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Legacy Alumni of Color group strives to make campus more inclusive

Irene Rotondo
@irenerrotondo

A passion to solve racial injustices has long been aflame in the hearts of those who make Springfield College the institution that it is — the students and alumni, and particularly, the alumni of color.

Unfortunately, as of late, the College has been lacking severely in what it professes to be one of its strengths. Until this year, there has been a low sense of racial responsibility in either the administration, faculty and even the students and what they care about pertaining to campus life. 

This is not to say that Springfield College students do not support the equality of themselves and their peers; rather, they are missing an understanding of what made alumni of color from 50-years ago overtake multiple buildings on campus in the name of racial equality.

The Legacy Alumni of Color group aims to breathe life back into the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) students and the campus as a whole, to radicalize and to electrify the College community in their beliefs of a just and equal society for all to manifest their own success.

The Legacy group was created in July of 2020, when Dr. Donald Brown (G’69) decided he’d had enough in the way of missing the relationships he and other alumni of color had fostered together in their days as students at the College.

“In terms of our coming together initially, a good number of us hadn’t seen each other in about 50 years,” said Brown.

“And I thought that it was time for us to reconnect, to say that I love you, I’m concerned about you, are you a father? Are you a mother? Are you a grandparent? We just needed to see each other, and spend some time loving on each other. But then it evolved into these other things… there were concerns on campus brought to our attention.”

Brown’s initial concern with the campus was that many things have not changed in the 50-years since he was a student. A few of the concerns date back to those that sparked the ‘69-70 takeovers. These initial concerns included a lack of BIPOC head coaches for major sports, the Admissions Office and all of the issues that pertain to it, and a day set aside for the College to confront racism. The concerns have still gone largely unaddressed by the College.

In 1969, BIPOC students, many of whom are now a part of the Legacy Alumni of Color group, banded together to create a coalition in order to address the racial injustices and prejudices they felt at the hands of Springfield College. 

They sent President Wilbur Locklin a memorandum detailing nine demands they had for the administration to benefit the few BIPOC students that were at Springfield College on Feb. 19, 1969. These demands included, but were not limited to, the installment of a Black coach, the enrollment of at least 200 BIPOC students into the freshman class of ‘73 (a massive leap from the 20-25 BIPOC students that were enrolled at the College at the time), and the addition of a Black staff member in the Admissions Office.

On May 10, 1969, the students cited a lack of progress on their original nine demands. They resubmitted a new list, this time detailing 11 different demands. The 11 demands were rejected by President Locklin with support of his faculty on May 13, and following its dismissal, 33 Black students entered the Administration building on May 14 at 10:45 p.m. to advocate for themselves and let the administrators know they were a force to be reckoned with. 

The students were led by the only Black faculty member on campus at the time, Dr. Jesse Parks. Dr. Parks headed the students voluntarily out of the Administration building on May 15 at 11:15 a.m. – after they had interacted with administration – on a march across campus that ended off-campus.

Later that same year, President Locklin attempted the contrivance of a beta version of a “cultural center” to appease the Black students and their demands. Unsatisfied with what the school called “progress,” students again decided to take over a Springfield College building and at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, March 10, 1970, 49 Black students seized Massasoit Hall. 

They ejected all of the students residing in the dorm from their rooms and occupied the building for two days, all the while meeting with Dean of Students John Costello and other administrators. 

The administrators and Dean unsuccessfully tried to remove the students from the hall multiple times. The students denied the administration, saying that they would, under no circumstances, be leaving the dormitory. 

The students then issued this statement: “First, the takeover was not solely a result of Monday night’s incident. Rather it was a mixture of frustration, fear and mistrust that has overshadowed the everyday lives of Black students here on the campus of Springfield College. Secondly, the takeover reaffirms our grave disappointment in the handling of Black students’ demands issued on February 19, 1969, and May 12, 1969.”

The College decided that they had two options in order to remove the students: they either were to call in a large number of police officers from the City of Springfield to arrest the students for trespassing, or they were to “employ the injunctive process by means of a Court order through the Superior Court of Springfield.”

Choosing the latter, faculty was brought in to Massasoit Hall to assist police in identifying all 49 students, who were then served with their citations and taken into custody onto a charter bus straight to the courthouse by police officers.

The 49 students and their families were then informed of their suspension from the College following their court dates and citations; each of the students faced a fine from the court, and all were jailed upon removal. 

Dismissed from campus, the students were ordered to stay away “for their own safety” and were given options for other disciplinary factors that would qualify them for individual re-acceptance to Springfield. Most students chose to not return to campus.

Finally, in April of 1970, the Administration building was overthrown for the last time in recent history. This time, white student protestors who supported the mission of the Black students involved in previous protests were also present; the students felt that the Black students who had taken over Massasoit Hall were punished in a “double jeopardy” style in way of the ramifications they faced from both the Superior Court and the College. 

