Students, faculty and staff gathered in Borzello Hall on Wednesday to discuss the experience of black students on campus at a presentation called Black Students Matter: Addressing Reality Beyond the Headlines.
The event, organized by the Health and Counseling Services, drew 10 students. Staff in attendance included new Director of Spiritual Life Lisa Seiwert, Assistant Director of the Center for Intercultural Life Cathy Walters as well as Director of Counseling Services Janell McGruder and Counselor Megan Downs. English professor Robin Metz also attended and suggested to students in one of his classes to do the same.
The presentation was given by Hope Pendleton, leader of Addressing Reality, a support group for black students at Knox and works professionally in Galesburg as the Coordinator of Volunteer and Training Services at Safe Harbor.
Sophomore Miya Connor was glad for the opportunity to talk about the issues she and many other black students face on campus, but wishes more people were engaged.
“I really wanted it to be a much bigger event,” she said, “because I feel like a lot of people — black, white, any ethnicity could really benefit from an event like this.”
A graduate of the University of Illinois, Pendleton has personal experience as a black student on a majority white campus. She discussed the subtle but degrading comments black students often face called microaggressions, which, intentional or not, can inflict harm and stress on the recipients.
“It’s not necessarily aggressive or blatant racism,” Connor said, “but there’s subtle things that happen to black students that need to be addressed.”
Pendleton later showed a video called “The Black Bruins” that featured a spoken word performance by Sy Stokes, a Black student at UCLA. Released in November of 2013, the video depicts Stokes performing a written piece about the ongoing history of racial inequality and injustice on the campus. The video has almost 2.5 million views.
Connor identifies with the feeling of injustice and inequity from her experiences at Knox.
“There’s not an equality and for black students and Latino students alike. I feel like there’s a lot of unfairness that goes around on our campus,” she said. “I think people should know about these things.”
Walters, the Assistant Director of the Center for Intercultural Life, went to the event to hear what students had to say about their experiences on campus.
“We still have the struggle of knowing, understanding about how violence against the black community impacts people in the black community,” Walters said. “It’s difficult to understand the further away you are from that event happening.”
Walters believes the next step is for black and nonblack students to engage in conversation about these issues.
Senior Clara Torres, a Chicana student, attended the event to stand in solidarity with black students on campus.
“I think discussions need to be had about this issue and we need to make sure that black students feel supported in the community,” Torres said. “We understand that they’re going through an especially hard time with the murders of black people and the videos being circulated so much.”
Multiple people in attendance expressed the desire to have another event like Black Students Matter and hope for a larger turnout to help fuel the conversation on campus.
“Like any place else, as the country is making strides we are making strides, you know at Knox,” Walters said. “But there’s a way to go. Always.”