Michaela Lumpert, Campus Carrier news editor
The Board of Trustees came to Berry on Oct. 23 to Oct. 24 for their annual fall meeting. This semester’s meeting focused on the concerns of students regarding their request for a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) who would help strength diversity and conversations on campus, COVID-19 concerns, and for more opportunities to increase conversations on campus for students of color. Six students were given the opportunity to meet with the Board on Oct. 24 to discuss their demands and create a plan for the upcoming years at Berry.
In attendance at this meeting were junior Noah Miller, senior Rebekah Rowe, senior Julia Churchill, sophomore Macilah Taylor, senior Zion Brown and senior Nadia Clinkscales. Representation from the Board of Trustees included Vincent Griffith, Richard Gilbert, Arya Mesfin and Buster Wright alongside President Steve Briggs.
The purpose of the meeting was to allow these six students the opportunity to meet with board members to discuss their demands. As Miller explained, these students were chosen for the meeting because of the different organizations they collectively represent, including Orgullo, Black Student Association (BSA) and Solidarity Week committee.
According to president of BSA Rebekah Rowe, the meeting was both productive and unproductive. She explained that while most members of the board who attended had listened to what these students were saying, others were very opinionated about what they were presenting and it often led to combative conversation where no progress was being made.
“I feel like [this meeting] showed us the amount of work that needs to be done and the steps that are possible to take,” Rowe said. “It was a both a meeting of opportunity and a meeting of reflection because it really put things in perspective of what this institution means and who we are dealing with and the moving parts of that.”
The biggest concern of the meeting from the students’ perspective was how administration would remain accountable to the demands of the students. Miller, who is a committee leader for the Solidarity Week committee, explained that the purpose of the CDO would be responsible to hold the administration and cabinet members accountable to keeping an engaged community on campus. Both Rowe and Miller were grateful for the meeting and they, along with the other students understood the importance that this meeting had.
“This has never happened,” Rowe said. “We understand that this was an exception. When you constantly make exceptions for the rule, there’s going to be great space for change to happen. So I do think that this is a big step in the long haul of getting some changes here on campus. We have their attention and administration is now getting their ear to the ground and listening a little bit more.”
By the time the meeting had ended, Rowe stated that she felt that their message was only half received. Rowe explained that she left the meeting with little hope of what the future may hold for their demands.
“It was very difficult, we spent an hour just toe-to-toe with that one individual, which made things really hard,” Rowe said.
Both Miller and Rowe explained that the next steps for administration would be somehow taking their demands and incorporating them into the Berry community. Rowe believes that this process will not happen overnight, but she looks forward to what administration will come up with.
“There’s lots of people on the board that are in this process of thinking in terms of accommodation and how best to incorporate student ideology as well as incorporating their knowledge and expertise,” Rowe said. “I really feel like it’s going to be a conglomerate of things and it’s going to be a slow process.”
In response to this meeting, the President’s Office announced that it would be sending students an email that detailed what the next steps would be moving forward. This email went to both students and faculty during the late afternoon on Nov. 2.
Their plan is to “strengthen the culture of belonging on campus” by creating classes, programs and initiatives that will allow for thoughtful conversations and relationships among students and faculty. There are six areas that Berry is working to strengthen: programming, curriculum, personal and professional development, representation of faculty and staff of color and representation of students of color.
As the email states each of the six actions they have detailed, which are displayed in the graphic below, will all have a senior faculty member or vice president responsible for ensuring that these goals are being met.
Even after this email from the President’s Office and the meeting with the Board of Trustees, Rowe stated that she and the other student leaders in the meeting will continue their initiatives until their demands are fully met. This process might be a slow process, but according to Rowe, they will continue to push forward.
“We are making sure that we are still staying engaged with one another because we know that we can’t push forward on any initiatives without any steam,” Rowe said.