Emory Reflects On Black Students’ Demands, Racial Climate

On May 26, 1969, about 500 people rallied together on the Emory quadrangle.

“We are here tonight to announce our intent to fight racism in all its forms on this campus,” said James Brown, who was the spokesman for the University’s Black Student Alliance (BSA) at the time. “If this racism is physical, we will fight physically; if it is intellectual, we will intellectualize against it.”

Seven years after the first black student came to campus, the BSA led the rally to call for immediate administrative action on eight demands for President Sanford S. Atwood. At the time, two percent of the undergraduate student body was black.

A little over two decades later, a self-inflicted racial harassment hoax resulted in the hospitalization of a black Emory freshman, Sabrina Collins, spurring the release of 12 BSA demands. Authorities did not pursue the case and found Collins to have “very serious emotional problems on her part.”

”There is insufficient evidence to support Ms. Collins’ allegations of anonymous threats and harassment,”DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson said in June 1990. ”There is substantial evidence which contradicts Ms. Collins’ allegations.”

Collins and her lawyer maintain that she did not self-inflict the acts of discrimination.

 

Fifty years ago, students that looked like me were asking the same questions … and to this day, we still have not gotten the same things. And that’s frustrating.

-Residence Hall Director Troizel Carr (’15C)

Two and a half decades later, Emory is now facing another set of demands posed by black students of the University, in conjunction with reignited nationwide conversation about campus racial tensions. 

“All of these things historically have been asked for time and time again, and time and time again, the University has somehow pushed it to the side,” said Residence Hall Director Troizel Carr, who was one of the leading black student activists on campus before he graduated last year. “Fifty years ago, students that looked like me were asking the same questions … and to this day, we still have not gotten the same things. And that’s frustrating.”

The current Emory administration hopes to respond differently by including black students in a large meeting on campus to discuss their demands with administrators, staff and faculty on Jan. 22.

The Timeline

On Nov. 11, student demonstrators in Asbury Circle listened to College senior Casidy Campbell outline the demands before protesting on Clifton Road. That night, the group “Black Students at Emory” posted the first version of the 13 demands, which was written by more than 10 black students, on Facebook.


In the preamble of the demands, the students established a Dec. 4 deadline and expressed their discontent with the closure of departmentsthat had higher numbers of black faculty and with the inadequate apology by President James W. Wagner for his 2012 three-fifths compromise statement.

Before the protest, a select number of the black student activist leaders met with Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair to discuss their grievances and proposals.

Soon after, Nair reached out to Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Claire Sterk and other deans and faculty to formulate a response. The student activists continued to meet and discuss their strategy, including hosting a community town hall open to all black students. Business school junior Lolade Oshin, a black student leading much of the activists’ communication with administration, said that several administrators, academic departments and student groups like Student Government Association began reaching out to the student activists to discuss the issues raised in the demands.

“Emory loves to have conversations,” Oshin said. “OK, we’ve been talking and we’ve been talking and we’ve been talking … so what are you guys going to do? Last year, it was more of asking, and this time, it’s more of demanding.”

Emory administration, she said, seems to be more proactive than in the past.

On Nov. 18, a different group, the Atlanta Black Students United (ATLBSU) Coalition — an organization with black student representatives from Emory University, Morehouse College, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Spelman College, Kennesaw State University and Clark Atlanta Universityprotested on and blocked major downtown Atlanta streets in the pouring rain. That day, the group released its demand that the respective universities officially state their commitment to “the safety, justice and equality of their Black students on campus, and the Black lives of this country” by Nov. 30. After the deadline passed, ATLBSU announced that it will hold Emory University and other universities “publicly accountable” for not satisfying its demand.

President Wagner said he intended to meet that specific demand with his Nov. 24 campus-wide “Statement of Commitment to Diversity and Inclusivity” email. While ATLBSU said Wagner’s email did not satisfy the demand, the group has not since taken any action on Emory’s campus.

On Dec. 2, the administration posted a version of the response to the “Black Students at Emory” demands on Nair’s personal Facebook page and Emory’s Division of Campus Life website. Two days later, Vice President and Deputy to the President Gary Hauk published a revised version in an all-Emory email, announcing a Jan. 22 retreat to determine action steps, a timeline and an accountability structure for most of the demands.

That same week, several black student leaders, Nair, Assistant Vice President for Community in Campus Life Suzanne Onorato and Special Assistant and Project Manager in Campus Life Judith Pannell met with two members of the Board of Trustees to discuss these issues.

The Demands

Below are the Black Students at Emory demands, the administration’s response and contextual facts regarding each demand. Some responses correspond to multiple demands.

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[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 1: Recognition of Trauma”]

Demand 1: University recognition of traumatic events for black students, including Bias Incident Reports, via campus-wide emails

Response to Demand 1 and 2: Administration will review the system with black student leaders.

