Summer events energize racial justice on campus

Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer

Over the summer, the solidarity week committee
held candlelight vigils on Sunday evenings for students to come
together and reflect on racial injustice at Berry and beyond.
The vigils lasted about an hour and featured student speakers,
like Macilah Taylor and Julia Churchill. Photo
Courtesy of Macilah Taylor

This past summer was rejuvenated engagement on issues like social justice and race in America. At Berry, the Black Student Association (BSA), U.N.I.T.Y, and Solidarity Week have all found new energy for addressing issues and bringing awareness to campus. 

For senior Rebekah Rowe, president of BSA, the group has always served as a place for black students at Berry to find a group sharing their experiences and identities, especially for new students. This year, however, Rowe believes that the focus is more specific for the group. 

“We exist to encourage and educate. We feel that once you’re able to encourage, the education sits better,” Rowe said. “And when you’re able to educate, people feel encouraged that they can talk to each other, ask certain questions [and] really understand each other in our differences.” 

Junior Shanice Amos, co-president of U.N.I.T.Y, believes that her group similarly helps to serve as a source of companionship for women of color on campus. 

“We like to describe it as a sisterhood here on campus for girls to come and just have somebody to be able to talk to, relate to,” Amos said. “In a lot of our meetings we have topics [that] are things that women of color normally have to go through and deal with.” 

Sophomore Macilah Taylor, Solidarity Week co-chair, believes that the week-long event is aimed to help develop the Berry community’s understanding of the campus’ varying social identities. 

“It’s an event that seeks to acknowledge, educate, celebrate [and] bring people together and just talk about their differences and why that shouldn’t divide us, but it should unify us,” Taylor said. 

The events over the summer have resulted in much discussion and action relating to racial justice issues in the United States. Members of the aforementioned diversity groups participated in peaceful protests on and off campus. These groups have also expanded their social media presence. For example, BSA has greatly increased Instagram usage; their account, @bsaberry, now has more than 400 followers. Solidarity Week’s Instagram page, @berry_solidarityweek, has also been posting updates and informational graphics. 

According to Amos, over the summer U.N.I.T.Y aimed to be one of the first groups to discuss the racial tensions in the country on their Instagram page, @berrycollege_u.n.i.t.y. 

“We were happy to be like one of the first ones to actually respond to some of the things that were going on,” Amos said. “We wanted them [students at Berry] to know that we have other students here on campus that are going to be there for them.” 

BSA also went through the initial process of reaching out with the Berry administration. They first met with Provost Mary Boyd, who then established contact with President Steve Briggs. This resulted in Briggs releasing an email concerning the racial tensions during the summer. 

“That was after we had these conversations and we explained to them, ‘Hey, we want you to address this, because this affects your students, no matter how small the population is of minority students,” Rowe said. “We are still very important to the college and we want to feel that way.” 

Since then, BSA and other diversity groups on campus have worked to continue communication with the Berry administration and other aspects of campus life to further work done to promote racial equity and education. 

Rowe believes that the protests for racial justice following the deaths of Black men and women like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd catalyzed efforts for justice on campus and beyond, especially when considering the history of mistreatment of people of color in the United States. 

“We finally reached the point where enough is enough,” Rowe said. 

Amos also believes that the summer proved itself to be the time where people began to speak up. 

“I think because people now aren’t afraid for their voices to be heard,” Amos said. “I think people are kind of tired of just feeling like they’re just here. They want people to know that, you know, we’re people. These are the things that we have to face.” 

Solidarity Week plans to have similar events as previous years, with both in-person and virtual options provided simultaneously, according to Taylor. These events will aim to further educate students on various topics, including racial injustice in this country. The committee also hope to get a number of groups, faculty and staff involved in the process. Current plans are still subject to change depending on COVID-19 cases and guidelines at Berry. 

BSA and U.N.I.T.Y have been looking for ways to be creative in providing students a voice for their issues and a place to listen. They are looking a number of options, from Zoom and its accessories to other applications. 

“We’re trying to figure out like how we going to make these virtual meetings very interactive,” Amos said. 

To help keep the momentum from the summer, the groups are trying to work together in planning and executing events where students can interact and learn more about issues, according to Amos. 

BSA is also working with the administration to implement changes in class curriculum, reading materials, faculty training and the culture of the campus, Rowe said. 

These big pushes by the groups are driven by a desire to better the college, rather than challenge it. 

“We’re pushing so hard because we do enjoy being here and we do understand what a blessing it is to be here … [and we] want to see the school do well,” Rowe said. “We don’t want it to get obsolete because it’s not moving along with the with the ideals and stuff that’s going on at the time.” 

For Taylor, she hopes that everyone will learn and grow from these experiences. 

“I would just encourage people to have more empathy and more of an open mind and really pay attention,” Taylor said. “Don’t just look at stuff to reaffirm your beliefs, but really pay attention to the facts and what’s going on in the world.” 

For more information, go to https:// to learn more about peaceful summer protests in Rome, GA, that included students, faculty and staff. 

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