Editor’s Note:

Students at UVM have reported for the Cynic since 1883. We don’t often think of student journalists as historians, but their work makes an essential contribution to the historical record. Next February, we plan to present another collection of Black history, drawing from student newspapers across Vermont.

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One of our goals at the Underground Workshop is for student journalism to serve as a classroom resource for Vermont’s students and teachers. A few potential classroom uses for this post are here.

Students: Are you seeking an authentic experience of civic engagement? We are seeking student reporters to interview voters for UVM’s Community News Service on Town Meeting Day. Students interested in participating can register here.

For the month of February 2022, the Vermont Cynic worked to publish more stories on Black history at UVM. We worked to tell the stories of Black alumni and affinity groups that had not been shared by our past staff. To make up for our lack of content in years past, each section was asked to hold a content ratio of 50% Black history at UVM and 50% standard stories.

Through many trips to UVM Special Collections to dig through archives, the Cynic was able to publish new stories as well as find old stories to re-publish and inform the new generation of UVM students, faculty and staff.

The Cynic’s commitment to sharing Black stories will not end with Black History Month. We will continue to ensure the Black student population at UVM has a voice with the Cynic.

While Andrew Harris, UVM’s first documented Black graduate, has a plaque about him in front of UVM’s Davis Center, his true story is not included in the text.

A formerly enslaved person, George Washingon Henderson, graduated at the top of UVM’s Class of 1877. The UVM community regarded Henderson as the first Black graduate of UVM until 2004. Middlebury College archivist Bob Buckeye informed UVM archivist Jeff Marshall that it was actually Andrew Harris, abolitionist and 1838 graduate.

Edna Hall Brown is the first recorded Black woman to graduate from UVM, graduated in June 1930 with a Bachelor of Science in education. UVM’s records don’t indicate whether other Black women graduated from the university before Brown.

Richard ‘Dick’ Dennis ‘57, joined the Phi Sigma Delta fraternity as a first-year. In 1954, the fraternity decided to wear purple makeup instead of blackface at Kake Walk because of its two Black members. Dennis joined the UVM board of trustees in 1992. He later became the first Black chair of the board. Dennis retired from the board in 1998.

For 73 years, UVM fraternity members danced in blackface and satin tuxedos during the longest-running winter carnival in the country. At its peak in the 1960s, this event, known as the Kake Walk, was held twice over a February weekend in the Patrick Gym in order to fit all 8,000 spectators, according to ticket sales reports.

The Black Student Union creates a space of community for Black students at UVM. Although formally recognized by the Student Government Association in 2004, BSU took many forms during its time at UVM. It carries on the traditions of its predecessors while also creating new traditions.

On Feb. 20, 2018, students occupied the Waterman building, which holds the offices of some of UVM’s administration. The protest was in response to a host of issues the Black community at UVM was facing, including but not limited to “It’s ok to be White,” posters on campus, and a student making violent threats against Black students.

And for added context, some of VTDigger’s coverage of the takeover is here.

On February 23, 2018, Admitted Students Day (when students who have been accepted to the university are invited to come hear more about the school) students protested to inform prospective students of the climate for marginalized students at UVM.

After two weeks of protests, 11 leaders of the radical justice group, NoNames for Justice, met privately with administrators and deans to discuss their list of demands.

This doubletruck provides an extensive and detailed timeline of the issues that lead to the 2018 Waterman Protests.

After the Black Lives Matter flag was stolen from the Davis Center flag pole in September 2016, students gathered under the new flag that replaced it in solidarity of those killed by gun violence.

Not all students were there in support of BLM. Read the opinions of the protestors and the counter-protestors reported in 2016 here.

On Sept. 24, 2016, sophomore J.T. Reichhelm stole the BLM flag that was flying outside the Davis Center.

On April 13, 2017, staff writer Kim Henry entered the Cynic office to pitch a column to her EIC Kelsey Neubauer. Instead, Henry found herself working on a story that would lead to the uncovering of who stole the BLM flag. Though Henry, who identifies as Black, had a hard time keeping a boundary of what she knows to be true and a reporter’s definition of fact. Read the column by Henry here, in which she discusses an issue all journalists face: separating oneself from the story.

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