On the morning of Monday, September 21, more than 100 students gathered on the senior grass in front of the Main School Building to protest Deerfield’s response to racial offenses in the community and make demands for the protection of marginalized groups on campus. The sit-in took place all day and was organized by the leaders of the Deerfield Black Student Alliance (DBSA).
At the beginning of the protest, DBSA Co-Chair Jason Hutchinson listed students’ four demands. He called for the immediate implementation of DEER (Discipline, Education, Empowerment, and Reconciliation), total transparency regarding the handling of all reported instances of identity-based offenses, an explicit statement to the entire Deerfield community expressing a commitment to protect marginalized students, and an acknowledgment and apology for the disservices done to Black students on campus.
“The idea of a sit-in protest is definitely something that is not new… after everything that has been going on in the world and on campus, it was clear to people that direct action was necessary,” said Adebisi Akilo ’21, Co-Chair of the DBSA.
Students came and went all day long, and some chose to skip class. Academic Dean Ivory Hills explained that Deerfield has clear guidelines for the consequences of skipping class, and students could choose to get APs. “We teach a liberal arts education at Deerfield; at least a part of that must be understanding when and how to engage in civil disobedience,” Dr. Hills said.
At the sit-in, students were given the opportunity to speak publicly about their own experiences and thoughts on racial issues.
“I wanted to show students of color that I stand with them even though I am a White girl with blonde hair and blue eyes from Wellesley, Massachusetts,” said Bliss Vernon ’22.
Members of the administration met with the DBSA leaders in the afternoon on the day of the sit-in. After that initial meeting, DBSA Secretary Nikhil Barnes ’21 announced that the administration had agreed to construct a schedule and timeline to review and implement some version of DEER.
After more discussion, the administration verbally agreed to both the demands for transparency and an explicit statement expressing a commitment to protect marginalized students.
DBSA leaders will continue to push forward the demands of implementing DEER and an official apology to the Black Deerfield community; they met with Head of School John Austin, who did not attend the initial meeting, on Monday, September 28.
After attending the sit-in, English Teacher Eliza Mott ’12 said, “One of the things I care about most is students finding power in their own voice and realizing their own capacity to enlighten others and to change other people’s minds… I really feel strongly that students have so much to teach one another and to teach adults.”
Looking forward, the DBSA has plans in the works to continue pushing for the administration to protect marginalized students at Deerfield. “We can always do a lot more,” said Jenine Hazlewood ’22. “I think that was a good start, because I feel like this is only the start.”