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Sunday July 3rd

Student advocate Lamar Richards wants a just future for UNC students

<p>UNC sophomore Lamar Richards, chair of the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity, poses for a portrait on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020.</p>
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UNC sophomore Lamar Richards, chair of the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity, poses for a portrait on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020.

Lamar Richards knows how to keep his hands in more than one pot, as he tackles student equity and racial injustice — all while balancing the demands of his sophomore year at UNC. 

“Your voice is the most powerful thing that you have,” Richards said. “You can take away all the titles away from me. My voice is what I have, and how I choose to use that is my most powerful and most honest characteristic. I chose to use it to advocate.”

The psychology major has been featured in several major media outlets — including The Washington Post, NBC News and WRAL News — to give his perspective on the impact of the pandemic on the reopening of college campuses. And with his new role on the Campus and Community Advisory Committee, he has further plans to create equitable opportunities for students of color.

“Having your name everywhere is a good and bad thing,” Richards said. “I don’t do it for the publicity. I recognize the platform these media outlets have, and how I can utilize these platforms to further my agenda of racial equity among the younger generation, and just racial justice for every American citizen.”

Recently, Richards wrote a letter to the University about making Election Day a holiday.

Over the summer, Richards proposed a technology initiative for students in financial need during the pandemic. Paired with the provost and the IT department, the initiative gave around 3,000 students $200 for reliable internet access.

As chairperson of the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity and the finance and ethics vice-chairperson of the Undergraduate Senate, Richards also proposed fall recommendations for campus reopening. He said that he advocated for the pass/fail extension for this semester.

Currently, he said he is trying to establish a minority and low-income professional development initiative that will grant college students with “free study materials” for standardized tests, including the Medical College Admission Test and Law School Admission Test. It will also hire graduate students and compensate them for tutoring these students.

In his hometown in South Carolina, Richards said he was very involved. He was state president of the National Beta Club for South Carolina, which involved leading over 30,000 members.

But he said when he got to UNC, he was actually a reserved person. Then, stumbling upon the Undergraduate Senate, he was able to find a voice.

“I walked into a room where there were not many, if any, people that looked like me. There were maybe a handful, if that, of people of color in general. And this, to me, was devastating,” Richards said, “because the truth is that we have people of color who want to speak and who want to have their voices heard.”

This drove him to run for his own seat in the Senate, which he won.

“I became known as a troublemaker, and I appreciate that, because I was able to get into the atmosphere and disrupt the system that's been in place for far too long,” he said.

“I’ve always believed all it takes is one person being in the room to say the right things to make others advocate for the same things as if there was a room full of African Americans,” Richards said. “It should not take the minority being in the room for the minority agenda to be present.”

Sibby Anderson Thompkins is the University's interim chief diversity officer and has a doctorate in educational policy studies. She has worked alongside Richards for several months. 

She said they work closely because Richards is able to express student concerns that Anderson Thompkins might not be keen to.

“I think he’s playing an important role in making sure that he’s amplifying the issues and concerns that students are bringing to the commission,” Anderson Thompkins said. “I think highly of Lamar, and I am certain he is going to have a long-lasting impact on Carolina. Sometimes, I am often one of the people that he is targeting in terms of pushing to action and holding one accountable, so I appreciate that about him.”

Anderson Thompkins said she was a student activist herself in the 1980s with the Black Student Movement. She said she is proud that Richards takes part in this tradition of campus activism.

"I think he’s giving voice to many folks who’ve been silent, who don’t have access to those mediums," Anderson Thompkins said. "It’s amazing what he has been able to do, and leverage social media and the news networks, to really communicate what are the concerns and challenges of students in the midst of COVID-19 and racial unrest.”   

Maya Logan, a junior majoring in quantitative biology, said she and Richards are good friends with similar upbringings. 

Logan said that Richards knows how to push back, but still maintain amicable relationships.

“He knows how to go against the grain,” Logan said. “He also knows how to make amends with people, so that you can continue a great working relationship, meaning that he knows how to call the administration out when they're not being as responsive to students.”

Logan said Richards and herself are the only two Black students on the Undergraduate Senate, and they both serve on the commission. She said it’s important that both of them take up leadership in these types of spaces.

“I’m working with leaders that are white and male, that don’t think like me, and I’m working with leaders that are of color who think like me, but it’s that different dynamic of leadership that you have to bring into both spaces,” Logan said. “It’s very important that Lamar is in these spaces because it makes sure that he’s offering all of the multifaceted ideas he has, and I’m so happy that he’s in all of these spaces to do it.”

Richards said in his pursuit of racial equity, it’s important to understand how these systems work and how to best change them.

“I’m not saying that I don’t believe systems shouldn’t exist, but a part of advocacy work is realizing that I can’t change the world overnight,” Richards said. “A part of being an advocate is realizing that I’m better justified being a part of the system and changing it inside out.”


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