At the #BlackLivesMatter forum last week, black students, faculty and staff pushed to create more safe spaces for black members of the Knox community on campus.
“I definitely want to see some sort of monthly forum for blacks, and maybe people of color as well, because we do not have a safe space on campus … I think it’s crucial for the safety of the students here and the mental health of the students here,” senior Tia Watkins said.
The forum, which was held on Wednesday, Jan. 14, was open only to students, faculty and staff who identify as black. According to Student Senate Diversity Chair and junior ChanTareya Paredes, the first part of the event was a meet and greet that allowed black students, faculty and staff to introduce themselves to one another. In the second part of the event, the group sat down and talked about their personal experiences at Knox.
Attendees of the forum requested that there be more meetings within an all-black presence on campus. Paredes said that these meetings would from now on be held monthly and she hopes that they can provide a safe space for black students on campus.
“There has been a lot of confusion about what safe space means. Black students on this campus don’t have any public safe spaces … It’s not fair that we have to go to ABLE just to find a safe space, so we will be in public spaces and we will be dominating those spaces,” Paredes said.
Paredes said that about 30 to 50 people attended the first part of the event, and 35 to 40 people were at the following discussion.
Attendees discussed what black students, faculty and staff need on campus in order to be successful in small groups and then came together in a larger group to share their ideas.
“[One] of the resources that we want is black faculty and staff — that was one of the biggest things that was requested,” Paredes said.
Watkins said that she would like the administration to take a firmer stand in support of students of color and stand up against racist actions that occur on campus.
“From Knox, I really want to see more support from administration when it comes to people of color because they promote diversity a lot, but once we’re here we don’t really see many that look like us and there are a bunch of microaggressions that occur in class, and racist incidents, and nothing is ever done about,” Watkins said.
Students at the forum also discussed the possibility of starting a mentorship program for incoming black students where they would have a “big brother or big sister” on campus. She said that she would like to have a meet and greet at New Student Orientation, similar to the one held at the forum, where they could launch the mentorship program.
“This is just a chance for them to meet their black faculty and staff, and know that they have resources on campus,” Paredes said.
Watkins said that she thinks the mentorship program could also help to lessen the divide between lower and upper classmen.
“We all need to be in solidarity. We don’t need to be competing against each other or not talking to each other,” she said. “We all need to be there for each other, so that’s why I think the big sister, little sister program would be so beneficial.”
Paredes also said that members of the forum suggested that administration makes the Intergroup Dialogues course required for all professors, staff and students. Watkins pushed the college to at least have mandatory diversity training for faculty and staff.
“Some sort of mandatory diversity training would be amazing because a lot of faculty and staff don’t know how to talk to students of color and can be very racist and have no idea, so I think a lot of diversity training would be very helpful as well,” Watkins said.
She suggested the college also incorporate diversity training for students into their freshman preceptorial classes. She said she would like to see someone that specializes in diversity training come in to teach this portion of the course, rather than the instructor.
The forum received criticism both on social media and directly to Paredes directed towards it’s functioning as an all-black space.
“We aren’t trying to exclude everyone, but when we have talked about race, people often complain and say that we’re exaggerating or they’re tired of hearing about it. So we created a safe space to talk about it and now it’s an issue because we’re excluding people,” Watkins said. “It’s just contradictory that the same people complaining about us talking about race too much are now complaining because we made a safe space to talk about race.”
Senior Jordan Hallman said that the comments she has read on Yik Yak suggest that people don’t understand that Knox is still a part of a larger social construct that revolves around whiteness.
“It’s almost like people don’t understand how much of campus, let alone society, is constructed around white people. It’s just, you’re the majority. … People don’t understand how Knox is not separate from the entire social construct,” Hallman said.
Paredes encourages people to offer their support and work to educate themselves first.
“I encourage people to be as supportive as possible and if you want to learn, you need to look at yourself first and look at how you operate within this system of oppression and educate yourself. We’re not something to be studied. We’re tired of educating you — right now we need support.”