UVM Responds to Student Demands on Race, Diversity Issues | Off Message

UVM Responds to Student Demands on Race, Diversity Issues


The University of Vermont - SALLY MCCAY
  • Sally McCay
  • The University of Vermont
University of Vermont president Tom Sullivan and other top administrators resisted calls to expel the student who took down a Black Lives Matter flag — one of several demands made by students pressing the administration to address diversity issues.

"The student involved in the Black Lives Matter Flag theft was afforded a due process procedure and was sanctioned," the administrators said in a written response Friday to demands from the students. "The student cannot under law be charged or sanctioned again for the same incident that has been adjudicated."

Nor does Sullivan believe that the name of the late professor George Perkins should be removed from a building on campus — another of the students' demands.

Although George Perkins was the father of Henry Perkins, the UVM biology professor who directed the Vermont Eugenics Survey from 1925-1936, there is no evidence that the senior Perkins was involved in the eugenics program, Sullivan wrote.

The movement is "recognized now as dehumanizing, painful, and discriminatory," but "it would not be appropriate to remove Dean George Perkins’ name from Perkins Hall due to the actions of his son, Henry," the statement reads.

To strip his name from the building would be a mistake and could represent "guilt by association" and a return to the "regressive era of Senator Joseph McCarthy," according to Sullivan.

The president emailed the statement to the entire UVM community. It responded point by point to demands made by a group of students who marched to Sullivan's office in the Waterman building Monday and called for progress on a host of issues.

Sullivan met with some of the students Wednesday. The statement Friday morning was written by Sullivan and three other top administrators.

Last spring UVM student newspaper the Vermont Cynic broke the news that J.T. Reichhelm, an undergraduate at the school, had been quietly disciplined for taking down a Black Lives Matter flag flying next to the Davis Center. The incident last September upset many in the campus community. UVM authorities quickly learned who had taken the flag down but did not disclose who was responsible.

After the Cynic article, UVM leaders acknowledged that a student had been disciplined through the campus process, and that no criminal charges were pursued.

This week students said they considered the removal of the flag to be a hate crime.

"The University of Vermont once again showed students of color that our wellbeing means nothing and that we do not matter," their written demands state.

Sullivan's response seems to question the characterization of the incident as a hate crime.

"Hate Crimes are specifically defined by Vermont state law, determined by the State’s Attorney, and adjudicated through the court system," it reads. "It is important to note that under Vermont law hate crime is based upon a person’s intent/motivation and not on the impact of the crime. However, we are in full agreement that certain incidents have an injurious impact on members of our community, even if they do not meet the legal definition of a hate crime."

The statement also addressed many other demands, from increasing students and faculty of color to improving diversity education.

Harmony Edosomwan, one of the leaders of the student protest and the president of the UVM Black Student Union, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. The union Facebook page said a student forum on race issues would take place at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Livak Ballrooom at the Davis Center.

Read the students' demands and the response below:

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