Senior Zach Austin lives in Illinois, 2000 miles away from Eckerd and feels disconnected from friends he made in college. When Guerin reached out to him over the summer about joining Student-Alumni-Faculty Alliance, Austin knew he wanted to be involved.
“This isn't a professor recruiting students to make their message heard or something like that. The faculty in this really just said, ‘We have a can of worms here, who wants to open it?’” Austin said.
Austin is a member of Eckerd College’s Student-Faculty-Alumni Alliance (SAFA), which has first organized this summer and has since worked to make Eckerd a more inclusive and safe environment for everyone by removing police presence from campus, increasing benefits for housekeeping staff and providing more mental health support for students. The group holds discussions with the community and administration, creating petitions that received hundred of signatures and holding events, such as the virtual town hall forum on Sept. 25 with Chief Anthony Holloway of the SPPD.
Associate Professor of History Adam Guerin said SAFA is a horizontally-organized group, meaning it has no primary leadership. The group has five subcommittees, the first focuses the relationship between Eckerd and SPPD and the second focuses on Eckerd's outsourced labor practices. SAFA also has subcommittee that focuses on resources and support for BIPOC students on campus, and two that focus on SAFA outreach and community outreach, which run their social media accounts and building partnerships between Eckerd and the St. Petersburg community.
Police Subcommittee questions Eckerd’s relationship with SPPD
While some of these subcommittees’ goals, such as providing more mental health resources to BIPOC students, may take years to accomplish, the Police Subcommittee’s plan may take months, according to Dorothy Eldemire*, Eckerd 2018 alumna. This timeframe is because Eckerd Administration can approve or disapprove the motion to remove police presence from campus.
Austin works on the Police Subcommittee, and said their goal is for Eckerd to reevaluate its relationship with SPPD.
“The institution of policing is under such scrutiny right now,” Austin said. “How is Eckerd, as a community, and as an institution defined by its relationship to that thing? In my opinion, it’s a negative connotation to that.”
The police subcommittee was also involved in organizing the virtual town hall forum on Sept. 25, where Chief Anthony Holloway of the SPPD, who graduated from Eckerd College in 1999, discussed and answered questions about the relationship between the police department and the college.
Guerin organizes meetings with SAFA. According to him, Holloway said during the town hall that Eckerd can choose to remove police presence on campus, including the training during the summer, and the relationship between Eckerd and SPPD will not change.
Holloway said Eckerd College President Damian Fernandez can make the decision.
“Which tells me it's up to our students, because I really do think Damian listens to the community,” Guerin said. “I think that if we get enough students to educate themselves about this, we can have a kind of up or down vote. Do we want police on campus doing live tactical training in our dorms?”
Eldemire and Mereysa Taylor*, also a 2018 alumna who works with SAFA, were both present at the meeting.
“(Holloway) is a really good man, but he represents the issue that not necessarily only SAFA is fighting, but the nation is fighting right now, that Black Lives Matters fighting. The idea that the policing system the way it is set up is setting up officers to fail, to be frank,” Taylor said. “Setting up these people, who already might have their own internal biases, coming into the job to fail, and to fail the community that they're supposed to be protecting and serving.”
Eldemire and Taylor said this work is important to them because they want to see change.
“I had good experiences at Eckerd. I also had negative experiences that occurred,” Taylor said. “I want to work so that those negative experiences don't become a permanent thing for future generations of Eckerd students.”
Eldemire shared a similar sentiment and shared her own experiences with racism at Eckerd.
“We don't want other students to feel the way that we did at any point in time,” Eldemire said. “That's not to say we can control the mouth of every student on campus, but if it's made clear that it's not tolerated by administration in particular, then it'll be helpful.”
In Eldemire’s first year at Eckerd, a person at her dorm called her the n-word and she said her complaint was not taken seriously by Eckerd administration. Eldemire also said she had dreadlocks that same year, and went to a residential advisor interview.
“I didn't get it, but I left something in the interview room,” Eldemire said. “I left and I turned back around and I heard the lady [say] ‘I don't know how she expected to get that interview with that rat's nest on her head.’ Nothing was done about that, I didn’t expect anything to be done about that. She was high up in the Res-Life ranks.”
No designated leaders by design
Taylor said that students have the most power in SAFA because they pay tuition and are funding Eckerd College.
“It's super important for students to want the college that they attend to reflect the values that not only the college purports, but their own values,” Taylor said. “That's the whole point of these discussions. They're not unilateral. They're not something that's like, ‘This is our position.’ We're going in and discussing with students, with faculty, with alumni.”
Eldemire first heard of SAFA from Associate Professor of Creative Writing Jon Chopan.
“I actually didn't want to [join] at the beginning. Mereysa [Taylor] and I were sitting down in the car and looking at the list of people joining and we were like, ‘We really might be the only brown people in this group,’” Eldemire said.
Eldemire and Taylor were worried that because they were the only people of color in the group, they would have an extra burden.
“Things that happen in classrooms, when the professors are talking about something that everyone else can't relate to and they turn and look at you, that was what we thought would happen,” Eldemire said. “Then we thought about it and we were like, ‘No.’ If there aren't Black and brown voices in this group, then something will be missing.”
Eldemire said that the faculty in SAFA made it clear that they didn’t want to burden her and Taylor.
“This just kind of felt like the right thing, especially in light of everything that's been happening. I think it just gave us something to do,” Eldemire said. “(Taylor) really wanted to go protest, but I hate crowds. I want to, but I hate crowds so this is particularly giving me like something tangible to do to say, ‘I'm working on something, I'm helping.’”
The main role of faculty members of SAFA is to organize meetings. Faculty members include Guerin, Chopan, Assistant Professor of Psychology Miranda Goodman-Wilson, and Associate Professor of Human Development Paige Dickinson. Austin said he enjoys working with professors of different majors, and feels like he has been adopted into their mentee family.
Guerin said the position of a leader was and will never be set within SAFA, and it’s up to the members to lead in their own ways.
*Eldemire and Taylor are former members of The Current. Taylor was the managing editor for the 2017-2018 school year. Eldemire was the culture editor for the 2017-2018.