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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Conn College trustees hear student grievances

    A person walks towards Palmer Auditorium on the Connecticut College campus Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, where students were meeting with members of the Board of Trustees. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Connecticut College students listen from the balcony where several banners were hanging with messages and questions for the Board of Trustees during their meeting Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, in Palmer Auditorium on campus in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Connecticut College Board of Trustee Vice Chair Karen Quint, center, responds to a student’s comments and questions Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, while she and her fellow board members Sidney Lamb, left, and Jonathon McBride, right, meet with the students at Palmer Auditorium on campus in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Connecticut College students hold up signs while listening to a fellow student speak Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, at one of the two microphones in the back of the Palmer Auditorium during a meeting with members of the Board of Trustees. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Connecticut College student leader Shamar Rule takes a turn to speak, at one of the two microphones available for students, Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, during a meeting with members of the Board of Trustees at Palmer Auditorium on campus in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London ― About 200 students at Connecticut College continued to call for President Katherine Bergeron’s resignation Friday at a town hall-style meeting with members of the school’s Board of Trustees.

    The college has brought in an outside consulting firm to conduct a review of recent developments in the wake of former Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion Rodmon King’s resignation.

    On Friday, three members of the 35-person Board of Trustees, Karen Quint, Jonathan McBride, and Sydney Lamb met with students to listen to their concerns. Three other board members, Peter Skaperdas, Dwayne Stallings and Betty Bibbins, met with faculty at the same time.

    Students packed into the Palmer Auditorium’s balcony and first floor. Large letters spelling out “R-E-S-I-G-N” was written in chalk on the exterior of the building. The stone entrance was filled with numerous slogans also written in multi-colored chalk.

    “For some reason, we still have faith in Conn,” said first-year student Libby Kotei-Fearon told the trustees. “As you’re taking your notes, don’t make us lose the faith we have. Because to be honest with you, it’s not a lot.”

    The students complained to trustees about housing conditions ― particularly the persistent mold in dormitories ― the treatment of staff and faculty in the Diversity, Institutional Equity and Inclusion Department, and their frustration with the institution’s communication of recent events.

    “We can learn a lot from conversations among ourselves as a community,” said Quint, vice chair of the board. “We are going to commit the additional resources. We want to make sure we use them in the most effective way. As a board, our responsibility is to support the mission and vision of the college.”

    Students have demanded Bergeron’s resignation since earlier this month when King resigned due to a planned college fundraiser at the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, Fla., which he said had a reputation as anti-Black and antisemitic. King later wrote of Bergeron’s “bullying behaviors” in a letter to the trustees.

    The fundraiser was canceled, but students continued to protest and at least 120 of 168 faculty members signed a letter to the trustees urging them to begin searching for a replacement for Bergeron.

    Since King’s resignation, letters from current and former faculty have insisted that Bergeron has created a “bullying” environment that has prevented faculty from effectively doing their jobs.

    Quint told students that an outside consulting firm was investigating these claims and would have a conclusion in the coming weeks.

    “We initiated an outside review of the president that is ongoing and underway. It should be wrapping up shortly,” said Quint. “It’s a delicate process and we need to handle that with care.”

    John Cramer, vice president of marketing and communications for the college, said in a statement Friday afternoon that the college would not be releasing the name of the consulting firm.

    Following King’s resignation, Bergeron issued a letter to the school community with an apology and promise to do better in the future to “make sure all decisions are consistent with our goals and ideals.”

    She has declined multiple interview requests.

    Throughout Friday’s meeting, the board members grew quieter in their responses, as students told personal stories in how they believed the college failed them. Housing is a serious concern among many students.

    “There’s mold in dorms,” one student erupted before receiving applause.

    “I woke up in the middle of the night and the ceiling was leaking on me,” another yelled.

    Other students voiced frustration with the high turnover rate in the Diversity, Institutional Equity and Inclusion Department at the college.

    “I only just got here but two people I clicked with have left,” first-year student Westley Cardani said, referring to King and Rachel Stewart, former sexual violence and prevention coordinator, who left the college late last year.

    Students said the high turnover rates have resulted in students having to lead and coordinate programs within the Diversity, Institutional Equity and Inclusion Department.

    “I wasn’t aware of how much students were having to step into these roles,” Quint said.

    Students grew agitated seeing that the board members were unaware of, and surprised by, the concerns students were sharing with them.

    “Thank you for coming and I’m disappointed in all of you,” junior Xenia Bernal said to the trustees, receiving applause from the audience.

    Three faculty members who spoke with The Day, but asked that their names be withheld to protect their jobs, said their colleagues stated their similar frustrations to the board. They said the board members became more receptive as the meeting progressed.

    “It’s a 50/50,” if the board will remove Bergeron, one faculty member said.

    Frustration is mounting and students have been discussing further action, including protests and locking themselves within administrative buildings.

    “If you guys don’t make the change, we will for you,” said first-year student Jacob Marrero.

    “If change isn’t done, student leaders will take the reins from them,” he added. “We will do the sit ins and show them they have to make change. We are as powerful as they are.”

    t.wright@theday.com

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