A group of around thirty-five students stormed this afternoon’s faculty meeting as part of a protest against Cynthia Carroll’s scheduled commencement speech. The protest was organized by seniors Danny Pforte and Jovany Andujar with the expressed purpose of garnering faculty support in opposing Carroll as a speaker.
A graduate of the Skidmore Class of 1978, Carroll is the former CEO of Anglo American plc, the fifth-largest mining company in the world. While her supporters have called her a model speaker as one of the most powerful women in the corporate world, her detractors have accused her of executing neocolonial, environmentally disastrous policies during her tenure at Anglo American. Luke Conley ’14 has penned an eloquent and level-headed takedown of Carroll in The Skidmore News (a welcome counterpoint to prior op-eds praising Carroll) and a pamphlet distributed at the protest highlighted the mining company’s alleged violations, from widespread environmental degradation to human rights abuses, including the censorship of information related to the 1977 death of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.
The protest began when the students rushed into the meeting in Gannett at around 3:35. Pforte and Andujar moved towards the front of the auditorium and took over a microphone, interrupting President Glotzbach’s opening remarks. Andujar then launched into a prepared speech that passionately attacked the Administration for its perceived lack of sensitivity and awareness, while asking the faculty for help in voicing opposition.
“Our student voice is not being properly heard,” he said. “Our concerns are not being properly dealt with. If we continue to be dismissed and silenced, we will create some form of protest at graduation.”
Pforte then took the microphone, reciting the activist group United Minds’ platform against Carroll and Anglo American. He claimed that having Carroll deliver a speech at commencement “goes against the critical thought and social responsibility we have been told we would acquire from our four years at Skidmore College.”
He went on to discuss Carroll’s role in alleged abuses committed by the company.
“We believe that Cynthia Carroll’s corporate affiliations and positions at BP Oil and Anglo American tells us that she bares responsibility for the inhumane and unjust practices that have displaced communities, killed countless human beings directly or indirectly through war and oppressive working conditions, and destroyed the global environment,” he said.
During the speeches, the students assembled in the back of the auditorium applauded, while members of faculty listened patiently. As the speeches concluded, President Glotzbach expressed his admiration for the fact that students “care so deeply about this issue,” but defended himself against accusations that he was deliberately ignoring student voices.
“I have always welcomed questions and concerns, and I will happily discuss this issue with any concerned students,” he said.
Other protestors were primarily concerned with the “dissonance” between Skidmore’s liberal, “Creative Thought Matters” attitude and the conservative hierarchy that dominates policy-making on campus.
“We’re all from different majors and backgrounds and we want to show that these are not the values we’ve learned at Skidmore,” said Gabby Stern ’13.
Similarly, Alexandra Steinhauer—who has been exceptionally outspoken on this issue—said that she was “upset by the lack of transparency and the inability for students and faculty to make decisions together.”
Overall, the mood in Gannett was mostly subdued and respectful, despite one moment of tension. When the president asked the protestors what they hoped to achieve, Andujar defiantly yelled, “I’m not playing that game with you today, Glotzbach,” causing a minor uproar in the auditorium.
Still, many faculty members in attendance indicated their support, and as the protesters filed out of the auditorium, Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Professor of Sociology David Karp followed them. When asked how he felt about the event, he said that he was “impressed by the passion and commitment to get their voices heard,” emphasizing the singularly unique nature of the protest.
“I’ve been here for over fifteen years, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”