On the afternoon of March 19, political science professor Althea Sircar sent a letter to President Brian Rosenberg and Provost Karine Moe outlining 14 demands of Macalester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter, which was circulated among students, staff, faculty and alumni starting on Tuesday evening, garnered more than 1,000 signatures — 62 of which came from faculty and staff members.
The demands centered around supporting student transportation costs, ensuring student access to health care and covering lost wages for students and other workers. Director of Employment Services Bob Graf, Vice President for Student Affairs Donna Lee and Vice President of Administration and Finance David Wheaton were CC’ed on the letter.
On Friday morning, Rosenberg and Moe sent Sircar a response from the email account [email protected] — reiterating that the college “will not allow any student to be without food or a safe place to live,” but declining to comment on any of the letter’s specific demands.
“We are meeting daily with our senior leaders to ensure students have the support and guidance they need as they make decisions about where to spend the remainder of the semester, and our faculty and staff have the resources they need to begin remote learning,” the response read.
“As we have shared in previous communication, we are working through the many, many details, and are sharing them as we have clear next steps,” it continued. “Our immediate focus is on keeping the community safe and ensuring our most vulnerable students and those with extenuating circumstances have the support they need.”
Rosenberg and Moe also wrote that they “will take care of our faculty and staff,” and that the college is working with select individuals on a case-by-case basis in addition to establishing its broad-based policies.
The college does not, however, appear ready or willing to make specific financial commitments to students or part-time, hourly or subcontracted employees.
What the college may be preparing to do is allocate or direct extra financial resources to students through a relief fund set up through the online platform GiveCampus that has a $100,000 fundraising goal.
The fund names transportation costs, food costs, distance learning materials and lost student employment wages as areas in which students will need financial support in the coming months. It is not yet clear what the college will do with the money it collects through the fund.
In a public statement released on Twitter following Rosenberg and Moe’s response, Sircar wrote that a measure of patience may be required in the coming days.
“I realize some of you may be disappointed that there still aren’t answers for a few of our specific questions (in my own case, I am wondering whether ‘staff’ includes contracted and low-wage hourly or part-time workers and whether ‘faculty’ includes adjuncts teaching one class, to name a few questions I still have.)
“In this moment, however, I think that we’ll have to wait and see how things fall out and support one another through some of the many mutual aid endeavors… in our community and around the world,” she continued. “I also believe that there are people throughout Macalester administration who are trying desperately and intensely to do the right thing under difficult circumstances.”
In a separate statement to The Mac Weekly, Sircar reiterated that the letter was not meant to be adversarial but rather to lift up the insecurities and concerns of Macalester community members in precarious positions.
“There’s a lot of unseen, very sacrificial work taking place at every level,” Sircar wrote in a statement to The Mac Weekly. “I don’t think any of the signatories would want the letter to obscure that.
“Everyone I’ve talked to is grateful for the labor that’s already happening,” she continued.
Rosenberg and Moe wrote that they would continue to keep the community informed through email communication and updates to the college website, but not with any further responses to the letter.
According to Sircar, the onus on them and other college leaders to respond broadly and effectively is multifaceted.
“I firmly believe that the generous actions of powerful social institutions like Macalester will have a rippling, waving, transformative effect on the communities our members belong to,” she wrote in her statement.
“My hope is that in our collective voice, we can provide shelter and support for one another in articulating the needs of those of us who are most vulnerable. But regardless, we can draw strength from the fact that we are not alone, even in isolation. Whether you signed or didn’t… please know that you are loved, you are seen, and you are not alone.”