes the idea that it should continue. For others it involves institutional, policy, and investment changes that contribute to the transgressions against black people.The flag thus, seems to exist as symbol that Middlebury College does not support these transgressions, and yet these actions come from student and faculty activism, not administrators.I have to wonder if the black lives matter email is still in the drafts or if another group of students will be put on trial by the school for asserting beliefs on behalf of the college (beliefs we were hopeful the college already held, based on its symbols).