Context of Demand 1 and 2: The Bias Incident Reporting system came out of the “Campus Life Compact for Building an Inclusive Community at Emory.” Under the system, one can report an incident of threatening communications, harassment, confrontation, injury and more by filling out a form or sending an email. The Campus Life website states that a member of the Bias Response Teamwill respond within 24 hours and that incident reporters should document the evidence of the incident.

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[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 2: Bias Incident Report”]

Demand 2: A restructuring of the Bias Incident Reporting system that includes a response to the reporter within two days and a personalized response with action steps and sanctions within one week

The demands state that the system has not been “efficient” thus far and that reports should not be used simply for data collection.

Response to Demand 1 and 2: Administration will review the system with black student leaders.

Context of Demand 1 and 2: The Bias Incident Reporting system came out of the “Campus Life Compact for Building an Inclusive Community at Emory.” Under the system, one can report an incident of threatening communications, harassment, confrontation, injury and more by filling out a form or sending an email. The Campus Life website states that a member of the Bias Response Teamwill respond within 24 hours and that incident reporters should document the evidence of the incident.

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[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 3: Counseling Services”]

Demand 3: Unique and alternative methods of counseling for black students in the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), including black spirituality methods, black counselors and counselors of color

Response to Demand 3: The CAPS staff is “fully committed to examining how” to address these concerns.

Context of Demand 3: In an email to the Wheel, Senior Director of Auxiliary Services & Administration in Campus Life Dave Furhman wrote that any student can indicate preference for a black therapist or therapist of color.

Currently, 55 percent of the CAPS workers — including senior staff, post-graduates, interns, front office staff and 12 contract clinicians are people of color, according to Furhman. Half of the clinical staff are people of color while 19 percent are black. The staff includes four women of color, two of whom identify as black. Last year, 43 percent of CAPS clients were students of color and 13 percent were black.

Furhman added that CAPS currently hosts a “Students of Color Support and Process Group” — a group for students to process their feelings about their experiences regarding their racial identity, according to the Student Health Services website.

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[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 4: Faculty Evaluations”]

Demand 4: The addition of two questions about microaggressions and professors’ fit in the University’s community of care on faculty evaluations

Response to Demand 4: There is no unified course evaluation across all of Emory’s schools, but each academic Dean will be asked to review and revise their evaluations beginning in the spring semester. These revisions will be shared through the Council of Deans, the University Senate and other existing mechanisms. The Office of Planning and Budgeting will collect the nature and number of negative actions regarding faculty members.

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[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 5: Academic Support”]

Demand 5: An academic support system for black students including tutoring, specialized study skills and career mentoring and increased funding for the Multicultural Outreach and Resources at Emory (MORE) Mentoring Program

Not all black students are adequately prepared for Emory’s academic rigor because of the historic and contemporary oppression of black Americans, including limited resources, according to the demand. The demand states that not only does Emory not have a program to address this, but the MORE Mentoring Program limits the number of participants because of a lack of funding.

Response to Demand 5: Administration will work with black students to further invest in historically marginalized groups. Each academic dean will be asked to create a structure to review academic support, implement improvements and provide a progress report.

Context of Demand 5: Administration has emphasized current academic support for black students, including the networking event for black students “Reality Is…,” Men of Distinction at Emory (MODE), the MORE Mentoring Program and Building Leaders and Cultivating Knowledge (BLACK).

MORE has a capacity of 117 students this year and has a budget of $7,300, according to Furhman.

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[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 6: Diversity Initiatives”]

Demand 6: The consultation of black students and faculty during the implementation of diversity initiatives

The demands state that Creating Emory and College Council’s Social Justice Week, which are a part of the “Campus Life Compact” — the response to unrest after Wagner’s editorial regarding the three-fifths compromise, have been “surface level” and do not properly include input from students of color.

“Diversity initiatives should not be made from the standpoint of the dominant group (white men and women) or to ensure the comfort of the predominately white student population at Emory,” the demand states.

Response to Demand 6: Black students will be invited to help plan Creating Emory and other Campus Life diversity initiatives. The Office of Equity and Inclusion with Campus Life will determine committees that do not have student representation. The Advisory Council on Community and Diversity (ACCD) will work to ensure that each division is committed to inclusion.

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[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 7: Black Faculty, Staff and Administrators”]

Demand 7: Increase of black staff, faculty and administrators to higher positions of power, increased financial compensation or salaries to black staff, faculty and administrators who advise black organizations and changes in Campus Life’s hierarchical structure which places primarily white males at the top

“The people who are currently in positions of power have done minimal or no work for black students,” the demand states. “Black/POC administrators and staff are overworked and underpaid …”

Context of Demand 7: Campus Life has 36 senior staff members, of which 40 percent are people of color and 28 percent are black, according to Furhman.

