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Handling of Racism at the College of Wooster Follows a Predictable Pattern

Sam Killebrew

Senior News Writer

 

 

 

Content Warning: This article contains mentions of explicit and disturbing incidents of anti-black racism at The College of Wooster. 

 

On Feb. 10, Instagram page @wooinsider posted four photos of the 1989 Galpin Takeover, a movement “for the rights of Black students at Wooster” as stated in the caption. The comments flooded with responses to the post. “Imagine posting this but not fulfilling their demands,” said saeed husain ’21. Another follower said, “You say this but won’t even address the racist and offensive comments made by your lacrosse coach.” The account manager responded to one comment, stating, “While we know we still have much to do, we are committed to developing a diverse and equitable campus. Learn more about our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan here:” followed by a link to Wooster’s website. To examine this public display of dissatisfaction over the College’s apparent lack of racial competence, the Voice explored the College’s history of Black student equity movements. 

In 1969,  The Black Student Association released The Black Student Manifesto, which addressed the College administration’s empty talks and claimed that systematic racism riddled the institution. The College responded to these demands by hiring a Black admissions counselor to increase Black presence at the College.

 In 1989, nearly 200 students locked themselves in Galpin Hall with a list of demands in response to the mistreatment of several Black students, an event now known as the Galpin Takeover. Then President Henry J. Copeland responded to the protests immediately, sitting down with students and listening to their grievances. 

 In 2018,  Drake Schwenke, a student at the College, posted explicitly racist statements on Facebook. In response, students staged the Galpin Call-In, as students organized a sit-in at Galpin Hall calling for increased funds to the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training requirements for all faculty and staff, and the expulsion of Drake Schwenke. This was met with immediate negotiations and action by administration to meet the demands, including $20,000 in CDI funding and new Title IX position restructuring.

In 2021, students released another Black Manifesto and demanded equitable treatment of Black students by the Financial Aid and Business Offices, the addition of two Black counselors in the Wellness Center by the next academic year, and notably, the immediate response by administration to the manifesto. Two days later, the College’s administration held a town-hall meeting at the Scot Center’s Governance Room. In the meeting’s aftermath, President Bolton emailed the campus community on the administration’s progress in meeting these demands, while a tenured staff member stepped down from their role in response to demands from BIPOC student groups.

Though these seem to be honest attempts at justice, cracks in the institution run much deeper.

In 1969, the “Black Students’ Manifesto” acted as a call for a new era at Wooster, an era  where “idle rhetoric” and empty promises were expelled from race discussions and policy. Shortly after its release, the Voice surveyed the campus and obtained a general consensus from the student body that frankly, people did not care for the demands. Additionally, though the demands in the 1969 manifesto were met by administrative response, a 1980 poll of the Black student body revealed that the campus’ efforts were unsatisfactory for most Black students. 

Following the 1989 Galpin Takeover, some of the students’ demands had been met, but to a very limited extent. Instead of instating a Black Studies curriculum requirement, the administration mandated that every First Year Seminar class incorporate race, gender and culture topics for the coming five years. Additionally, in an interview with The College of Wooster, student Deja Moss ’14 relays that certain demands, such as the demand for Black counselors, still have not been met. 

Again to the Galpin Call-In in 2018: After the surfacing of student Drake Schwenke’s Facebook posts saying that America did not have a gun problem, but rather a [racial expletive] problem, the campus community gathered in the student center to discuss the incident. As reported in Jan. 2018 by then Voice Editor-in-Chief Meg Itoh ’18, students expressed that this was not the only incident that had happened, but rather the first time the administration had dealt with it. Many of the demands from the Call-In were met with swift responses. The student body’s lack of satisfaction with these ‘fixes’, however, is exemplified less than four years later with“The Black Manifesto,” a list of demands released on behalf of the Black student body demanding many of the same things as past movements. To this, a swift response was given and promises were made, and following the swift response, there was dissatisfaction. 

Here, a cyclical pattern is revealed: frustration festers, concerns are brought up, concerns are met with a swift response, and somewhere between that and the course of several years, frustrations fester again. With the demands being strikingly consistent for the past 50 years, one question emerges: “What is going wrong?” 

The Voice brought this question to Tiffani Grayes ’25. Grayes’ role on campus is one that may stand out to many upon hearing her name. Following the town-hall addressing the “Black Manifesto” in Oct. 2021, Grayes sent a mass email to the entire campus expressing her deep dissatisfaction with the meeting, namely the unanswered questions. The Voice asked Grayes why she thinks the demands of Black students at Wooster have remained the same, despite over 50 years of Black student movements. 

“It’s a fine line between listening to us, and actually hearing us and implementing policy to satisfy our needs.” The Voice then asked her what she thinks makes the changes on campus unsustainable. 

“They don’t follow up with us. We don’t really know what’s changing without being informed.” 

When remembering the demands listed in the 2021 “Black Manifesto,” several demands addressed things that were already underway and happening on campus. Further, since the release of the “Black Manifesto” in 2021, President Bolton has released just two emails containing plans to address the demands. 

Grayes continued, “Another reason some of us are dissatisfied in general is because some of the promises that are being made to us are promises they can’t really keep.” The Voice finally asked Grayes what she believes to be necessary for actual change to occur, Grayes believes,“The higher-ups, specifically the Board of Trustees, should sit down and listen without trying to push back,” she continued, “A lot of these people are also just trying to save face, which doesn’t get anything done.” The Board of Trustees has been pressed since their perceived lack of sympathy toward “The Black Manifesto” and complaints that followed. Students at this semester’s Student Development Meeting emphasized that there has still been no apology from the Board for their behavior concerning the matter. 

One recent incident that exemplifies the school’s ability to respond to racist incidents on campus is when the Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach was reported for saying the N-word during a team bonding exercise, aiming to cross cultural boundaries. The Administration’s response was swift: Immediate suspension including six months of DEI training. Weeks later, the coach resigned. Again, this seems to be a just and swift response taken by the school, but are these swift responses a sufficient replacement for sustainable action?

And so, the cycle repeats. An incident occurs, cracks are shown in the school’s institution, and it reveals just as much as Wooster students have known for the last 50 years. This series of institutional failures witnessed by generations of Wooster students rings unjust in the light of the 1969 “Black Student’s Manifesto’s” statement that “The days of idle rhetoric are long-gone.” But still, as President Bolton put it in 2018, “It is crucial that The College of Wooster be a truly equitable and inclusive space…We know we have not yet reached that goal, but we must continue to work toward it — urgently, relentlessly and together” or perhaps as she put it in 2021, “The College of Wooster must be an equitable and welcoming place… While there has been much done toward this goal, we have not yet achieved it. It is urgent that we do so.”