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Central organizes efforts to support Black Lives Matter protestors

Amid active civil unrest in Capitol Hill, Seattle Central has been a witness to routine rallies at the 11th and Pine intersection near the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct. Located within a multicultural urban environment, Central has organized efforts to support students and faculty, alongside the Seattle community who are at the frontlines of fighting against police brutality and racism.

Tori Winkler, a student at Central, says the school is made up of people who care about the community and this is an opportunity to put words into actions. The school is in the middle of this historical moment, and it makes Winkler a proud student.

The school administration, faculty, and students are mobilizing efforts to assist those involved in time consuming activism and it’s emotional and physical consequences.

“I wish we had seen a response from administration quicker,” says Winkler, “because the situation directly affects a lot of students at Seattle Central.”

As the Black Lives Matter movement takes over the public eye, Jade Linton, another student at Seattle Central, took immediate action with a petition to get school administration to stand in solidarity with students and faculty.

“School administration needs to acknowledge the mental state of everyone right now,” says Linton, “and to acknowledge that students and faculty are struggling in these times, because of the crisis inception that we are living through right now.”

The petition letter demands a 2-day closure of Canvas, extra counseling for students, a grace period on deadlines for the rest of the quarter without students having to ask for them, an extension of administrative deadlines, and severing all ties with SPD.

Initially, Linton’s letter targeted Seattle Central, but after gathering hundreds of signatures from faculty and students districtwide, the demands have reached the district level. As of Tuesday, the letter has amassed over 530 signatures of solidarity, and continues to gather more.

“They can take ‘community’ off the sign,” says Linton, “but they can’t take the community out of the people.”

The Seattle Central librarians have put together a guide for students, gathering resources to educate them on protest safety, police brutality, “current uprisings”, and evaluating information at a protest.

The guide includes comprehensive information in regard to the civil activity the community is experiencing right now- this includes mitigating the COVID-19 risk at protests, ways to contribute to the fight against police brutality and racial injustice from home, and learning protesters’ rights.  

Additionally, the guide includes informative research on police brutality, with statistics and data compiled from reliable databases. It includes enlightening literature, and a timeline of the George Floyd protests and the respective government responses.

With a toolkit targeting how to dismantle police brutality and addressing policy changes and ideas for organizers, the guide addresses actions anyone can advance to be a part of change in the community. The guide also notes strategies for vetting information gathered from protests- relying on trusted sources, reviewing established news with a critical eye, and verifying information are some of the recommendations compiled.

Althea Lazzaro, a leader mobilizing the library guide, believes librarians have a responsibility to fight for racial justice by providing research skills to organize good, actionable information for protestors and activists.

“I myself wanted to know more about what to bring to a demonstration in case I got tear gassed.” says Lazzaro, “ When I started researching this question, I found that there was a lot of conflicting advice out there about it. I thought to myself, if I’m having trouble having trouble finding the best evidence about this, I bet our students are too.”

Lazzaro believes this was an example of an “authentic need to conduct research” for the community’s safety.

Central can expect a page to include more and better information on evaluating information about protests coming out in real time, using police scanners and media reports, since much of the information is about evaluating classic academic research.

Chair of the College Council at Seattle Central, Kao Lezheo, says the college council will have the opportunity to talk about what the college can do to protect our students and faculty during the past week of protests on June 9th, with President Sheila. According to him, she’s made this the first agenda item for the discussion.

“College Council is an advisory body to the President and the President’s Cabinet,” says Lezheo, “and has pushed for and supported the need for increased supports and resources for our historically underserved student populations, especially our Black male students.”

Lezheo says one specific demand that he is thinking about is defunding or ending the militarization of police and police brutality, noting that it will be driving the issues the College Council will be addressing moving forward.

“One area that comes to mind is for the College Council to take a larger role in reviewing college policies involving our partnerships or possible referrals to the Seattle Police department,” says Lezheo. “Another area is to review our hiring process and practices to ensure our faculty and staff represent the students they are serving.”

Chief Diversity Officer from Central’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Valerie Hunt, says the office is mobilizing several efforts to support the community during this time. 

She says the office is providing guidance on how to keep safe during protests, teaching activists how to use a network that will keep the most vulnerable members of the frontline protests protected, and supporting faculty by providing respite and counsel around how to address racist materials in curricula and materials, and to use that material as a springboard to discuss anti-racist, anti-biased alternatives.

“We are currently addressing the overhaul of our instruction to make it more racially equitable for our students,” says Hunt. “We have a critical pedagogy institute whose sole purpose is to interrogate the current trenchant pedagogies within different disciplines, and to explore pedagogies that reflect the cultural context of our college communities.”

Serving the community through education and civil activism, Seattle Central is in the midst of a historic moment, and faculty, students, and administration are working to support the community.

“It has long been the tradition of freedom fighters and truth seekers to find respite in order to discern the paths of tactics, goals and strategy,” says Hunt. 

Yoshiko Harden, Vice President of Student Services, urges for students to reach out to faculty. 

“Faculty have academic freedom,” says Harden, “In Student Services, faculty counselors are available to support students that are struggling with mental and emotional health that impacts their ability to focus on classes and assignments.”

Harden also adds that her office is assembling a list of organizations that provide avenues for faculty and students to get involved in social justice and anti-racism. 

“In the history of social movements in the United States, college students and young people have been at the forefront and on the front lines advocating for change,” says Harden. “We are in a time of change now.”

Anna Hackman, part of Central’s humanities faculty believes that civil activity now extends to supporting higher education’s role, emphasizing the support the students and faculty have already been needing due to COVID-19 effects.  

“Imagine the possibilities if Mayor Durkan, for example, could shed tears for our students the way she did for broken windows over the weekend,” Hackman says. 

As an instructor, Hackman is mobilizing change in her curriculum by historicizing the civil unrest we see today.

“The violent tactics of SPD are frightening, but are also not new,” says Hackman. “The current protests will be a focus this quarter.”

Hackman adds that all faculty across all disciplines should involve themselves in incorporating current issues into curriculum. She believes this would motivate students to change the world by making direct connections with the multicultural backgrounds and diverse experiences of students at Central. 

“If we want a curriculum that is liberating, that helps make the world more legible so that students can transform the world, then our curriculum needs to be relevant to other students’ lives,” adds Hackman. “And I think educators in all fields – whether Humanities or Chemistry – can engage in that work.”

“The college needs to not only advocate for that work, but tangibly support it,” she adds. 

Hackman says the most immediate action faculty is engaging in right now to support students is embracing leniency while grading, supporting students who are at the front lines of protesting and activism. 

“They need us in the classroom,” says Hackman. “But what the tear gas and flashbangs right outside our campus doors show, is that they need us on the streets with them as well.”

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