Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2006


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Fanning takeover, 20 years later

Fanning takeover, 20 years later
Students protest the so-called Sensenbrenner plan, which would restrict immigration, at a rally on campus on May 4. Photo by Eric Cardenas.

Written by Julie Novak

Twenty years ago, CC students were fed up. A group of students, including Franklin Tuitt ´87, Eduardo Castell ´87 and those who advocated for diversity, drafted a 27-page "statement of expressions" highlighting issues facing students of color and ways to address them. They asked for more support for Unity House, an affirmative action policy and more training for faculty and staff.

"A growing segment of the student body came to recognize the need for the College as an institution to do something in this area," said Castell, who, like Tuitt, is now a CC Trustee. "People were concerned about the lack of diversity in the curriculum and the lack of resources for students of color."

Administrators, they felt, were not responding. Feelings of isolation escalated among students of color for months.

Finally, they had had enough.

On April 30, the Society Organized Against Racism (SOAR), a student group, met to decide what to do next. Students talked about writing another letter to then-President Oakes Ames or contacting the press. Someone mentioned the Fanning takeover of 1971 when a group of 25 students staged a sit-in on May 6 to protest the lack of diversity on campus.

"We laughed about the idea," said Tuitt. "Then it went from laughter to ´maybe we should do this.´"

Later that night more than 75 students crowded into Unity House to finalize the plan.

"It was a last step," Tuitt said. "It was an incredible political act, an expression of frustration saying, ´We´re here, we need to be listened to.´"

Many students left Unity House to get some rest while a dozen, including Tuitt, stayed behind to draft a list of demands that would be presented to Ames. They assigned tasks and contacted local and national media about their intentions.

At 5:30 a.m. the next day 54 students, some white, chained the doors to Fanning Hall and locked themselves inside. Other students participated outside by talking to the press and bringing food. Hundreds gathered to support the students.

When administrators reported to work the next morning they were unable to open the doors. Classes were cancelled.

"They couldn´t just take care of the crisis," Castell said. "They knew they had a problem on their hands. There was an understanding that this was a campus-wide issue."

Before they would leave the building, students wanted to make sure there was a commitment from the College to address their demands. Robert Hampton, a sociology professor, and Edward Brodkin, a history professor, were appointed ambassadors to enter the building and talk with students.

After 19 hours, administrators and students signed an agreement to follow through on the statement of demands.

"It was unfortunate that it got to that point, but it became one of the transforming experiences in our lives," Castell said. "To this day, it is a part of who I am."

Affirmative Action Officer Judy Kirmmse was hired by the College in response to the students´ demands. Under her direction, workshops were organized on diversity issues for faculty and staff, Africana studies became a major, courses were revamped to address diversity issues and Unity House moved from Vinal Cottage to a central campus location. A lot has changed for the better, Kirmmse said, and the College´s Commission on a Pluralistic Community established by President Norman Fainstein in 2002 recommended strategies for making the campus community more diverse. The President´s Cabinet for a Pluralistic Community also helps with an ongoing need for self study to make sure minority issues are appropriately addressed, Kirmmse said.

In April, more than 50 alumni of color, including members from the Class of 1966 through the Class of 2005, returned to campus for a symposium on the work of Cornel West, a professor of religion at Princeton, and a celebration for all alumni of color organized by Tuitt, Castell and Trustee Jonathan McBride ´92. For some, it was their first visit to campus since graduating.

"To feel that sense of pride in where the College is and where it´s going was very powerful to me and the alumni who came back," Tuitt said. "We see that event as an extension of the takeover. We wanted to acknowledge what happened in 1986 to remind the College of its commitment to diversity."

While on campus for a trustee meeting in May, Tuitt, Castell and McBride held a breakfast meeting in the President´s office in Fanning.

"The rebels were now on the inside," Castell said. "I kept thinking, ´This never would have happened 20 years ago.´"

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