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News :: Labor
Anti-racist struggle continues at UMass Amherst
08 Nov 2004
UMASS AMHERST – At a joint press conference Nov. 4, two leading unions at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have charged the administration with collaborating with racists in the Student Government Association to undermine the Office of ALANA Affairs. ALANA advocates for institutional support for African, Latino/a, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American students.
Ant-racist struggle continues at UMass
Leaked emails suggest coordinated discrimination campaign against students of color

By Bryan G. Pfeifer

UMASS AMHERST – At a joint press conference Nov. 4, two leading unions at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have charged the administration with collaborating with racists in the Student Government Association to undermine the Office of ALANA Affairs. ALANA advocates for institutional support for African, Latino/a, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American students.

The Graduate Employee Organization, UAW Local 2322 and Service Employees International Union Local 888 distributed a series of emails they say were sent by Patrick G. Higgins, the former Senate Speaker of the SGA to Michael Gargano Jr., vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life and Charles DiMare, director of Student Legal Services Office and others. GEO represents 2,500 graduate student-workers and SEIU represents professional staff at UMass Amherst.

Higgins was one of the student officials depicted in recently released photos of nine students partying and posing with Klan symbols in the Student Center for Educational Research March 29. One of the photos depicted Higgins dressed as a “Grand Wizard,” a burning cross in his hand with a word bubble stating, “I love ALANA.”

The photos were distributed throughout the campus community the weekend of Sept. 25-26 via email after their discovery by ALANA students. The photos had been posted to the personal web page of SCERA’s student office coordinator and linked off the organization’s website.

None of the nine students were suspended or expelled, in fact two of them now hold positions in the SGA and some others in SGA-funded campus office. The administration emphatically stated their punishments weren’t to be made public. But a few days after the Klan incident students allegedly engaged in “rioting” on campus after a Boston Red Sox victory the administration released press statements listing all the students arrested and their punishments which included suspensions for allegedly damaging campus property and injuring some police. This information was published on the front page of the campus newspaper, The Daily Collegian.

During the anti-racist fight back over the Klan photos, which included a demonstration of over 500 Oct. 6, many charged that the nine students were working side-by-side with the administration to undermine institutional supports and the autonomy of the ALANA office.

GEO, SEIU, ALANA and their allies say the emails are proof of this.

GEO announced at the press conference that it received approximately 18 emails that cover a period between May and September 2004 forwarded from an anonymous source. The emails, GEO claims, have a direct bearing on a grievance initiated recently by GEO on behalf of Gladys Franco, a graduate student employee in the OAA and a grievance initiated by SEIU on behalf of Nelson Acosta, Director of OAA.

GEO’s grievance charges that the administration harassed and discriminated against Franco when it withheld pay from her for work performed in the OAA. SEIU’s grievance charges the administration with blocking Acosta from taking medical leave for cancer treatment and appointing an assistant director for the OAA during his requested leave.

“The emails demonstrate a long-term, coordinated effort to eliminate Franco’s position in the OAA and to inhibit the work of the OAA in general. The emails also suggest a strategy to eliminate the ALANA caucus seats in the SGA,” GEO said in a Nov. 3 press release.

One email from Higgins to Gargano reads, “…what is your plan for Gladys Franco being the grad student in OAA? My understanding was you intended to pull funding and I am curious as to when you plan on doing that…I want a new OAA, the current system and philosophies dimply don’t cut it.”

Another email asks, “This summer you announced to me that it was your intention to remove funding to the graduate Assistant you pay for in OAA. I am curious when you are going to pull the trigger on this move?” Yet another suggests a “strategy” between the two individuals to remove Franco from her position. Other emails refer to the removal of the ALANA caucus seats by outgoing SGA leaders and suggest the university’s general counsel, told administrators and SGA’s legal counsel, DiMare, the seats were legal. “This information appears to have been concealed from student leaders who were trying to preserve the seats,” says GEO.

Both GEO, SEIU and ALANA are engaging in various tactics, legal and otherwise, to fight back against the administration’s institutional racism and concerted activity to undermine independent student autonomy and power on campus.

For years the administration has engaged in dismantling affirmative action and ESL programs, removing advising programs for students of color and under-funding support services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and women among other attacks.

The administration’s response to this most recent exposure of its institutional racism and attack on students has been a massive public relations campaign touting its “diverse” programs on campus and to implement a 22-member “Diversity Commission,” ostensibly to investigate the administration’s actions and commitment to “building a racially and ethnically diverse campus community” according to the commission’s website (www.umass.edu/campusdiversity). This commission, albeit with some progressive members, was appointed by Chancellor John Lombardi with no ALANA, Stonewall Center, Everywoman’s center or union representation.

The student’s response has been an independent mobilization composed of various tactics and strategies including educational, legal and agitational actions among others. Student-led organizations like ALANA and coalitions such as Take Back UMass are moving the struggle forward with these objectives.

See www.geouaw.org and www.seiu888.org for more information and fight back initiatives. Also, contact Chancellor John Lombardi at (413) 545-2211 or lombardi (at) umass.edu and demand the attacks stop now.

-- END --

(c) 2004 Bryan G. Pfeifer. Article may be used in whole or in part provided full attribution is given to author.

Union labor donated
See also:
http://www.geouaw.org
http://www.takebackumass.org

This work is in the public domain