Response to Demand 7, 8 and 10: The January retreat will explore recruitment and retention and potential improvements to increase diversity as the University is not satisfied with current levels of diversity.

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[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 8: Job Security”]

Demand 8: Job security for black faculty and administrators when they work on behalf of black students

“Black administrators are told to stand by racist and problematic faculty in order to preserve the positive image of the University…” the demand states.

Response to Demand 7, 8 and 10: The January retreat will explore recruitment and retention and potential improvements to increase diversity as the University is not satisfied with current levels of diversity.[/wc_accordion_section]

[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 9: Black Organizations”]

Demand 9: A fair trial with a jury of people of color and a campus-wide press release for each black organization that may be suspended or expelled

Black student organizations are “underfunded and over-policed,” according to the demand. They are often forced to collaborate with predominately white organizations for “surface level interactions and superficial celebrations of diversity” and are told that their events are exclusive.

Response to Demand 9: With the Office of Student Conduct (OSC), administration will review policies.

Context for Demand 9: Disciplinary action is dealt with on a case-by-case basis by Campus Life professionals, but professionals of color are involved in all aspects of the process, according to Furhman.

“The decision to suspend a student organization from the community is difficult and follows a thoughtful and thorough process developed by the OSC with the input of students,” he said.[/wc_accordion_section]

[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 10: Black Professors”]

Demand 10: An increase of black and Latino full time, tenure-track professors to 10 percent by 2017 in departments outside of the African American Studies department and better records of faculty and staff of color demographics

Response to Demand 7, 8 and 10: The January retreat will explore recruitment and retention and potential improvements to increase diversity as the University is not satisfied with current levels of diversity.

Context for Demand 10: Seven percent of regular, full-time University faculty are black, three-quarters of which are in the School of Medicine and 10 percent of which are at the College. Thirty-nine percent of these black faculty in the College are primarily part of the African American Studies department. These numbers undercount black faculty who also identify as Hispanic, according to Furhman.

Any member of the Emory community can request this data through the Institutional Research Office.

Programs related to this demand include the Office of Equity and Inclusion’s Affirmative Action Plan (AAP), which involves an annual evaluation of faculty composition. If a school or college is below the target, the dean is charged to rectify the composition. Currently, not every school and college has met Emory’s proposed goals.

The Provost Office’s Faculty Diversity Fund helps deans achieve faculty diversity, while other workshops and initiatives, including recommendations by the Class and Labor Committee, have been put in place to work toward this issue.

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[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 11: Yik Yak”]

Demand 11: A geofence to block the smartphone application Yik Yak on campus because of consistent racist remarks anonymously posted on the platform

Response for Demand 11: Administration does not know whether this is possible or feasible but is in the process of creating a task force to explore this with Information Technology Services and the University Senate.

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[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 12: GED Program”]

Demand 12: A student-led GED program or Emory classes for black workers and better treatment of campus workers

Response for Demand 12: Emory Human Resources will recommend ways to improve working conditions for workers in Dobbs University Center and Cox and will explore the possibility of GED courses for staff.

Context for Demand 12: Several community members, including Nair, mentioned that a GED program for campus workers has been available in the past but did not receive substantial interest from the staff.

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[wc_accordion_section title=”Demand 13: General Education Requirement”]

Demand 13: A General Education Requirement for courses about people of color by fall of 2016

Response for Demand 13: This demand will be discussed at the retreat.

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1969 Demands
 1990 Demands
1990 Demands
After Sabrina Collins, a black freshman, was hospitalized due to a self-inflicted racial harassment hoax, the Students Against Racial Inequality posed 12 demands to administration in 1990. (Desegregation Collection, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University)

Leading Up to the January Retreat

For three hours on Jan. 22, more than 50 black students and administrators who are associated with particular demands will meet in assigned breakout groups to discuss most of the demands and present their plans. The Emory Wheel will livestream the event.

This is an opportunity for Emory University to be at the forefront of leading change on issues of racial justice.

-Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair

“These are the right things from my lens to be pushing for,” Nair said, adding that the University has been working on similar initiatives for a while but the recent student activism has pushed the University to work at a faster pace.

Some issues, such as faculty representation, do not have short-term solutions, but others, such as Yik Yak and diversity initiatives, can be addressed in the near future. Nair is hoping that the retreat will mark Emory’s new collaborative approach to create systematic change instead of “patchwork.”

He has learned his lessons from previous “patchwork” solutions, such as the Campus Life Compact, he said. Although not a complete waste of time, Nair said, the Compact included no continued student conversation and had “no legs” because it did not involve academic administrators.

Oshin expressed reserved optimism that this could be a more effective approach since it is not simply “throwing money at the problem.”

