Simmtober Stories: Where Leaders Make Themselves

October 22, 2016

Students presenting Ten Demands

On November 17, 2015, over 200 students gathered in the Main College Building to present their concerns about the experience of students of color at Simmons College.  Organized by the Students of Color Inclusion Council (SCIC), the demonstration lasted one hour and presented a list of ten demands to President Helen Drinan and Provost Katie Conboy detailing steps that the College should take to better serve students of color.  

To many alumnae/i, faculty, and staff, this may sound familiar. In 1969, the Black Student Organization (BSO) presented a similar list of ten demands to the president, which resulted in an increase in Black faculty and more inclusion of Black issues in the curriculum.  A copy of the 1969 Ten Demands still hangs in the BSO office, the site of much of the planning for the 2015 Ten Demands demonstration, reminding the students of the legacy of their predecessors.

To student organizers in 2015, the question of their own legacy was paramount as they discussed their experiences and crafted the language of their demands.  Lyra de Castro  ’16 , one of the founding organizers of the SCIC, recounts, “At the very core of writing the Ten Demands it was this deep disappointment of feeling like Simmons College wasn’t student-centered.  Is it student-centered? For which students?”  Lyra and many other students of color said they had felt excluded at times from parts of the Simmons community, and they were frustrated that previous attempts to make changes needed to create a more inclusive community had failed.  

Students of color had been sharing their experiences with each other in class, in social gatherings, and at programs such as Campus Conversations On Race, hosted by a student organization known as the Like Minds Coalition.  At the same time, demonstrations in Ferguson, MO ; Charleston, SC; the University of Missouri, and elsewhere were amplifying dialogue about the role of race and racism in American society and on college campuses. Students at Simmons recognized the opportunity to bring this conversation home and connect it to the issues they had already been sharing with each other.  

Inspired by the long history of activism at Simmons, the students decided to stage a nonviolent direct action to make a statement to the campus community.  Members of the SCIC and other multicultural student organizations carefully crafted ten demands, focusing on the policies and programs that they felt would create a more inclusive campus culture.  On November 17, 2015, students silently filled the dining area of the Common Grounds coffee shop, holding the space for an hour. They closed the action by reading aloud the list of demands.  

President Helen Drinan and Provost Katie Conboy arrived at the demonstration only minutes after it began, and were asked to return in an hour.  They sat with the leaders of the SCIC and other multicultural student organizations and discussed the content of the demands.  After several minutes of listening to the students’ concerns, the administrators agreed to a future meeting with students to more deeply address the demands and the ways that Simmons could begin implementing the changes necessary to make the campus community more inclusive.

The peaceful demonstration continued as other students as well as faculty, and staff learned of the protest on social media and joined.  Many alumnae/i supported from afar using the hashtags #littlehaschanged and #BlackOnCampus, sharing their own experiences of race at Simmons.  The events of this day were only the beginning of a conversation and a movement to change the culture on campus.

The next few months were filled with activity as people across campus worked to turn the ideas outlined in the Ten Demands into reality.  Students met with administrators privately to share their personal stories of race on campus.  Community meetings open to all students, faculty, and staff offered a more public forum for discussion of the topics in the Ten Demands.  Every Thursday, President Drinan sent a message to the community sharing a different point from the Ten Demands and the actions that the College would take to implement that demand.  The most visible of these actions was the opening of the Multicultural Student Office, in direct response to the seventh demand.  The office opened on May 2, 2016, and serves as a gathering space for the student affinity organizations.  

The quick response to the demands not only signaled Simmons’ acceptance of these students concerns and commitment to fixing the campus culture, it  provided a sense of accomplishment to the students who led the demonstration, many of whom were graduating soon.  

Many leaders don’t get to see tangible results of their work, but these students (now alumnae/i) were able to watch their ideas happening right in front of them.  They recognized and identified a problem in their community, presented solutions, and worked to make sure that these solutions became a reality.  Their vision and tenacity are ideal qualities of great leaders, and their experiences at Simmons will prepare them well for their future endeavors.

The final phrase of the Simmons’ tagline, “Where leaders make themselves,” doesn’t just describe the history of leaders who have emerged from our school, it is a charge to all current and future members of our community.  It is not enough to be a passive bystander; everyone who joins is expected to use their voice and influence for the greatest good.  

Every day, Simmons students present ideas and put those ideas to work to make their communities more welcoming for everyone.  You can make sure that these students and their hard work is supported with a gift to The Simmons Fund for Diversity and Inclusion.  Every donation displays a powerful vote of confidence the College’s student-centered mission and gives us the fuel we need to keep pushing these initiatives forward.  

“I give to The Simmons Fund because I want to secure the legacy of the Ten Demands.  I never want us to be in the position where we can’t afford to serve every student. I also give because I care about Simmons. Even getting past the frustration that led to the writing of the Ten Demands, I did it because I love the college. I care about the college and the students, that’s why we wrote the demands.  I know we can keep this going with our generosity.” – Lyra de Castro ’16 

Make your gift today and take a stand for a Simmons that leaders like Lyra would be proud of: an inclusive community that supports the success of every student.