“We have the opportunities to express ourselves in a manner that allows others to receive that expression, and they have the opportunity to learn from that and to develop their own identities and their own understandings of diversity and inclusion,”said Dr. Lingrell, vice president of Student Affairs at the University of West Georgia. However, some student leaders would beg to differ. Between the two incidents that occurred in the recent weeks of school, black student leaders have raised concerns about their opportunities and the university’s stance on diversity and inclusion.
With social justice and racial and political tensions rising in society, the demand to bring awareness to the student population is enormous. As students, the freedom to express oneself is very important, and the voices are ringing as we creep into the latter half of 2016. In an attempt to positively participate in being a light to these somber and sullen times, the Student Activities Council (SAC) has worked diligently to retain Black Lives Matter Ambassador Janaya Khan as a speaker at UWG. Along the way, several obstacles arose in prevention of the event occurring.
“Our goal is to expose the campus to cultures that are different from possibly your own culture,”said SAC President Renee’ Bostic. “We try to bring to light that there are issues on campus as far as not being inclusive.”
As an organization, questions about potential acts of violence, protest and how the community and school will perceive Khan’s visit were brought to them as concerns.
“I think us bringing her is making a statement as far as we’re open to supporting the black community… and no, I don’t think anything is wrong with that,” Bostic continued.
Honing in on social justice, gun violence has shaken the world and specifically the black community in recent years. With the countless slayings of black and brown bodies, people like Alton Sterling, Mike Brown, Korryn Gaines and even our own Bryce McCallum have lost their lives. The Black Student Alliance (BSA) and the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) held a collaborative event on Monday, Aug. 22 in efforts of commemorating their lives. Our LGBTQ student organization, LAMBDA, held the Orlando Vigil earlier this summer for the fifty individuals killed at the gay nightclub Pulse. Unlike this, an administrative presence or support from the university was absent this time around.
“It’s frustrating,” said LAMBDA President Shelby Hearn. “This just isn’t a university that’s willing to stir the pot.”
While some say the university is avoiding certain issues to shy away from a racial preference, others believe that the university is simply out of the loop.
“I think there was a lack of overall media and overall marketing of the event,” said Dr. Lingrell. “I don’t think it has to do with the university supporting one group over another group.”
With conversation stirring, it is agreed that black student leaders aren’t the only population struggling to be heard on campus.
“I know there has to be other students who don’t see themselves represented here,” said Hearn. “From a queer student’s perspective, I hit walls constantly.”
Black students aren’t the only ones being looked over. Associate Director and Coordinator of the Multicultural Achievement Program Ashley Lewis had meaningful advice. “I think it is important for students to find those who are advocates for their behalf on campus and help them walk through the process of what they want to do,” Lewis said.
The university, along with society, strives to reach the ultimate definitions of diversity and inclusion, but it will be a long journey.
“I think we’re trying to get there,” said the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, Dr. John Head. “I think we’re pushing hard to get there in some respects, but I think that we’ve got to keep trying harder because we aren’t there yet.”
Although UWG, is headed in the right direction, it does not mask the feelings of those who feel slighted.
“‘Are we proportionally recognized?’ would be the question that black students would ask, [and in that sense], I would say better today than yesterday,”said Hester.
The only way from here is up, but how can students help with this journey? Will administration meet them halfway? Can a proper conversation between students and administration promote growth here? As UWG continues to grow and progress, only time will tell. Janaya Khan is scheduled to impact our campus on September 21 at 6:30pm in the Campus Center.