The event, which had over 50 attendees on Zoom, began with a five-minute moment of silence for individuals who were killed in incidents of police brutality. Immediately following the vigil, attendees could choose from three breakout sessions to attend on topics such as “Mental Health and Self Care,” “Racism and Police Brutality” and “Where Do We Go From Here?”
Cherish Williams, a staff psychologist for Counseling and Psychological Services, emphasized the importance of taking time for oneself, and said CAPS offers individual therapy sessions and ongoing group support for Black students and students of color, such as the Empowering Black Women program.
However, throughout the vigil and in breakout sessions, attendees posed questions about the hesitation some students of color feel before reaching out for support through CAPS. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, around 30 percent of Black adults with mental illness receive treatment annually, versus the U.S. average of 43 percent.
Caldwell said she hopes to also see increased advocacy and options for mental health support available to faculty.
“There’s just a gap, there’s a void when it comes to mental health support for faculty, and especially for faculty of color,” Caldwell said. “We’re bearing a huge burden now with the COVID-19 pandemic in caring for our families, losing loved ones and that kind of thing.”
Actions on campus
During the “Where Do We Go From Here?” breakout session, led by rising junior De’Ivyion Drew, attendees also discussed the role entities like commissions and task forces play in enacting significant change within the University. Drew, who is a member of the Campus Safety Commission, said her stance on the commission has always been to abolish campus police.
“With the incremental change, how can we really put in place the reality that we want to see without negotiating with the power structures that kill us every day?” Drew said.
Michael Rashaad Galloway, a UNC graduate, also spoke about a petition he started, demanding UNC’s Board of Trustees overturn a 16-year moratorium on renaming buildings on campus.
“Little did I know that every day that I was walking into a building or every day that I’m walking through Polk Place that I was walking through a place or into a place that was named after someone who enslaved my people — not only enslaved my people, but supported white supremacy,” Galloway said.
The petition, which has over 7,000 signatures, states that more than 40 buildings, monuments and landscapes on campus are currently dedicated to white supremacists.
Maya Logan, the speaker pro tempore and co-chairperson of the Multicultural Affairs and Diversity Outreach Committee, said she and Finance and Ethics Vice-Chair Lamar Richards are working on increasing support for minority-serving student organizations on campus through the recently formed Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity.
“I know commissions can sometimes be ineffective, but we are trying to structure this one so it can be longstanding and not just something we do in the midst of what’s going on because this is an internal need that has always been talked about on campus, but no steps are taken to actually eradicate why Black orgs don’t get the funding they need,” Logan said.
Caldwell said she believes students are coming of age in a “transformative moment.” Witnessing the 1992 Los Angeles uprising as a college senior significantly shaped her own eventual journey in becoming professor in African, African American and diaspora studies.
She said while it’s important for students to remember the power they hold in advocating for change, they should also recognize when to take space for themselves, especially for Black students.
“As a parent, I think about the fact that I don’t believe that any of our students’ parents or any parents send their kids to college to have to struggle for racial justice, right?” Caldwell said. “And so this is an extra burden that our Black students carry when they come to a place like UNC, and that needs to be recognized.”
The allyship of non-Black students, staff and faculty is critical, Caldwell said, as well as administrative action to dismantle structures of oppression on campus.