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Voices of Protest: An Interview with Soleil

May 25, 2017

This interview was conducted on Monday, May 23rd during the sit-in in the Student Center; for any inquiries, please email emma_james18@milton.edu

 

This interview features Junior SJPE and SAGE co-head, Soleil Devonish (II).

 

Emma: In what capacity have you been involved with today’s events and the discussions over the past few days?

 

Soleil: Besides participating, really not much. SAGE has facilitated discussions to talk about racism on campus and how we can move forward. However, that addressed the more general idea rather than the specifics. In terms of the recent events on campus, I have heard of a few meetings with Mr. Ruiz and other members of the administration throughout the past couple of weeks to discuss the recent racially-charged events on campus, but because these often take place in the evening or without prior notification, I have not been able to attend. However, I did go to a meeting last Friday with the administration. Basically, they just explained that they aren’t going to DC these girls. I stayed for a couple of hours and left more confused about our own disciplinary process and upset by the lack of transparency. Then at around 11 pm [Sunday] night, I received an email about a walk-out that a couple of people were planning. That’s really it though.

 

Emma: If you could summarize what’s happening in a sentence or two, what’s happening in the Stu right now (Monday)?

 

Soleil: A lot of people are gathering to empower themselves in the midst of the administration really not taking the experiences and concerns of marginalized people at Milton into consideration. While the blackface/yellowface incidents may have been a catalyst for the protest here today, overall they are a result of of the lack of transparency and dismissal of racism on campus. They also serve to show that racism is an issue on campus for those who still don’t really see it as a problem.

 

Emma: I understand you’re a Junior SPJE currently. How do you think the administration can or will change Affective Ed classes next year?

 

Soleil: As a co-head of SAGE, I have facilitated discussions with Seth (the other co-head) about how we can improve Affective Ed courses to make them more “effective.” What people seem to want is more student involvement in the curriculum, more diversity in classes, and caring teachers who understand the social and political issues we should be learning about. This year, senior SJPEs helped out in junior social awareness classes and so did some junior SJPEs. I think the plan for next year’s senior SJPEs is to have more of a role in social awareness classes, maybe so they resemble HS&R classes.

 

Emma: What are, in your opinion, boundaries on free speech?

 

Soleil: Okay… so I think that free speech technically allows us to say what we want in public as long as it's not threatening. Yet, when we enter a private institution, the parameters around this are a little bit more structured. We’ve signed a contract to abide by the handbook or face consequences. Verbal discrimination is included in this. Therefore, here at Milton, we should face consequences for using offensive language (including slurs and epithets) that could perpetuate any type of discrimination. Also, personally I believe people need to stop hiding behind “free speech” to avoid taking responsibility for the impact of their words. Like yeah, it's protected by the 1st amendment, but you look like an asshole.

 

Emma: A key word in the student handbook is “harassment.” What do you define harassment to be in our community?

 

Soleil: I don’t know the answer to that..

 

Emma: Do you agree a DC would be appropriate for this instance?

 

Soleil: I think more or less something like a DC, maybe we wouldn’t say those two girls’ names but maybe they could say what actually happened so people know, you know since the administration is so concerned about confidentiality. But honestly I don’t give a fuck about whether or not their names are used. I would prefer them to be used. If they really care about confidentiality then I do think there needs to be a level of transparency where they do talk about what actually happened.

 

Emma: If not an official DC, what do you think would be appropriate besides just talking to the dean?

 

Soleil: Like I said earlier I guess: a modified DC where they do issue a public apology or even having the administration read out the parameters of what happened using their names or not using them, at least so that people understand what happened, so that it’s not just hearsay. A lot of people really don't understand the specifics of that and the administration needs to clarify a lot about what actually happened too so we can get the actual details. It’s really spread by word of mouth at this point.

 

Emma: If there’s something you hope people will remember from today at least (I know it’s not over) what would it be?

 

Soleil: We have a lot more power than we sometimes think. the fact that this is so unplanned is honestly so cool. I was not expecting this at all and i really only heard about it last night, and even then it seemed so much smaller than it turned out to be. It’s really empowering to know that we can make changes even if the administration doesn't listen to us immediately. There are other ways to get our voices heard, and i think a sit-in was a great way of doing that too. A few of us have been feeling the heavy weight of racism on this campus for a long time. After a while, you can feel powerless. Yet this protest is showing me that we’re never powerless. There are always ways to get your voice heard. Like your administration frequently fails to support your existence and experience here at Milton? K, cancelled. I’m really sick right now and almost didn’t come today. I’m so happy I did.

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