SBA hosts town hall to discuss race issues

By Julia Guerrein, Editor-in-Chief

The Vermont Law School Student Bar Association (SBA) held a town hall on Monday evening to address racism in the VLS and Vermont communities. Attendees developed particular action items and areas in which they want to push for change, and tasked those items to groups of a few volunteer students.

Heather Francis, the 2020-2021 SBA President, ran the meeting with the help of her executive board.

“We have one of the most…tight-knit law school communities across the country,” said Francis. Francis discussed how SBA is meant to serve as a bridge between the administration and the students, so that student ideas can efficiently reach the administration. With that in mind, she encouraged students to hold SBA accountable so they can accurately “uplift student voices and student concerns.”

Francis also explained the structure of SBA, informing students of whom they should contact for different needs and concerns.

From there, Francis handed the floor over to Nikki Adelman, Vice President of Student Affairs and Operations, who began the discussion of proposals. Throughout the meeting, newly-elected Secretary, Serena White, took notes and organized the discussion into specific proposal ideas.

A majority of the discussion focused on the Underground Railroad mural located in the Chase Center. Students both in favor of and against removing the mural shared their perspectives.

Jameson Davis, one of the creators of a petition to remove the mural, shared his personal thoughts on the mural and testimonies he has received from others in the VLS community.

After describing the reactions that some people have had to the mural, Davis asked, “Why does White growth have to come at the pain of Black people?” Davis acknowledged that while the artist and law school had good intentions when the mural was painted, those good intentions cannot negate the negative feelings and discomfort the mural has aroused in some of its viewers.

Ricardo Edwards, Vice President of Student Activities, helped moderate the conversation while also sharing his own experience with the mural. Edwards described the mural as inspiring, and noted that even when we disagree with each other we must continue to be respectful.

After discussing the mural, other students introduced more ideas about ways to dismantle racism at VLS. One student described a club from her undergraduate school that facilitated conversations about different identities and how they intersect with one another. Other participants in the Town Hall had concerns that those conversations could unfairly burden people of color to teach and talk about their experiences. Other students proposed a club focused on deconstructing whiteness, and a taskforce for Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

As the discussion was wrapping up, students received an email from VLS Dean and President Thomas McHenry stating that the Underground Railroad mural would be painted over.

Near the end of the meeting, White posted proposal topics in the chat so attendees could choose which proposals they wanted to work on. The groups included creating a diversity taskforce, replacing the mural, developing curriculum changes and course ideas, recruiting more Black and brown students and faculty to VLS, and proposing anti-racist legislation in Vermont.

The groups are working on their proposals over the next month, which are due to the SBA on August 1.

Correction: Nikki Adelman is the Vice President of Student Affairs and Operations.

Addition: After the meeting, SBA President, Heather Francis, told The Forum that the creators of the Underground Railroad mural petition asked SBA to remove the mural group. Therefore, there is no longer a group working on a proposal related to the mural.

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