I will not donate to Macalester College while it discourages and punishes student leaders whose activism reflects the school’s values.
In April 2013, students protesting Macalester’s relationship with Wells Fargo, the bank responsible for the most foreclosures in Minnesota, performed peaceful direct action during a sit-in. In response, administrators placed 17 students on disciplinary probation. This rare punishment prevents them from studying abroad, holding internships, leading student organizations, playing sports, participating in arts, and other important opportunities that are essential to learning at Macalester.
Administrators’ choice to punish student activism and retreat from social justice doesn’t match Macalester’s values. The effort to silence and punish students who are engaged in non-violent protest is extreme. The administration’s action is unnecessary and polarizing. It sends a message to students, alumni and the broader community that constructive free speech and dissent are not welcome at Macalester. This is in direct contradiction to Macalester’s values and the kind of open, politically engaged campus we have grown to appreciate during and since our time at the college. This is not the Macalester we know and love.
In the spring of 2012, Macalester students listened to a call from their community. Supported by faith, labor, and neighborhood groups, the students formed the Kick Wells Fargo Off Campus (KWOC) coalition to cut Macalester’s purchasing-card contract with Wells Fargo.
Wells Fargo was the recipient of a $25 billion government loan during the financial crisis. Yet the bank has shirked its responsibility to the community that bailed them out, possessing a particularly troublesome record of foreclosures. In the Twin Cities area alone, Wells-Fargo foreclosed on thousands of homes. Key institutions including the Minneapolis School Board have divested their assets from Wells-Fargo in an effort to change the company’s predatory lending practices and large number of home foreclosures.
For a year, KWOC students worked closely with college administrators to explore the problems and possibilities of Macalester’s Wells Fargo contract in relationship to the housing crisis in the Twin Cities. Through a Request for Information process, they discovered Sunrise Community Bank would offer a better deal and reinvest revenues in local businesses and community well-being. Administrators had the opportunity to engage students in constructive dialogue about how Macalester can use its considerable resources to address the foreclosure crisis in Twin Cities neighborhoods. Their refusal to consider options that would even begin to address student grievances is of great concern.
When we were students, Macalester encouraged us to respond to the social justice issues of our time. Macalester College is an exceptional place for students to learn and apply complicated ideas and values. The College’s job is to develop student leaders who affect ethical responses to urgent issues. The administration’s punitive action sends a chilling message to students who are engaging the best civic traditions of involvement in the community around them. Student activism should be valued rather than scorned. The fact that the administration chose to punish students by taking away internships, involvement in student government and study abroad is especially cynical, and should be reversed immediately. That’s not the Macalester we know and love, and we won’t give our money until the College:
1. Removes disciplinary probation from the students who engaged in peaceful protest, part of Macalester’s proud tradition of activism.
2. Returns to the negotiating table with KWOC and concludes an agreement with students that upholds Macalester’s commitment to our community and responds to urgent concerns regarding the foreclosure crisis.