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University of Puget Sound students rally for diversity, change on Tacoma campus

Layth Sabbagh with Puget Sound Student Union leads protesters requesting more equity for minority students Thursday at the University of Puget Sound.
Layth Sabbagh with Puget Sound Student Union leads protesters requesting more equity for minority students Thursday at the University of Puget Sound. lwong@thenewstribune.com

Students who feel underrepresented at the University of Puget Sound took center stage Thursday as they flexed their social activist muscle on the brick steps of the administration building.

Speaking of social, racial and gender inequities they’ve faced, members of the group of a few hundred students issued a call for action from peers, faculty and staff at the private, liberal arts college in Tacoma’s North End neighborhood.

Calling itself Advocates for Institutional Change, the group drafted a list of 12 demands outlining reforms they want to see on campus. Then they organized a morning walkout, urging students to rally on the administration steps.

Demands included providing adequate space for student-led diversity clubs to meet, and making students aware of those clubs. They also want UPS’s next president to meet with every identity- and faith-based group on campus to “better understand the realities of the current campus climate and the needs and concerns of students moving into the future.”

The students were respectful during the rally. They have requested dialogue with administrators.

UPS President Ronald Thomas called from Washington, D.C. during the rally to set up a meeting with students next week. Thomas is retiring from the post at the end of the school year.

Thomas’ responsiveness was a sign of progress, said Rachel Askew, president of the Black Student Union and one of the leaders of the rally.

“We do have the power,” she said.

Standing among the students during the hour-long demonstration, dean of students Mike Segawa watched the outpouring of activism.

“We’ve been doing the work, but obviously there is more work we have to do with them,” Segawa said of administration efforts to address the concerns. “They want us to be better and we want to be better.”

Askew and UPS student body president Nakisha Renee Jones said they’re committed to using their positions to navigate the academic bureaucracy to force change.

“We want them to know this is important and it’s not just important to the usual suspects,” Askew said. “It is important to our campus as a whole.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

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