On Sep. 2, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer (CDEIO) Ivonne García and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) staff presented a virtual gathering via Microsoft Teams for solidarity, discussion and support regarding racist national current events. The CDI described the event as “seek(ing) to provide multiple ways to engage, discuss and process current national events surrounding anti-Black racism and violence.”
The meeting opened with some remarks from President Sarah Bolton about national incidents of racist violence and how Wooster has worked to combat racism. Her comments mirrored her sentiments in emails to students: “Racist violence, and racism in all its forms, are inhumane and appalling. They have gone on far too long and created immeasurable harm to individuals and communities across generations. We must come together, now, to end them. Black lives matter, and progress is urgently needed — across the country, as well as here, on our own campus.” García later followed up with her own messages of support.
Following opening remarks, students were directed to join one of four breakout rooms. The four breakout rooms were titled “Advocacy and Resources,” “College of Wooster,” “Specific Asks,” “Guided Meditation for Healing” and “Historical Context.” CDI Director Amanda Paniagua clarified that these categories are by no means exhaustive when it comes to resources for support and that CDI is always willing to extend whatever services students need. “Every student is at a different point in their journey of educating themselves,” Paniagua said.
The “Advocacy and Resources” channel presented different links, petitions and web-related sources to support the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM). That breakout channel met briefly, and students contributed additional resources. The “College of Wooster Related Asks” channel began with a review of the steps that the College has taken thus far to combat racism before opening the floor to feedback and suggestions from faculty, staff and students. In this discussion, Jenna Smith ’22 asked, “How would we actualize these plans to develop an actively anti-racist campus? Would it be included in classes or core curriculum, just CDI events, or occur annually?” García responded that they hoped to do a combination of all of those suggestions.
Samuel Casey ’21 asked, “Have you reviewed the posts made on the @blackncac Instagram page and how will you investigate or make changes so BIPOC students can feel supported?” Bolton responded affirmatively, stating that she had read every post and had discussed the posts with her cabinet. She continued that they were actively working on making sure that the content of the posts would inform future decision making.
“Guided Meditation for Healing” simply performed a guided meditation session led by Erin Guzmán aimed at relieving some of the stress students struggle with due to the constant, pervasive nature of national anti-Black violence.
“Historical Context” discussed the history behind Black equal rights movements and discussed the history of racism in America. Many students noted that these topics should be more widely taught within the public school curriculum. Jillian Samples ’24 stated that curricula in the United States are whitewashed and added, “Public schools are trying to show they appreciate the culture and experience while in reality they continue to demonstrate cultural appropriation.”
However, some students noted that the meeting had limitations in achieving the goals of supporting Black students on campus. Catera Clark ’21 explained, “While I do think the care event hosted by CDI had good intentions, I don’t think it was planned or advertised in the most efficient way. Once again I found myself in a space dominated by white allies, which is not to say I don’t appreciate those who want to help my community, but to say that if The College of Wooster truly wants to create a more inclusive and comfortable space for their students of color, they need to start thinking of ways to reach out to students from all walks of life, not just us student leaders who are in all of the same conversations. In addition to promotion I believe the way these events are planned and held needs to
be more deliberate.”
Maresa Tate ’21 echoed these concerns, saying, “For another time I have sat through a meeting built for me but felt invisible. My fellow Black students were low in attendance for good reason, and the folks that dominated the call were those that just don’t get it.” Reflecting on a word cloud activity meant to capture how attendees were feeling Tate said, “‘tired,’ ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘exhausted’ stood out to me because that is exactly how I’ve been feeling knowing that my skin is a weapon in this country, yet those words haunted me not in solidarity but [as a] question. Who exactly was tired here
and why? For what reason were you overwhelmed? By watching Black folks die at the hands of the police and systemic racism while you sit in your white privilege not understanding what it means to not want to walk on Beall because a mug can be thrown at your head while the n-word is spewed at you? Why are you exhausted, by hearing me talk about my blackness and the need to protest over and over?”
She continued, “I can’t sit here and say that I am not tired or overwhelmed or exhausted by the ignorance people are comfortable sitting in until it becomes a ‘trend’ to say BLM, loud and proud. I want it to stop. We want it to stop. My life matters and my next Black siblings’ life matters and Black mamas matter and Black trans folks matter and Black disabled lives matter and everything Black matters! Do you understand what that means? We have to sit here and tell you that we matter just enough to not kill us. Just enough. No! ‘Matter’ is the minimum and yet minimum is too much.”
Clark and Tate also both described what they hope to see in future events. Clark said, “We as students want more space for our voices, less filler talk of how administration is working, and more actions to make students feel like Wooster is a place that values them as people and not just minority numbers. More importantly, we need spaces to decompress and distress and entering a Zoom call where only a few of us are Black and most of the time is taken by the same administrative voices does nothing to care for us or our mental health in this time. I did appreciate the aspect of having smaller group sessions, especially including a meditation session, but the time allotted was insufficient.”
Tate expressed what she hoped non-Black attendees might get out of the meeting, stating, “I hope that all the non-Black folks at Wooster actually start to think about what it means to not be Black in the US. I hope non-BIPOCs discover what it means to be privileged in that way. I hope some faculty and staff learn that teaching a ‘culture’ course, or telling us to go to a protest, or giving us resources to educate ourselves doesn’t mean you’re anti-racist. It doesn’t mean that you don’t perpetuate anti-Blackness. It doesn’t mean that you are truly educated yourself. It doesn’t mean that you see me as equal and not a result of trauma. It doesn’t mean you see me as human rather than just a concept in a book that you would never want for yourself. I hope The College keeps improving these meetings to create a space where Black students feel safe and listened to, especially when it is meant for us. And, I hope my words don’t get thrown out as the next ‘angry Black woman.’”