They released a nine-demand statement, similar to the original nine statements brought forth in ‘69, but with special demands pertaining to the consequences students faced during the Massasoit Hall takeover.

The protestors that overtook the Administration building were arrested by police, charged with trespassing and expelled by the school. The students later sued the College in Probate Court because the collegiate judicial process offered no due process to students; the court accepted, and stopped the college from taking part in any judicial proceedings before a new judicial system was established and approved by the court.

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Since that time, the only large-scale protest that has taken place at Springfield College was the March for Action in the fall of 2020. Though a great start, The Legacy Alumni of Color group seeks to bring the same energy and hunger for advancement back to the campus to create tangible change for BIPOC students.

Keith McDermott (G’84) stated that he remembers a similar spirit as to the one the College has today during his time as a student. 

“I graduated in 1984, and when I got to Springfield I heard rumors about some Black students taking over the Administration building over certain demands, but it was almost like part of a movie,” remembered McDermott. “It didn’t seem real, you know, and it wasn’t really passed down. So, when I became a part of this group, I wondered, ‘How can we make sure that the Legacy and understanding is kind of passed on to the next generation?’ to make sure that they… hold people to their word. 

“So, now it’s 50-years later, and we’re still dealing with the same issue, so it was kind of disappointing to me that… how do I get back involved, and make sure that those legacy or traditions or commitments are passed on so we can have some positive progress going forward? And I repeat the same, so we’re not dealing with this 50 years from now.”

The group attributed the durable, loving relationships that they built with each other to the strength their group possesses. Dr. Brown stated that he holds every member of the Legacy in high regard for all of their lived experiences and manifested triumphs.

“When I was in college, it was mentioned that these relationships that you form will last a lifetime. The folk that are around you, they’re going to be in your life for a lifetime. Well, life has gone by, very quickly, and it is true — that the relationships I established there, have become extremely important to me, particularly since July of 2020,” said Brown. 

“These folks mean so much to me, and it’s exciting to learn about the journeys that they’ve been on– we’ve had a chance to talk to each other, and to learn what our experiences have been. That has really been a source of joy for me.”

Members of the Legacy say that their time as students was both beneficial to their careers and difficult to stomach. Teresa Burr (G’70, M’73) remembered good and bad times as a student.

“I can say the good experience for me was meeting like-minded students. There weren’t many of us on campus, my freshman class there were 15 students of color, and that presented a challenge to the campus, and just working through all its issues,” said Burr.

 “My friends… that was great for me. The dorm life was challenging, the activity of the flag-burning — that just, that did it for me, I became very angry at that point, but again I had the students who were here now, the alumni, we worked for it, so that’s the good and the bad that I remember,” she added.

John Curtis (G’71) had similar feelings to Burr.

“I can say, without a doubt, it was one of the worst times of my life that became an incredibly wonderful period in time,” stated Curtis. “As Terry said, when we first got to campus, we had 20-25 people that you could really speak with, and then frustrations boiled to the point where we led through the Administration takeover. For me, I didn’t go in, I had to make some hard choices, but as a student, as a person, my growth was accelerated, and I was very fortunate as an athlete to well-surpass any of my goals.

“So, when I left Springfield, it was an absolutely wonderful experience, it gave me contacts in my world that still, to this day, are at the top of their field. Like I said, it was four of the best years of my life, and in those four years, a couple of the years there I did not want to be there, but all in all, I love the place.”

McDermott, a graduate 10-years after the building takeovers, remembered his time fondly. He wishes that the current climate could return to what he experienced as a student.

“I was an athlete myself, and (on) the track team, in general, I don’t ever recall any kind of racial incident being there. And I also know, if you’re an athlete, you’re kind of insulated, somewhat, especially if you’re a good one. And all of the other stuff other people are subjected to, you’re kind of like brushed over,” said McDermott.

“In retrospect, you might have been oblivious to certain things (…) but I talked a lot to my old teammates, white and Black, [and they were like] ‘Were you aware of any of this stuff going on?’ I’m like, ‘No, we just got along!’ So if someone could pull a page from how we got along, and transfer that to how people got along today, it would just make such a big difference.”

Now, the Legacy Alumni of Color group feels that the climate for BIPOC students on campus is not comfortable, nor livable. They presented a new kind of list of demands this past fall called “A Blueprint For Change,” a detailed plan to ensure success and stability in the college lives (and beyond) of BIPOC Springfield College students.

So far, the group feels that the College is appropriately responding to their demands, especially in juxtaposition to their reaction to the original 1969 demands. Brown is optimistic that all of their demands recorded in the Blueprint will be met.

