The student uproar is loud and clear. We want to dismantle systemic issues rooted in our campus culture. President Dennis Assanis’ contract was recently extended for another five years. If we cannot get an unwavering commitment from him now or over the next several years, it is time for a new face.
Assanis has failed to take action on sustainability, climate change, combating racism against Black and minority students and rape culture that affects female students.
Last May, I wrote an op-ed proposing why this university needs a Black president. I was furious due to Assanis’s response to the murder of George Floyd. Assanis sent out an email to the community containing passive rhetoric aimed at tackling racism. He used the words “all” and “everyone” to address that no one should experience discrimination or racism — which no one should — while never acknowledging how it affects Black students on campus or Black America. Assanis apologized several days later after reading an open letter with 2,000 signatures from students, faculty, staff and alumni demanding real change.
What students got in response to the open letter was an optional 40-minute training session in diversity, equity and inclusion — another example of a tone-deaf administration.
Six months later, my pessimism has gotten worse. I am disgusted by the administration’s poor response towards Brandon Freyre’s recent assault charge, where police accused him of beating a female university student, spray painting her in the eyes, strangling her until she was unconscious and throwing her down a flight of stairs.
Students received rapid emails from Assanis and student life, riddled with links to counseling services and hotlines for reporting domestic violence. The anger from students boiled over and culminated in two days of intense protest. Despite our actions, we still have not received anything substantial from the administration about what they plan to do going forward.
It has become painfully clear to me that the administration is not willing to take immediate and serious action to protect the safety of the 11,000 female students of this university (who make up the majority of the student body ).
The common denominator is that students are at the forefront protesting and writing open letters filled with signatures and demands while Assanis is woefully unprepared and behind. We deserve leadership from someone who cares about climate change and the safety and inclusion of students and is committed to dealing with the deeply entrenched systems of oppression that plague our country, which this university reeks of.
It is shameful that the administration has wasted opportunity after opportunity to create meaningful change in environmental justice, anti-racism and domestic violence.
These responses have shown a lack of awareness of climate change and complicit behavior towards white supremacy, police brutality and rape culture on campus.
After Brandon Freyre’s alleged assault, it is time for the administration to figure out what the true role of fraternities should be. Either they should be regulated more strictly by the university or they should be banned completely.
The administration continues to struggle with advocating for minority and female students. It is no surprise that they fail to take action surrounding environmental justice.
A low ranking score in sustainability, rumors about poor recycling management, a Sustainability Council with no manager, a non-existent composting program and no sustainability plan in sight shows all the evidence that the university is going in the wrong direction and reversing major steps towards sustainability and addressing climate change for the future.
In 2019, university students protested for environmental justice during the “global climate strike” calling for the return of Indigenous lands and for investments in sustainable agriculture. A year later the university launched its Sustainability Council only to let go of the Sustainability Manager, which caused major setbacks for the council.
Assanis and his administration need to grow a backbone and get serious before it is too late. Their negligence needs to end.
I am fearful that the administration will go back to its old ways of dealing with systemic issues such as doing a lot of PR upfront, only to take minimal action in the future and to rarely talk and deal with the situation again until the next crisis.
The administration can change their identity all they want. They can claim that they are an environmentally, socially and racially-conscious institution. However, if we do not have a president in place to reexamine campus culture — which is currently centered around white, fraternal, patriarchal male dominance and fossil fuel dependency — it will never change. We must demand change now, or we will be forced to experience and respond to these horrifying realities the same way again and again.
My demands are no longer exclusively for a Black president — we just need a new president, period.
Donovan Aldridge is a staff reporter for The Review. His opinions are his own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review’s editorial staff. He may be reached at email@example.com.