Students protest at Mountain Day activities for change

Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer

Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief

 On Oct. 6, SGA held a Birthday Bash event in
honor of Martha Berry. Students participated
in protests after the results of the investigation
involving a Berry employee’s social media posts
were released and requested that the school
hire a Chief Diversity Officer. Photo by Rette Solomon

On Oct. 5, the President’s Office released the Week 8 Update email, which included an update on Berry’s investigation of social media posts made by an employee in the Office of Residence Life on Sept. 13. The email stated that the employee has been moved to a position in the Student Enterprises office. 

Shortly after the update, junior Noah Miller, along with five other students who are a part of student organizations like Orgullo, Black Students Association (BSA) and Solidarity Week, met through Zoom to process the announcement and decide what steps needed to be taken in response to the administration’s decision. 

“I guess I could say the ‘leadership team’ is a student run organization, and we’re in contact with so many different student groups that I’m not entirely sure of how to define us exactly,” Miller said. “We collectively came together Monday night and decided what our initial plan of action was going to be.” 

Following their meeting, the student-led group hosted several demonstrations across campus, during various events, which started on Tuesday and continuing throughout the week. According to senior Julia Churchill, Solidarity Week co-chair, the first step was calling for a “blackout” as a physical way of showing support. 

“We encouraged students starting on Tuesday to have a blackout all week, so just wearing all black as a physical sign of support for Black students on this campus,” Churchill said. 

Other actions included a demonstration on the Krannert Lawn on Tuesday morning where, according to Churchill, students gathered to share any experiences they had with racial injustice since being on Berry’s campus, a silent, sit-in protest at the Martha’s Late Night Birthday Breakfast Bash and a protest during the Grand March on Wednesday afternoon where students dressed in all black and carried signs while chanting. 

The student leaders also created a petition calling for Berry to hire a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). Other demands in the petition stated that a search committee for a CDO be created by Oct. 23 with biweekly updates provided to the student body during the hiring process and for the officer to be officially hired by the start of the Spring 2021 semester. 

According to sophomore Macilah Taylor, Solidarity Week co-chair, the call for a CDO and the reason for the protests follows months of meetings between her, Churchill and other members of the administrative staff, including Dean of Students Lindsey Taylor and President Steve Briggs, that occurred throughout the summer and into the semester. 

“So what sparked [the protests] for me I guess was just seeing that, yes we were meeting with administrators and yes the conversations were being had, but there were no real changes being made,” Macilah said. “We decided to use our voice and our privilege and our power to show a bigger message to the whole student body and loudly vocalize our efforts and what the Berry community needs especially now.” 

The decision to ask for a CDO, according to Churchill, stemmed from the recognition that there are several areas in which Berry was lacking, including needing to diversify faculty and staff hiring, diversify the curriculum and implementing implicit bias training for faculty and staff, and that other schools similar to Berry, in terms of retention and financial situations, have already hired CDOs or Vice Presidents of Diversity. 

“We knew that all the other things we saw that were lacking on campus, that a good Chief Diversity officer could implement those things once they were hired,” Churchill said. “So that’s how we decided to focus on a Chief Diversity officer as our main goal for the administration.” 

The role of the CDO would differ from the role of director of student diversity initiatives, Chon’tel Washington. The CDO would handle things such as racial implications, implicit bias training and other initiatives for the Berry faculty and staff. This means it would not be limited to students.

“We realized we need a Chief Diversity Officer to work alongside administration, because Chon’tel is the director of Student Diversity Initiatives and works alongside students to make for a more cohesive environment,” Macilah said. “But we need a Chief Diversity Officer instead of it being student lead efforts to address these problems, or for it to be programs that are just for students to come to. There are a lot of issues that we need to address but the top of our list and the most important in our opinion is getting a Chief Diversity Officer or a Vice President of Diversity to work alongside administrators and work alongside faculty and staff to make sure that Black and Brown students feel like they can go to any administrator or any staff member.”

According to Miller, the importance of this movement stands for a sentiment that extends beyond just the current issues at hand. 

“The ‘Berry bubble’ is a real thing in terms of not only us being sheltered from the Rome community but us sheltering ourselves as well,” Miller said. “I think a lot of students at Berry are apolitical and are very focused on their own personal lives and don’t truly have a concept of what other people go through and what the life of another person can entail. I think us being willing to be vulnerable and say [to administration] that we are unhappy, we are upset and we do not feel like we have a place on this campus is important to helping to further the development that we get by going to college.” 

For Macilah, she believed she has a personal responsibility to create change on Berry’s campus. 

“I thought back to the first two black graduates of Berry, Evelyn Hamilton and Beverly Smith,” Macilah said. “They paved the way for so many of us black and brown students to be here. … I felt like it was my duty and my responsibility as a black student at Berry to work hard to make sure the future black and brown students who want to come here long after I’m here [have] a safe space for them.”

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