“This is an opportunity for Emory University to be at the forefront of leading change on issues of racial justice,” Nair said.

As an Indian American, Nair said he feels a shared experience that influences his work, although he doesn’t claim to understand the entire experience of a black student.

“Certainly, I have a sensitivity to the issues because some of the issues I have experienced,” he said. “I want to be a change agent.”

Community Reflections on the Demands and Racial Climate

While Nair is optimistic about the retreat, students and faculty express varying reactions to the demands, the administration’s response and the overall racial tensions on campus.

“I was a guest. The dominant culture ruled over me … Then, I said it was my house and that’s actually when I started to notice the cultural tension.”

-College senior TJ Greer

Second-year Candler School of Theology student Khalfani Lawson said he wanted more from the administration’s response, especially regarding Yik Yak and the GED program — two demands that Lawson, who is black, finds to be most important. These demands will not only help College students, he said, but students across Emory who struggle with the invisibility that comes with being black on campus.

“Sometimes you find yourself in peculiar moments that make you question why you wanted to be [at Emory] in the first place,” Lawson said.

One of those moments was when Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, was acquitted a year ago. Lawson found few people to confide in during that time.

“I’m still here because there’s work to be done,” Lawson said. “We have some serious work to do beyond rhetoric and flowery language, and [the demands are] a good first step.”

College senior Catherine Labiran also noticed Emory’s lack of support during Wilson’s acquittal. While many students at Emory don’t have to reflect on these matters, she said, “our minds are weighted with much more.”

“We’re literally trying to survive the trauma of being on campus every day,” she said. “It’s a traumatic experience.”

She found that the administration’s response was “necessary but not sufficient,” as she is looking for more concrete action.

Political Science Associate Professor Andra Gillespie, who is black, also found that some of the demands did not receive an adequate administrative response.

“These demands were thoughtful and were worthy of a response,” she said.

That being said, she questioned some of the demands, including the request for extra black faculty compensation. While she sees a cultural tax that is levied on black faculty, through the unequal distribution of diversity service responsibilities, she said that creates a toll on black professors’ research time, not on their compensation. She added that this issue, as well as the problem of faculty diversity, will likely not involve student participation.

She did, however, find the faculty evaluations and the GED program demands to be good first steps.

Others on Emory’s campus, like College junior Josh Goodman, who is white, would like to see evidence for the grievances associated with the demands. He took issue with the demands associated with faculty compensation, academic support and others that don’t “advance equality, but advance one specific group” — emblematic of “reverse racism,” he said.

“If you want to create change, it’s better not to create added racial tension, which I think this has done,” Goodman said. “Tensions between whites and blacks are at the highest it’s been on campus. There is more divisiveness than ever.”

Nair and others, however, find that the campus divisions between races are not new.

“One of the challenges across higher education and at Emory is that students are not crossing boundaries,” Nair said. “They’re not connecting across differences and learning from one another.”

Caleb Parsons, a College junior who is white, said these demands may seem to increase racial tension only because it places white students’ privilege “under the microscope.”

“Every day we perpetuate racism. I still do it,” Parsons said. “This process of learning about your privilege is uncomfortable, and unveiling it and figuring out how insidious it is can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. I think it’s a process that a lot of students need to go through.”

He added that students who have been “historically oppressed” should not have to prove their oppression to their peers who have the privilege of not thinking about these issues.

Ironically, College senior TJ Greer, who is black, believes Emory’s black community should provide evidence not to prove “the fact that there is a knife in our back” to the rest of the student body, but to be able to properly assess the success of administration’s remedies. He also finds that the demands don’t address Emory’s Eurocentric curriculum which focuses on the intellectual histories of white people and is the root cause of “black students and white students having a different conversation.”

“We’re trying to chop this tree down in its roots,” he said. “But we’re dealing with this poisonous tree by looking at its leaves.”

However, he finds that the demands do show increasing unity within Emory’s black community, which, he said, is not a monolith. There may not be full agreement in each demand, but he does feel an overall agreement in the black community that this is “a step in the right direction.”

“We’ve pulled the knife out so many inches, but it’s still there,” Greer said. “Is integration black students coming to a white institution or is integration black students coming into an institution that has evolved … Are we at a white institution or are we at our institution? Can every student at this school say this is our institution?”

Greer’s firm answer is no. He used to feel the need “tip-toe” around Emory, not playing the music or wearing the clothes he liked.

“I was a guest. The dominant culture ruled over me,” he said. “Then, I said it was my house and that’s actually when I started to notice the cultural tension.”

Update on Dec. 18 at 9:04 a.m.: Details of the Sabrina Collins case were added to clarify investigator’s findings. The description of the original Students Against Racial Inequality 1990 demands document was also updated as it did not include the result of the case. 

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