C.O.W. Confronted with Reality of Institutional Racism

Sam Killebrew

Senior News Writer

An anonymous pamphlet titled “The Black Manifesto” appeared throughout campus, prompting discussion and call for actions.

On a quiet autumn morning at The College of Wooster, a document, dubbed The Black Manifesto, was released across campus. The document outlined experiences of Black students at Wooster: lack of Black staff, lack of comprehensive curriculum regarding Black experiences and few resources available for Black students to feel safe and welcome at the College. The demands to the administration encompassed a simple theme: do more to make Wooster a safer place for Black individuals. 

This declaration was given on Nov. 6, 1969. 52 years later, another manifesto appeared at the College, detailing strikingly similar demands. 

On the morning of Oct.19, Wooster students and faculty awoke to campus being covered in pamphlets reading, “DEMANDS.” These pamphlets were titled The Black Manifesto. The manifesto confronted many in the Wooster community with a harsh reality: Black students do not feel safe on campus. The demands outline the expectations that the author(s) have for  the College administration, as the manifesto demands the addition of two Black counselors on campus, more transparent financial opportunities for Black-international students and accountability from  the College to work with the Wooster Police Department for legislation that provides adequate protection against  hate crimes and hate speech on Beall Avenue. The final demand on the seven-part list reads, “WE DEMAND THAT THE ADMINISTRATION PUBLICLY RESPONDS TO THIS MANIFESTO IN ITS ENTIRETY WITHIN ONE WEEK.” 

In response to the manifesto, at 7:35 p.m. on Oct. 20, President Sarah Bolton, interim Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer of Academic Affairs Leslie Wingard and Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Myrna Hernández stood in the Scot Center’s Governance Room, hosting well over 200 students, both in-person and virtually. Bolton opened the meeting with her intention of ridding the college of racism completely. 

“Our purpose here tonight is to talk about a simple thing, which is making Wooster better. To make Wooster better we need to talk tonight about making Wooster equitable, inclusive and making Wooster a place where racism is not happening and harming black students, staff and faculty. We need to make it a place where discrimination and harassment are not taking place,” Bolton said. The meeting opened up to questions, allowing the campus community to voice their concerns. 

Many students asked a simple but important question: if people have been asking for these changes for decades, how many more meetings will it take before progress is made? In response, Bolton said,  “… There’s a lot of things that people have worked on over time… it’s also true that there are a lot of changes that haven’t happened.”

Wingard added to Bolton’s comments, expressing that she “hears the student(s)” who asked this question. Questions continued to pour in from students concerned for themselves, their peers,  their organizations, and their safety at the College. Many of the questions focused on the demands directly, pressing Bolton and the administration on their words and actions. As the meeting progressed, discussions became heated as students, dissatisfied with the administration’s responses, asked the speakers on how effective they will be in making change. Some students claimed that Bolton and  deans in-attendance were lying straight to students’ faces, referencing policy on racial discrimination training for students. One student said, “You guys have straight up lied multiple times about what you’ve done. As a member of the class of 2024, we barely had any orientation and none of [it] revolved around anti-racism or cultural competency… Our orientation was essentially nonexistent,” they said.

The student also claimed that the College fails to hold students with white supremacist beliefs on campus accountable. “Also, [student evaluations] are not actually taken into account… I know personally … white supremacist students are not being dealt with,”

 Neither President Bolton nor the deans present responded directly to this claim, and the microphone was passed to another student. At one point, a student called the administration out on the tone of their responses to the questions presented throughout the meeting. 

“All of this has been unsubstantial,” they said. “Are you going to fire the staff that is racist? Are you going to actually look through audits? Because none of us believe the audit on Howard Lowry, for example,” said one student.  

The student also brought up particular incidents in which lack of accountability within administration forced students themselves to hold the administration accountable. 

“I used to be an R.A. I went through R.A. training for racism. None of it was substantial. [Former Director of Residence Life] Nathan Fein left, because we had to push him out as students. He told R.A. Council in meetings that he was overwhelmed by us telling him the things that he did wrong, and that we were in the wrong for doing that. [Students having to pressure racist staff] is a trend at this school.”

The meeting continued, with students becoming increasingly upset with the administration’s response — and often, lack thereof — for over two hours. By the end, most of the students in the Governance Room  left, unsatisfied with the meeting. Cam Love ’25, who attended the meeting, stated, “I did not get what I wanted from this meeting in terms of response. The administration looked confused and only answered with head nods and gestures—nothing sustainable for the issues at hand,” he said. Love finds the College’s lackluster response a reflection of the College’s view of the black community. “I am sure this can be echoed throughout the Black community, but the lack of attention to this meeting reflects how The College of Wooster views Black people and displays the College’s lack of care for the Black community.”

Love was not alone in this sentiment, either. About an hour after the meeting ended, Tiffani Grayes ’25 emailed the entire school, including organizations and staff, an eleven-paragraph response to the meeting titled, “Black Manifesto Meeting.” In the email, Grayes explained her frustration and blatant dissatisfaction with the meeting. She wrote, “Why did you stop recording? Why did you ignore the chat? Why was it not mandatory for everyone to attend and get a first-hand witness on how we feel? Why were certain departments not addressed? Why weren’t financial aid concerns addressed? Why weren’t there any transparent answers? Why was there no structure? This isn’t just an event that should have been thrown together last minute. These are real life issues that we are still facing and know for a fact that you can’t relate to due to privilege.” 

Throughout the next few days, President Bolton responded to Grayes’ email as well as to the Manifesto itself in writing. First, Bolton sent an apology letter in response to the common sentiment that the protocol during the town hall was inadequate. Then, on Oct. 21, Bolton presented an outline of the plans for change by the administration that included a list of actions that are planned in direct response to each demand made by The Black Manifesto.  

As student organizations analyze this situation and how they want to address it locally, it is important to recognize the underlying theme of this situation. If there is anything that should be understood about The Black Manifesto, it is that it is not a new sentiment. For decades, students have demanded change to the way the College treats black students and staff. What hangs in the balance now is the student body’s trust in the college’s ability to adequately address and respond to these long-standing demands. 

 

The Manifesto outlines the following demands:

  • We demand at least two black counselors in the wellness center within the next academic year.
  • We demand that black faculty and staff are given equitable pay and resources, including counseling services, in accordance with the racial barriers that they face.
  • we demand that the college of wooster holds the wooster police department accountable for legislation that ensures protection against hate speech/crimes against black wooster students on beall avenue in accordance with our right as students to be in a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, harassment, bullying, and bigotry.
  • We demand that all faculty and staff receive ongoing, mandatory training on cultural competency, bias and empathy, safe zone, etc.
  • We demand that faculty and staff are transparent with all financial resources available to black international students.
  • We demand to stop having to constantly bear out our traumas to justify why we need to receive aid and scholarships.
  • We demand that the administration publicly responds to this manifesto in its entirety within one week.

Bolton’s response to the Manifesto can be found here: https://livewooster.sharepoint.com/sites/DiversityEquityandInclusion/Shared%20Documents/Forms/AllItems.aspx?id=%2Fsites%2FDiversityEquityandInclusion%2FShared%20Documents%2F10212021%5FManifesto%5FResponse%5FActions%2Epdf&parent=%2Fsites%2FDiversityEquityandInclusion%2FShared%20Documents