Katelynn Singleton, news editor
In two weeks, Oct. 6 will mark the one-year anniversary of the student led protests for change during Mountain Day weekend. The protests included an all-day blackout, a demonstration in front of Krannert, a silent sit-in at Martha Berry’s Birthday Bash and a protest at the Grand March on Oct. 10, 2020. Student demands included the hiring of a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) and updates to the Viking Code and hate speech policies. A year later, leaders of these protests are still asking for their voices to be heard.
The protests sparked following the announcement on Oct. 5, from the President’s Office, that an employee would be moved to a position within the Student Enterprises office after an investigation of their social media posts. After the update, the Berry College Black Student Association (BSA) posted an image to their Instagram calling for an all-day blackout to show support for students of color. Junior Macilah Taylor, who was a sophomore at the time of the original protests, was one of five organizers and said that the protests were also following months of meeting with administrators.
Senior Noah Miller, another organizer and junior at the time, said that events that occurred before and after the situation with the employee made students of color feel like they weren’t cared about on campus or respected for what they offer.
“We wanted administration to hear us and our grievances and take us seriously instead of treating us like we didn’t know what we were talking about,” Taylor said.
Throughout the week of protests, organizers were in communication with administrators trying to set up meetings, and to get across what they wanted as a result.
“We knew that if it was just the five of us, nobody would listen,” Miller said. “We needed more people behind us to get things done on campus.”
Leaders of the protests were calling for the hiring of a CDO to help maintain Berry’s values while also ensuring that hate speech would not be tolerated. This included updating the Viking Code as well as the faculty and staff member handbook. The proposed updated handbooks would include new policies on hate speech and anti-harassment policies. Organizers called for the creation of an Intercultural Center, where students of color could go to find community. They also asked for the implementation of a training program for faculty, staff members and administration.
Despite the week of protests, and meetings that occurred throughout the year, Taylor says that there is still a long way to go. The Intercultural Center is in the process of being created, and the Campus Climate Survey results are still being processed.
Miller points out that there is still no CDO who has been hired. There have also been different companies coming to campus to create plans that are aimed to address what they deem as needing to be fixed, but Miller states that the selected, aforementioned companies have only been called in for specific instances where students put in requests.
Additionally, the training that was called for during the protests has not been implemented. Although a plan has been created, Miller has still not seen the plan implemented among the faculty and administration.
“I had a run-in with a specific administrator that just proved the necessity of it, and that this needed to have happened so long ago,” Miller said.
In the months following the protests, President Stephen Briggs sent out an email discussing a Culture of Belonging initiative that was being formed, with six different sub-committees working on various improvements to the Berry community. There is not much information known about the work that these committees have done in the months since the initial email by President Briggs.
Taylor said that many faculty and staff members need to reflect internally in order to understand the reason behind the push for change. There are calls for more campus-wide education that goes beyond the programming that the Student Diversity Initiatives office does.
“I hope they see this as an opportunity to do better and put more thought into the initiatives we want to get done, and not just quick and easy fixes,” Taylor said.
Miller says that in order to push for change, students need to outwardly support the efforts that groups such as BSA and Orgullo make.
“I really think this is the time for white students at berry to really actually pay attention to what’s going on around them and pay attention to how students of color feel and do something about it,” said Miller.