Editor’s note, October 26 5:45 p.m.: This article has been updated with a letter from SHU’s Interim Pres. Mary Meehan.
A group of Seton Hall University students has been holding a sit-in at the school since Wednesday morning, part of a planned series of actions to address what they see as the school’s superficial attempts to increase diversity and inclusion.
Using the name “the Concerned 44” — a reference to the percentage of student diversity on campus — the group wants the administration to meet a list of demands, which includes expanding and funding African and Latino Studies departments and hiring more faculty of color.
“We are still here and will be here until the demands are met,” said local resident and Columbia High School graduate Felisha George in a message to Village Green late Thursday night. The group was planning to protest outside the university gate Friday morning at 8 a.m. Local community groups including MapSOWhite, People’s Organization for Progress, Alumni of the Newark Black Panther Party, NJ Association of Black Educators, the NAACP, SOMA Justice, Newark Coalition for Accountable Policing — as well as SHU alumni and local residents, have joined the students, and residents are donating food and supplies.
“The demands respond to the University’s lack of ability in responding to student grievances, institutional racism, individual acts of racism, and the institution’s recent ‘diversity initiative,’ which has sought to silence criticism of the University while suppressing student involvement,” said Christian Durán, one of the students organizing the protests.
The demands “aim at a long term, systematic change to bring true inclusion to our school and for future students,” he said.
The group also launched a petition to protest the University’s “Talent Inclusion Project,” which they view as an attempt by the administration to “save face” in the wake of student demands.
The project, which Durán said was launched without student input or consideration of proven methods, includes such measures as giving symbolic “coins” as incentives to freshman students for performing “inclusive acts” which might range from jumpstarting someone’s car or picking up a pencil. The measures are ineffective and feel “scripted,” he said.
“The ten administration members who thought up this measure thought that such a elementary school-level token program, in which students can win prizes, can create an environment supportive of a diverse student population, while leaving every and any institutional issue (like lack of faculty, decimating Africana and Latino Studies) untouched,” Durán said.
Students instead proposed that certain measures, such as a faculty-directed Diversity Requirement for the Core Curriculum, which aims at teaching power relations in our society, be enacted in its place.
The full list of demands include: Africana Studies being reconfigured into a department with full curricular autonomy; proportional representation of faculty to the student population; Latino/Latin American Studies being made into a department with an expansive faculty; a thorough examination and reconstruction of the University’s Office of EEO and Title IX Compliance; adequate funding for Black History, Latino, Women’s, and Islamic History Months, and a permanently-established, critical Student Board to review prospective professors for Africana studies.
The University contends it is addressing diversity on its campus, and expressed support for the students’ right to protest.
“As a Catholic university, Seton Hall upholds the dignity and respects the rights of every member of our campus community,” said SHU spokeswoman Laurie Pine. “We are dedicated to promoting inclusion and diversity among our student body, faculty and staff. During the past six months, senior university administrators have been working with a committee, which includes students, to enhance inclusion, diversity programming and dialogue on campus.“
Pine said the University “affirms unequivocally” the students’ right to protest. “We welcome continuing, constructive dialogue to address the issues they have raised, and we are always interested in exploring new ways to enhance the diversity of our campus culture and academic curriculum.”
Interim President Mary Meehan sent the following letter to media on Friday evening:
Dear Members of the Seton Hall Community,
Recently a group of Seton Hall students, the Concerned 44, presented the University with five specific demands regarding curriculum, campus diversity and inclusivity. Interim Provost Karen Boroff and I, along with other senior administrators and faculty, have met several times this week with the students to work to resolve these issues.
On Thursday evening, I submitted the University’s response to the students’ demands. As of this time, I have not received their response.
In the meantime, the students continue their peaceful sit-in of Presidents Hall. To ensure the safety of these students, we have assigned additional public safety officers to be present in the building.
The University affirms unequivocally our students’ right to respectful and peaceful protest. We have always welcomed constructive dialogue to address student issues and to explore new ways to enhance the student educational experience.
Mary J. Meehan, Ph.D.
Seton Hall University
Meanwhile the protest continues to draw support from South Orange-Maplewood community activists such as Felisha George, who has been a candidate for the Board of Education and an organizers of projects like MapSO White. “All students deserve to be heard and accommodated when it comes to the education they are paying to receive,” said George. “I will continue to stand with the Concerned 44 at Seton Hall until their demands are met, and I will continue to make sure that our community is aware of the problems they are facing and supporting them in all of their efforts.”
Residents can follow the students on Instagram at @shu_concerned44.
Below is a full statement from the Concerned 44 to Village Green:
We are writing to inform you that the concerned tuition-paying members of the Seton Hall University student body will be conducting a series of protests on campus and off campus, along with various community organizations, over the course of the next two weeks. Throughout the academic careers of multiple students here, there has been a string of racially motivated incidents that have been consistently overlooked, or responded to with insulting initiatives that pretend to aim at “diversity.” The same apathetic attitude that the school has employed when dealing with these racist incidents has permeated itself through every organ of the institution’s function. From the downgrading of essential departments and curricula, such as Africana and Latino Studies, lack of diversity in employment, and the failure to uphold the Titles VI and VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against students and all employees on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex – the University has shown a consistent disregard to the lives and experiences of its students of color.
Due to these incidents, and refusal by the administration to address our concerns with their watered-down response, we, the Concerned 44 – 44 representing the purported percentage of students that the University deems as diverse – have compiled a list of five demands addressed to the Provost and general administration, setting forth a program for the systematic changes that we see fit to address our needs. These demands include: Africana Studies being reconfigured into a department with full curricular autonomy and is housed in its own space; Proportional representation of faculty to the student population; Latino/Latin American Studies being made into a department with an expansive faculty; A thorough examination and reconstruction of the University’s Office of EEO and Title IX Compliance; Adequate funding for Black History, Latino, Women’s, and Islamic History Months; And a permanently-established, critical Student Board to review prospective professors for Africana studies at Seton Hall University.
Often referred to by administration as “family”, we are deeply dissatisfied with the way students of color have been treated and represented. We believe in an educational system that represents human dignity and encourages a knowledge of self. If one does not have a knowledge of themself and their position in society and the world, then they have little chance to relate to anything else. A lack of such a system on this campus, along with the lack of ability for students of color to carry on with respect and without harassment from students and faculty, forms the basis of our discontent and our demands regarding curriculum and administrative functions on this campus. We will not accept a subpar education or subpar treatment from this institution.