“I’ll just say unequivocally, that I think that we’re being listened to, I think that a tremendous amount of progress has been made,” said Brown. “As I think about the five committees that were put together, progress has been made in each one of those committees… Campus police is one of the initiatives, distinguished persons recognition is another one, a day to confront racism and white privilege is going to manifest itself on March 25. That day is going to happen.

“We’re feeling good that the last initiative, and probably the most important initiative, is going to come to fruition, and that a pipeline is going to be put in place to identify, recruit and hire graduate assistants that will then become assistant coaches and ultimately head coaches at Springfield College – if not Springfield College then elsewhere. We’re confident that’s going to come to fruition; in fact, it has to. It absolutely has to, as there’s never been a person of color overseeing a major sport at Springfield College, and we know that the moneymakers are what? We know that they’re basketball and football, we know there’s never been a Black head coach, a Latino head coach,” finished Brown.

Teresa Burr has also been working with the Alumni office to get more BIPOC mentors into their system, and John Curtis will be using his connections in Florida to recruit more BIPOC students into the Springfield College athletic and academic programs. Roger and Linda Moffat are working to create a fellowship program that will provide funding for minority graduate assistant coaches; the program is currently being funded by the College and the athletics department, but will become self-sustaining in time. 

The Legacy is feeling confident that their efforts will finally pay off in making Springfield College the environment they have always envisioned it should be.

Brown said that he feels the trustees of the College will be some of the most influential pieces in making sure the Legacy’s demands are fulfilled because of their apparent emotional reactions to the demands.

“That was very, very clear in our meetings initially, when the trustees joined the President and the other members of the Leadership Team,” he said “There was an emotion that came forward, they were supportive of the things that we were doing, that we were asking. We hadn’t spoken to them a lot, but that’s our sense, that there is some support there.”

The Legacy also made sure to mention that they are working on some other initiatives that had been added to the Blueprint as “added recommendations.” These recommendations, though they do not require a full committee to be completed, are still very important to the Legacy’s mission. 

The recommendations include multiple installments of BIPOC individuals to different areas of the College’s administration. The Legacy is advocating for at least one BIPOC person to be on the President’s Leadership Team, in the Counseling Center, and in the Office of Spiritual Life. The College has already made good on one of those recommendations with the hiring of Tiffany Bedford as a counselor and the group is excited about the impact she will have on BIPOC students. Students will finally be able to discuss their personal issues with someone who can truly understand their daily struggles.

Another added recommendation is to increase the number of BIPOC staff in the Admissions Office; how exactly this should be carried out is still undecided, but the Legacy has a list of ideas on how to complete it. 

Brown stated, “Either there is an increase in the numbers that are on that staff who focus on recruiting BIPOC students – either there is a team of folk put in place – or it becomes everyone’s responsibility in that office. But we’ve got to go to places that the College used to go to, but they don’t go there now, because they don’t have the staff to do so.”

In addition, the group recommends that the Office of Multicultural Affairs’ staff be expanded, and adequate funding be provided to the office. They also want students to expand their knowledge and connections to their surrounding City of Springfield community by having the College host events and activities.

Directly affecting students, the Legacy is pushing for increased funding of many multicultural clubs on campus. They want adequate funds provided for Men of Excellence and Student Society for Bridging Diversity, along with “seed money” given to the newly formed Women of Power and Black Student Union clubs. 

Beginning in the fall of 2021, the group is hoping for a required course installed into the College’s curriculum for all incoming students. This course would detail ethnic studies pertinent to a student’s understanding of BIPOC cultures, along with an explicit section on Anti-Black racism.

The Legacy wants Springfield College to provide them with a biannual scorecard “on the progress being made in responding to our recommendations.” They want the College to provide a sense of the progress that has been made, and though it was initially stated that they want the scorecard provided twice a year, they are not afraid of asking for more reports if they feel it is needed.

In tandem with a biannual scorecard, the Alumni of Color are pushing for an annual “Climate of Life Survey” to be given to all BIPOC members of the College’s community. This will be done to not only make sure students are well, but to ensure that the members of the community that are not always in the spotlight are having good experiences.

“Those that get lost in the equation far too often are folk that work at the College. How are they doing? We want to know that, because we’re not only advocating for students, we’re advocating for folk who matriculate and work at the institution as well. We have an obligation to do that, particularly old-timers like me,” said Brown. 

“I’m not paid by Springfield College, or anyone, for that matter, so I can say what I want. And I got to say, that for people of color working on predominantly white campuses, it can be an alienating and isolating experience not knowing where to turn for support. We have an obligation to advocate for them as well.”

The Legacy Alumni of Color group is forward-thinking and assertive in their demands. From their lived experiences, they know that Springfield College has the potential to be the institution of their dreams for every single student, regardless of skin color, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to have their voices heard.

Photo: Springfield College Archives 

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