Students launch petition to preserve Jackie Robinson Project

Media Credit: Max Wang | Senior Staff Photographer

Junior Justyn Needel, senior Clay Adams and junior Jared Diamond launched a petition last week to stop the University from terminating the Jackie Robinson Project.

Students are challenging plans to terminate a 22-year-old project honoring baseball legend and civil rights activist Jackie Robinson.

Three members of the Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society, a student organization, launched a petition last week to “protest the administration’s arbitrary and unjust decision to terminate the Jackie Robinson Project” at the end of the academic year. Student leaders said axing the project – which officials said was the result of dwindling funds – deprives students of educational programming about Robinson’s impact on the civil rights movement.

The petition, which is hosted on Google Forms and has been circulated through word of mouth and on Facebook, has garnered more than 350 signatures as of Sunday, student leaders said.

“We the undersigned students at the George Washington University demand that the dean’s office reverse course and permit the Jackie Robinson Project to continue its magnificent work effective immediately,” the petition states. “GW should be proud of this program and should not be creating bogus explanations to justify its misguided efforts to phase out the program.”

Officials in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences notified Richard Zamoff, a sociology professor who has overseen the project, two weeks ago that the project would be eliminated by the end of the academic year, citing insufficient funds. But Zamoff said the project has always been self-sustaining and has enough funds to continue for at least three more years.

Administrators froze Zamoff’s budget to operate the project in June and asked him to submit a budget to officials with scheduled programming for the remainder of the academic year. Officials said they will reallocate the remaining project funds to other initiatives related to race and politics after the celebration of Robinson’s 100th birthday in January.

Since 1996, the project has spearheaded programs and lectures focused on Jackie Robinson’s impact on baseball and the civil rights movement. Zamoff has kept up the project by visiting schools across the country to host lectures about Robinson and soliciting funds from donors in and out of the University.

Zamoff said the petition heightens efforts to preserve a project that has allowed thousands of students in and around D.C. to learn about Robinson. Through events and school visits, he said the project has reached more than 8,000 students across the country, giving the University name recognition and the ability for students of color to understand that Robinson’s impact extends beyond baseball.

“The petition launched because students became aware that this was an emergency, that this was not something that could wait and needed to be pursued immediately,” he said.

He added that after fruitless attempts from alumni, faculty and Zamoff’s colleagues to press officials to keep the project, supporters of the project began sending letters last week to University President Thomas LeBlanc instead. But he said the emails were forwarded to the same person the letters were originally sent to – Kimberly Gross, the interim associate dean of programs and operations for CCAS.

“The decision has been made,” Gross said in an email Friday to Zamoff, which was obtained by The Hatchet. “We are looking forward to receiving your plan for programming for the 2018-2019 academic year which will be the project’s last year.”

Zamoff said that because Gross will not reverse the decision to cut the project, he hopes the petition and letters to LeBlanc will prompt support from other officials to keep the project as a University-sponsored initiative.

“The fact that people are now communicating with the president is a very good thing because it makes it much more likely that a fair hearing will be given to the project,” he said. “That’s really all we’re asking for.”

Student leaders said terminating the project threatens the Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society’s programming – though officials said the society wouldn’t be affected – because the society and project have often collaborated to host lectures and visit other schools and colleges in and around D.C.

“Without the project, there’s no society,” junior Jared Diamond, an officer of the society who helped launch the petition, said.

Senior Clay Adams, an officer of the society, said he and three other student leaders launched the petition because losing the project would mean future students do not have the opportunity to understand Robinson’s impact on race, sports and society.

“We’re doing nothing but trying to help the community and spread the positivity of Jackie Robinson’s message, and GW is trying to take that away from people,” he said. “We have a voice behind this.”

Adams said he was “shocked” to learn from Zamoff that officials would cut the project because it had encouraged thousands of current and former students to continue Robinson’s legacy.

“Not everyone knows Jackie Robinson, the civil rights leader,” Adams said. “They know Jackie Robinson, the baseball player. I feel as if with the program on the diminish that it’s on right now, not only GW but so many other people are losing an opportunity that not every person will understand or know the significance of.”

Student Association Sen. Vaibhav Vijay, CCAS-U, said the SA will merge the petition onto GW Voice, a petitioning platform on the SA website, this month. He said GW Voice would “broadcast the petition” to a wider group of students by launching it from the University’s main student advocacy group.

Once the petition hits 500 signatures, the SA president is required to respond.

“I hope that the sociology department realizes how many students feel passionately about the project and the issues that the project represents,” Vijay said.

Junior Justyn Needel, who is also an officer of the society, said the petition is a way to tell officials that eliminating the project is “disrespectful” to Zamoff, who has dedicated more than 20 years to its programming.

“I feel like people are trying to put up roadblocks for us,” Needel said. “We have a right to have our organization. We have a right to our project, our society, and we’ll keep fighting until we get justice for our organization.”

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