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Salem College stages week-long sit-in for diversity

Salem College students staged a week-long sit-in, which ended April 18, to call for greater diversity, better conditions on campus and decreased transphobia. 

Students for a Better Salem College led a call to action. The group said in a statement that while Salem College — located in Winston-Salem — claims to embrace the ideals of diversity, community members have failed to act upon these convictions. 

“For Salem to succeed as a diverse, equitable, and inclusive institution, actions must take place to rectify the inequality that exists, and to hold people in positions of power accountable for their actions," the students' statement said. 

The student group said it demanded policies that should have long been in place, such as visible effort given to the renovation, restoration and maintenance of residence halls — with a particular focus on buildings reserved for residents with medical conditions. 

The students' statement also calls for a minimum of 16 hours of annual diversity training to be required for all members of the Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, health and counseling services, general staff, the Alumnae Board and Board of Visitors. 

According to the 2016 Salem College American College Health Association survey, 97 percent of students at Salem feel overwhelmed, 93 percent feel emotional exhaustion, 75 percent feel very sad, 68 percent have overwhelming anxiety, 65 percent feel very lonely, 63 percent feel hopeless and 42 percent are so depressed it was difficult to function. 

The student group's call to action listed these statistics as part of its justification for increased diversity training for staff. 

The president of Salem College, Lorraine Sterritt, responded to students, saying the college will continue its commitment to diversity among its faculty and staff. 

“As we develop the 2017-22 Strategic Plan, we are proposing to the Strategic Planning Committee that increased staff and resources for diversity and inclusiveness, including engagement of external professionals, be incorporated into the Strategic Plan," she said in the college's statement. 

The Salem College statement said the Board of Trustees will continue to consider a transgender policy, and that the college has set a goal to raise $7.5 million for facilities renovations.

To address the mental health issues on campus, the school increased support available to students by adding counselor Shawn Arango Ricks to the staff, who has experience working with women of color and those with marginalized identities. 

Jeniffer Padilla, a sophomore at Salem College who participated in the sit-ins, said she wanted to be supportive of everyone who had been affected by discrimination at the college.

There has been progress since the call to action, she said. 

“What we need is to not let this be another situation of ‘Oh it happened, we addressed some issues and the situation can be dropped now,’” Padilla said.

Padilla stressed the importance of every voice and opinion being heard.

“The more this gets addressed, the more people can get involved,” she said.

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