By Meg Schneider
Racism can be a difficult topic to explain to kids but the St. Michael’s College Civil Rights Alliance did it when they hosted the Talking to Kids About Racism workshop with the Peace & Justice Center in Burlington last month. Educating students about the importance of tackling difficult topics is critical to the mission of CRA as the group works to build the conversation of social and racial issues on and off campus.
In the fall of 2016, hate speech that was increasing across the country was no stranger to St. Michael’s, with incidents such as students of color being called the “n word” being reported.
In response, Brianna Lambert Jenkins ’19 and Samantha Tremblay ’17 decided to create a volunteer program through MOVE that gave students the opportunity to contribute to the education and preservation of social justice.
“It was clear that we needed some group on campus dedicated to standing up for the rights of minority groups and educating our students about matters of prejudice,,” said Megan Beatty ’20, a former leader of the alliance.
The Civil Rights Alliance, is MOVE’s newest volunteer program started back in 2016. Some of the group’s upcoming events include collaborating with the Feminist Club and Uncommon Ground for an event honoring Transgender Rememberance Day; going to the Peace and Justice Center to learn about cocoa and fair trade; and an event in conjunction with the Homelessness and Hunger week.
“I think it makes our campus a more inclusive place, and certainly puts on several workshops that help educate students about matters of prejudice, so that the kind of incidents that happened in the fall of 2016 don’t happen again,” Beatty said.
The alliance is currently led by Vicky Castillo ’20, Sayde Dorian ’21, and Hayley Jenson ’22. The CRA’s first event was in the Spring of 2017 when a small group of St. Michael’s students traveled to Ohio to participate in the Boycott Wendy’s March.
“We marched to Wendy’s national headquarters with the aim of putting pressure on the decision-makers to sign onto the Fair Food Program, meaning that Wendy’s would have to pay 1 penny more per pound of tomatoes that they buy from farm workers in the United States,” Castillo explained. This was the start of MOVE’s newest program which continues to push for social justice through education, volunteering, and advocacy work.
According to the alliance’s mission statement, their goal is to maintain a community that’s inclusive and accepting, as well as to educate others about social justice movements. The Civil Rights Alliance gives students the opportunity to contribute to the activism in the Burlington and Winooski communities. In the past they have worked with other organizations such as Black Lives Matter, VT, the Peace and Justice Center in Burlington, Vermont Refugee Resettlement and Vermont Interfaith Action to develop service efforts around the area.
So far this year, the program partnered with the Peace and Justice Center to host the workshop that discussed racism with kids, Beatty explains. They also go there about once a month to help with anything the center needs,. Dorian said the alliance also worked with Vermont Interfaith Action where they wrote testimonies pushing for a raise in the minimum wage in Vermont. Other events have included the program helping the Vermont Refugee Resettlement clean and organize their place.
“We are trying to make it so conversations about justice issues are not something people are trying to avoid. We are trying to make people feel more comfortable while having these conversations,” Dorian said, adding that creating a space where people can have these conversations and a positive atmosphere around social and racial justice issues is important