Students ask administrators to act on systemic racism
“Whose university? Our university!”
Page and a two-minute timer onstage both stood still for the next twenty-three minutes as demonstrators read demands — from UNC students today, from students at the University of Missouri and the University of Cape Town and from Black Student Movement members at UNC in 1968.
The 50 demands at UNC included paying student-athletes, no longer considering the SAT and ACT in admissions and immediately firing system president-elect Margaret Spellings. Each point attracted applause from some — though not all — members of the audience in a crowded Memorial Hall.
The meeting returned to its scheduled activities when a woman broke in on the other side of the auditorium. She said she shared black students’ pain and asked everyone to come together.
“There are people here that have taken their time to come here, to listen to us,” she said.
“You speak for a lot of us, but at the same time we need to come together and make a solution.”
The demonstrators announced they would hold a press conference outside and many of them walked out. Page asked everyone to describe what would make UNC more inclusive while sticking to the two-minute time limit.
“Please do not read any more manifestos,” he said.
Public policy major Cara Pugh asked administrators for action. Page told the crowd not to expect answers tonight.
“This is my time to speak and say, UNC administrators and leaders, please offer us actionable steps and items that we can expect to see — by February, by the end of this year — to help us understand where we stand on this campus,” Pugh said.
“Please listen to those demands and see that students are hurting and students need change.”
Students throughout the evening asked administrators to respond. Chancellor Carol Folt was the only administrator to address the crowd.
Michael Morrison, president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, read a list of demands including and education for all students on UNC’s racial history.
Morrison stood up alongside Jeremy Mckellar, president of the Black Student Movement.
“We have shared interests but we are not monolithic and our voices should not be homogenized,” Mckellar said.
Mckellar’s demands included more academic support and opportunities for people of color and a proposal that BSM reclaim full control of the Upendo Lounge as a space for black students.
Shelby Dawkins-Law, a graduate student in the School of Education and former president of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, read her own list of demands.
“I’m sad to say that in my time here I’ve seen racial issues get worse, not better,” she said.
One of Dawkins-Law’s demands was for scholarships given to trans women, black women and black genderqueer people in honor of activist and writer Pauli Murray. She also called for space for Latino, South Asian and native communities comparable to the space given to black students on campus.
Students and a few faculty and staff members continued to line up at the microphones for two more hours.
One student received enthusiastic applause after announcing everyone could agree on one thing — that systemic racism exists. Like other students, he recommended that training on race and equity become mandatory at UNC.
Nagwa Nukuna, co-president of the Organization for African Students’ Interests and Solidarity, echoed the call for administrative action. She said students of color speaking to each other doesn’t change anything.
“If we could solve the problem, we would have done it ourselves,” she said.
“We need the help of the administration, and we need to hear that they care about issues that affect people of color.”
Sophomore Destiny Talley addressed Page directly.
“If you’re making comments like you do, Mr. Page, and belittling students who are speaking, it is like you are listening but you are not hearing us,” she said.
She asked Page to practice active listening.
“I’m sorry. I apologize. I know that’s not a lot, but that’s more than you’ll get from Donald Trump,” Page said.
After the event, Page recommended that demonstrators “work on pruning their message.”
Folt said no one could have listened to the Town Hall without feeling the speakers’ pain.
“Even in frustration and in exhaustion, people were still sharing things that we could do, and that’s wonderful,” she said.
What she heard from the crowd, she said, was that people wanted administrators to take a leadership role in planning trainings and creating better spaces for people to be together. She didn’t describe a timeline for this process.
“We have, probably, an opportunity to come up with five or six really key areas that we immediately start working (on) and can let students know about,” she said.
Thanks for reading.
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