Panel discusses implications of being black at Berry

Hannah Carroll, Campus Carrier Staff Writer

Berry College’s Black Student Association (BSA) hosted its “Being Black at Berry” discussion panel on Feb. 20 as one of several events for Black History Month.

The panel consisted of five speakers, featuring current and past African-American Berry students. The members included: founding President of Berry’s African-American Alumni Chapter Brenda Thompson, 1969 alumna Beverly Smith, junior Diamond Newsome, junior Joseph White and senior Derrell “DJ” Mims.

Constructed as a Q&A discussion, the panel featured prepared questions before inviting audience members to supply additional questions. Each speaker was given the opportunity to provide thorough insight to the inquiries based on their personal experiences.

The purpose of the event was to open and develop the discussion of the experiences black Berry students undergo and to promote awareness to student and community members that may not be adequately informed. The discussion was open for the entirety of the Berry population to attend and was meant for full inclusion of all students, not just those of the African-American community.

“The purpose of (the panel discussion) wasn’t for a couple of black students to talk about how terrible it was to be black at Berry, that was not the purpose of it,” junior President of BSA Genesis Leggett said. “The purpose of it was to educate or just inform our peers, both black and white, on some of the things we go through that they may not realize because they may be white and don’t experience the same things.”

As a means of educating and connecting with the attendees, the panel members spoke honestly about the trials faced on a daily basis as a black student. A common occurrence shared by all members of the panel was being conscientious of how “black” they presented themselves to the rest of the community. Though the quality was simply skin color, as students, they had to determine how closely they would follow the stereotypical characteristics associated with being African-American, according to Thompson. This decision ultimately constricted their personal identity. They are not able to be unapologetically black, bold and free without receiving judgment from their peers, according to White.

Despite these issues, Berry has remained an inclusive campus. Smith, who was the first black graduate of Berry College, spoke on how even though some students were ignorant, racist and labeled her with racial slurs, administrators and faculty members took her under their wings and guided her to success. She built lasting relationships and is grateful to have attended and graduated from Berry, according to Smith.

Acceptance and hope for success are still seen today. Black students should not be afraid to be vocal and to take opportunities presented to them because the Berry community wishes to see them be prosperous, according to Newsome. There may be times where African-American students find themselves as one of the only non-white members of a club or classroom, but they should not resent this experience. It is a moment for them to provide a differing perspective and to diversify an otherwise monochrome program, Mims said.

“If [African Americans] don’t join and take that step, then it will always be the same,” Mims said.

According to White, an effort to speak more freely about racial equality and the unconscious racism that perpetuates throughout many communities in America, it is important to acknowledge the past. Berry College was formerly an all-white institution that did not become integrated until the 1960s, but this fact has to be understood in the context of the history of the South, according to Thompson. Segregation is not only a facet of African- American history but that of American history as a whole and is influential to all citizens. Speaking on this past allows for eradicating ignorance that would otherwise cause more generalizations of African-Americans and for the understanding of why some comments and symbols are offensive.

It is these discussions that are the most effective in cultivating awareness. Often times when an individual displays racist or offensive behavior, it is not done from malicious intent or actual racism but from a lack of education and understanding, according to the panel. The best method of combating this is communication. According to Mims, it is most effective to remain patient and speak from personal experience to inform the individual why their actions were offensive. This discussion allows for the educating process to occur and for boundaries to be set that maintain respect for each party.

“People will treat you the way you allow them to treat you, so it’s very important to set those boundaries and let them know when those are being crossed,” Thompson said.

Remaining open-minded aids in the establishment of equality. It is the ability to understand the past and knowing that African- Americans hold the same potential and opportunity to go just as far as white Americans, according to Newsome. It is important for the white community to listen and observe to learn concepts they have not encountered and understand that African Americans are not limited by their skin color. Them being black is an important aspect of their history and who they are, it should not be something that is ignored or looked over, according to Smith.

Each panel member maintained the same notion of being grateful to have already attended or to be currently attending Berry, but that ignorance is still prevalent throughout the minds of their peers. It is this lack of education that initially prompted the event, it serving as a means to begin the discussion that allows for the Berry community to understand the true black experience at Berry and how change can occur. According to Leggett, the discussion panel was a success.

BSA will be concluding their promotion of Black History Month with their block party being hosted on Friday in Kilpatrick Commons.

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