On June 19, 2024
Opinions

VTSU should renew its commitment to diversity office

Dear Editor,

In the summer of 2020, the nation watched 8 minutes and 46 seconds of video of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a detained man named George Floyd until Floyd was asphyxiated to death. It was horrific, and Floyd was only one of several people of color who died at the hands of law enforcement that year. Yet the fact that we all witnessed it roused public awareness of America’s problems with race. For many Americans, Floyd’s death was an awakening, but social scientists have a bounty of data—such as the fact that white households have a net worth greater than 10 times that of Black households—that shows that America has not reckoned with its long history of racial injustice. 

To address some of the structural injustices we face, colleges and universities looked inward and in many cases established or re-invigorated offices that were meant to address social justice on our campuses. Vermont State University (VTSU) created a new position of chief diversity officer (CDO) who would report directly to the president and have an independent budget to address the needs of social justice. Sadly, amid the process of merging the formerly independent colleges, the first CDO resigned after the position was changed to report to a vice president, and promises made were not kept. 

The major societal problems that provoked the establishment of such offices are as salient today as they were in 2020, and yet we have seen a decline in support for those offices as the spotlight has faded and political backlash has risen. We have seen the university’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice (DEISJ) diminish as if the problems were solved. And this month we see another resignation from the DEISJ office in response to the university’s unwillingness to support it adequately. 

On March 12, VTSU President Bergh met with the student chapter of the NAACP at the Castleton campus, where the students urged the president to re-institute the reporting line of the CDO to go directly to him as a sign that DEISJ is important. 

The response was—and we paraphrase— “let me look into it.” 

More than three months have passed. 

Now we urge the members of the VSCS Board of Trustees and the chancellor to support this move. We, the student leaders of the student NAACP chapter, along with our parent organization, the Rutland Area Branch, strongly advocate for the re-invigoration of the DEISJ Office and making the CDO a direct report to the president, as a good faith commitment to the values of social justice the University claims to hold. 

We have seen recently how universities fail to address systemic racism and inequality, shifting focus away from marginalized communities and allowing structures of oppression to persist. Despite initial steps towards progress, like the establishment of offices meant to address social justice, we witness the erosion of commitment and support as time passes. The promises made to marginalized students and communities are broken, leaving them without the resources and support they were assured. 

By joining together as we have done before to demand the reinstatement of the original reporting structure for the CDO, we can ensure that marginalized voices are heard and that meaningful action is taken to dismantle the systems of oppression that continue to plague our campuses.

Both the Rutland area NAACP branch and the student NAACP chapter stand united in solidarity, echoing the sentiments expressed in this statement. We recognize the importance of collective action and community collaboration in effecting meaningful change. As advocates for social justice and equality, we urge the governing board to heed our call and reestablish the original commitments made to address systemic injustices on our campuses. Together, with a shared vision and unwavering determination, we can work towards building a more inclusive and equitable future for all members of our beloved community.

Respectfully, 

Cale Santee (he/him) president, VTSU Castleton student NAACP chapter  

Mia Schultz (she/her) president, Rutland Area NAACP

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