SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) - A group of Wofford students have banded together to address issues they believe to be systemic racism faced by students of color on the campus.
The Wofford Anti-Racism Coalition is composed of seven members - Bryson Coleman, Omar K. Elmore, Margaret Roach, Destiny Shippy, Naya Taylor, Bali Channa and Jurnee Jones.
“It always seems like there are steps in the appearance of taking anti-racism actions but never actually following through. So we hope to be seen as a formidable, long-term coalition on campus,” Roach said.
The students published a list of 18 grievances and 21 short-term demands for the coming year, which they also provided to the administration. Broadly, the demands ask for changes in students’ academic and extracurricular activities, particularly Greek life, college policies and demographics in the school’s hiring and program selections.
The full list of grievances and demands is available to the public online at woffordcoalition.blogspot.com.
“There isn’t one (demand) that we feel is more important or more immediate than the other. We want to be very clear that all of those grievances and demands are thought over and there isn’t some chain that we have, like this has to happen first because this is the most important and then this and that,” Coleman said.
The group met with Wofford President Nayef Samhat June 24 to present their ideas in a meeting that both parties said went well. The group has a second meeting scheduled with Samhat and has a meeting scheduled with the senior Wofford staff.
“In that meeting, we got to read through our entire grievances and demands document that is available to the public. When we presented this to President Samhat, he commended us for putting together the document,” Elmore said.
Elmore said Samhat didn’t commit to any of their demands during the meeting, but told them he planned to review them. The group is working on a plan for implementing their demands to prepare for their second meeting.
Last week, an email outlining a new anti-racism initiative and the immediate actions the college plans to take and announcing the creation of a steering committee to develop a long-term plan was sent out to the Wofford community. While the plan addresses some of the Coalition’s demands and the group said it was a good start, they still want the other issues they’ve outlined to be addressed.
One of the demands the group noted that was not mentioned in the announcement was the renaming of the Carlisle, Shipp and Wightman Hall dorms. The dorms are named for three former Wofford presidents who owned enslaved people.
Taylor and Coleman said attending class in and living in dormitories named after men who enslaved Black people created an uncomfortable environment for students of color on campus.
“It’s not just about renaming the buildings, renaming the buildings is recognizing the past,” Shippy said.
Wofford would not be the first college in South Carolina to rename buildings, Roach noted, offering Clemson and the University of South Carolina as examples.
“Most of our peer organizations, especially in South Carolina, have sort of jumped onto that movement,” Roach said.
Samhat said in a phone interview with the Herald-Journal that the renaming of the dorms would be something for the new steering committee to discuss.
“I think this is a collective process that we’re engaged in, and I believe that the community conversations around these issues will be very important for us all. There are reflections on the college’s past and I think that past is like many other institutions’ and we need to explore it and understand it in order to move forward,” Samhat said.
Samhat said the college’s senior leadership team compiled the list of immediate actions, many of which were based on the Anti-Racism Coalition’s document. Some of the items are new actions while others are redoubled efforts of current measures. Some of the new steps include: forming a student marketing committee and providing them and the college’s Marketing and Communications staff with unconscious-bias training, reviewing Campus Safety procedures and creating a Black Alumni website.
Samhat hopes the steering committee will reimagine the structure of how Wofford addresses diversity, equity and inclusion. The committee includes Wofford Anti-Racism Coalition member Jurnee Jones.
Samhat said the committee will be disbanded after presenting their recommendations in February.
“We want to generate a meaningful plan and recommendations as soon as possible,” Samhat said.
This new initiative follows not only the release of the Wofford Anti-Racism Coalition’s document, but the creation of the “Black at Wofford” Instagram account, where stories of racist experiences on the Wofford campus can be shared anonymously. Members of the Wofford Anti-Racism Coalition said they are in communication with the account owners, but they do not run it.
Samhat said he was aware of the account and of the stories being shared, some of which levy accusations against specific faculty members. He declined to comment as to whether the claims were being investigated.
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