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  • Dani Bernstein

Remembering Basil Brown: Why Student Support Needs to Change

The Hamilton community lost someone this week. Someone who was both transgender and disabled, someone with a voice. Basil Brown, originally a member of the Class of 2024, left both Hamilton and this world too soon. Before transferring, Basil wrote the 2022 piece “Hamilton's Physical Inaccessibility Forced Me to Withdraw,” a beautiful reflection on his experiences with inaccessibility at Hamilton. Basil was an artist and an advocate for trans and disability rights. A website housing his artwork can be found here (Using he/him pronouns to respect what was shared most recently on Basil’s social media).

Marginalized students experience more difficulty navigating spaces of higher education, like Hamilton, which means these students need additional support. Basil Brown felt “systematically excluded and harmed here.” Students come to campus from all different places, backgrounds, and standpoints. Historically, most Hamilton students were white, male, and protestant. In an age of performativity, diversity is a value that Hamilton claims to hold dear. However, Hamilton consistently ignores direct requests from minority students and student groups for more support. Basil mentioned prevalent issues he faced as a disabled student including “stairs everywhere without enough ramps or elevators, tall curbs and cracks in the pavement, and too few power-operated doors on campus.” He then recounted Hamilton administrators requesting he perform “unpaid labor for the college in terms of identifying every individual area where it fails [him],” while failing to name concrete steps Hamilton would take moving forward.

After the shooting threat (conveyed at one point as an active shooter) and campus lockdown in Spring 2023, Hamilton’s administration urged the community to return to normal despite widespread student advocacy to pause to process what had occurred. While returning to normal was possible for some, many directly impacted and marginalized students needed additional support in response to this event, which was not easily available. No outright action from the administration provided space for processing or resources that were not already available. This labor fell onto students. This is all occurring as the day-to-day expectations of Hamilton students, both explicit and implicit, remain beyond what a reasonable, healthy work-life balance ought to be.

Hamilton has a long history of systemically failing to support students. Hamilton’s Wellness Center offers mental health support, please do not be afraid to reach out for support if you need it. Beyond the Wellness Center, Hamilton has destroyed much of the community and support within the Chaplaincy in the last year. From where I sit as a senior who has both served a support role and needed support myself, I see that Hamilton students are struggling and need more support.

As a trans student at Hamilton, I found the Chaplaincy after other communities I was involved in failed to support me during my transition. I faced transphobia and discrimination in many environments, including the Athletic Department. The support I received in the Chaplaincy is the reason I have stayed at Hamilton and may very well be the reason I am still alive. The Chaplaincy used to be a space I could enter and feel supported within, without fail, any time of day. Before resigning from my position as All Beliefs Union Intern, upon entering the chaplaincy, I was asked exclusively to give support. I am deeply saddened at the deterioration of our community and the way the weight of this shift has fallen onto the shoulders of student leaders. It is heartbreaking to think this space may not be a safe, robust, supportive, and accessible spiritual resource for future students.

In Basil’s own words: “Hamilton College, an institution with a billion-dollar endowment, does not need to rely on the unpaid labor of a disabled impoverished student to tell them how to do what they are legally and morally obligated to do.” Hamilton failed to accommodate and support Basil Brown. With minimal administrative support, the affective labor of creating inclusive spaces falls onto marginalized students. These students are forced to create space for themselves. Hamilton needs to take active steps to make our community a more welcoming, safe, and accessible place for ALL students. Supporting each other and our community is vital for the future of Hamilton as an institution.

More resources need to be dedicated to supporting student, faculty, and staff needs, and more institutional attention ought to be directed at studying and responding to the sources of student distress and exclusion. Hamilton needs to create a robust and diverse network of support within Student Support Services. Hamilton as an institution must take a more active role in creating actively inclusive spaces and programming. It’s time to talk about our mental health and accessibility.

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11. Apr.

Thank you Dani for this wonderful advancement of Basil’s memory and legacy on campus.

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