Unheard Voices: Students Protest in Class

By Allison Tinsey

In the early morning hours on the Tuesday of fall quarter exam week, a group of students convened in a dimly lit classroom in Olds-Upton Hall.

These students wrote “can’t hear me, can’t educate me” on pieces of paper which they taped over their mouths.

“This makes me feel like I’m going into Fred Upton’s office,” said Roxanna Menchaca ‘15, recalling her participation in a peaceful demonstration aimed at Congressman Fred Upton, to show his support for immigration legislation reformation last fall.

Junior Mele Makalo led the group into Olds-Upton 316, the room where the examination for Race, Law, and United States Politics, taught by Visiting Professor Bruno Anili, was to begin momentarily. “At 8:40, we bounce,” she said before donning the tape over her mouth. The group consisted of ten members. Members of Student Commission, Kari Paine ’14 and Cameron Goodall ’15 also attended in support of their fellow Commissioner, Makalo.

Professor Anili entered the classroom to find the ten students lined up at the back of the classroom and asked Darrin Camilleri ’14 what the protest was about before addressing the entire class and inviting those who wished to explain the action to do so. No one said a word.

Makalo organized the action after a series of events in the class that indicated to her that the course aims were not being fulfilled. While the course aims state that the students will become familiar with major movements surrounding race and politics in the United States, it also aimed to develop the students’ critical thinking of the issue and how they participate in the discussion today.

When Makalo went to address her concerns with Anili, she stated that while she found the course materials to be profound, she believed that there needed to be more discussion in class. Weeks later, she took the initiative to begin class discussions and during one class she walked out after feeling disrespected by Anili during the discussion.

In an interview after the protest, Professor Anili indicated that the events that may have led Makalo to walk out of class the previous week were fueled by his desire to move the class discussion in a new direction. He was confused and surprised to see the actions of the students on the morning of the exam, but he conjectured that the protest was connected to the class discussion about affirmative action, which he found to be very productive.

According to Anili, the discussion took place on Monday of tenth week and the class was behind on the lecture material. He said that as the instructor he was trying to steer the conversation in a new and more complex direction.

“As a professor, I believe that it is my responsibility to cater to the many different students in class, not just those who are most vocal,” said Anili. According to Anili, Makalo wished to return to a previous discussion topic, restated her opinion, became upset, and decided to leave the classroom, which he respected.

Makalo states that Anili did not follow up with her after this event. “If an educator isn’t concerned about my contributions or frustrations with the course then I am not concerned with what the professor has to profess about. Hence the action with tape on our mouths that read ‘can’t hear me can’t educate me,’” she said.

The students involved in the protest did not reach out to Anili after the exam. Anili understood why that might be, given their slogan “can’t hear me can’t educate me” and the tape over their mouths, but he said he remains committed to participating in that conversation.

“On the one hand, I am committed to students to voice their concerns in whichever way they deem appropriate – criticism is welcome…on the other hand, I focus more on the content and the implication that I am unwilling to listen to the students…many of the assumptions that were made were faulty and I wish there was the opportunity to unpack [what happened],” he said.

Makalo suggests that all faculty members should participate in a training to better facilitate discussions on sensitive topics like race, especially given the intimacy of Kalamazoo College classroom settings. “This training could foster the development of true critical thinkers,” she said.

“Different students expect different forms of teaching. It has been my experience at Kalamazoo College that several students expect class to be heavily based on discussion. The challenge for an instructor is to address the needs of different learning profiles,” concluded Anili.

Professor Anili has since left Kalamazoo College due to extenuating circumstances unrelated to the events of his class Race, Law, and United States Politics. Makalo states that she genuinely hopes that if Anili “continues to pursue positions as a professor that he takes into consideration the importance of both presenting and welcoming the expression of varying experiences and voices” in order to avoid further misunderstandings in the future.