The students demanded that the UVM President Tom Sullivan expel a student who stole a Black Lives Matter flag on campus last fall. They also urged the university to hire more faculty of color, reform diversity requirements and increase training for faculty. In addition, they want UVM to rename a building on campus that was named for George Perkins, a UVM dean who was the father of professor Henry Perkins, who contributed to the eugenics program at UVM in the 1930s.
“We are a different generation, we are not the generation that will allow this school to trample on students of color anymore,” Harmony Edosomwan, UVM’s Black Student Union president said to administrators outside the executive offices. “We demand to be fully seen as human by the institution.”
University of Vermont President Tom Sullivan sat down with the student leaders of the protest on Wednesday.
On Friday the university released a nine-page response. Sullivan, Provost and Senior Vice President David Rosowsky, Vice President for Human Resources, Diversity & Multicultural Affairs Wanda Heading-Grant, and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Annie Stevens, addressed the entire “University Community.”
“For more than three decades, the University has taken clear and decisive steps to address many of these issues outlined in these most recent concerns,” Sullivan and administrators wrote.
University administrators will not remove Perkins’ name from buildings, as demanded by students. They said there was no evidence that the building’s namesake, Dean George Perkins was involved in the eugenics movement, but they acknowledged that his son, Henry Perkins, a biology professor at UVM, was an active participant in the Nazi era movement.
Officials said the university cannot expel the student who stole the Black Lives Matter flag as he has already gone through a disciplinary process.
“The student involved in the Black Lives Matter Flag theft was afforded a due process procedure and was sanctioned. The student cannot under law be charged or sanctioned again for the same incident that has been adjudicated,” the release states.
They also explained plans to improve diversity courses and add more faculty of color.
Student leaders said while they will have a response soon, they were not ready to comment at this time.
This Saturday, the leaders planned to host a student forum to share experiences and explain why these demands should be met, Edosomwan said.
“Our voices haven’t been heard for such a long time, it’s our turn to speak up and be listened to,” she said.
BLM flag theft
The demands and protest were in part a response to the theft of a Black Lives Matter flag on campus last year. The students want the university to expel UVM student J.T. Reichhelm who allegedly stole the flag last year. He returned this fall as a sophomore, according to UVM’s directory.
Many students have called for the theft of the flag to be considered a hate crime.
“We need to recognize this as a hate crime,” Angelica Crespo, UVM senior said. “Stealing that flag was stealing our humanity.”
Last September, UVM made national headlines for flying the flag over the Davis Center green.
Days later, students woke up to an empty flagpole. Students discussed the theft in campus-led events of solidarity in the weeks after.
In April, documents obtained by UVM’s student newspaper regarding a fraternity suspension stated that fingerprints confirmed Reichhelm had stolen the flag.
Reichhelm was a fraternity pledge who was immediately expelled from the fraternity. Records show the fraternity turned the freshman over to university officials who did not release the information, citing federal student privacy laws.
Students are also demanding the reform of diversity requirements, which were first established in 1991 after a protest in which students of color occupied the president’s office in Waterman for 20 days before being removed by police.
The university plans to release a response to students in the next few days, UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera said in a statement on Thursday.
“A communication that will provide some background and information about the university’s efforts and its response to the concerns that have been raised by the students is being prepared, and will be shared broadly in the coming days after it is shared with the student representatives,” he stated.