Column featured in SRQ Daily on 6-13-20:
In a world rattled by a pandemic and protest, we have a choice: To stay silent and muddle on, or to join the conversation and change. At New College, we choose the latter. Because the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable.
Recent events have lit up the deep injustices in our society. We mourn the black lives cut short, whether it be from police brutality directed towards brown and black persons or from unequal educational and health care access for blacks and other marginalized groups.
We condemn systemic racism, and we will take action beginning here at home on campus. We are working together to create a more culturally and socially inclusive community. We stand with our black staff, students, faculty and alumni, while reflecting on the many ways that we have fallen short.
“It can be a crushing weight on people’s spirits, what is going on in the world,” says Bill Woodson, Ph.D., New College’s dean of outreach and engagement and chief diversity and inclusion officer. “One of the things I talk about is, if you’re doing everything you can do to make a positive impact, that’s a way to take back your power and not feel like you’re powerless in the grips of the system.”
Woodson spent years working in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hosting town halls and facilitating candid conversations between police and community leaders in response to fatal encounters with law enforcement. His 2018 doctoral thesis was entitled Underrepresented: The Experiences of Black People Who Pursued Careers in Minnesota Law Enforcement.
Now Woodson is helping change the culture at New College by working with Loretta Shields, our assistant vice president of human resources, to offer “Inclusive Campus Climate Training” seminars for the faculty and staff. The goal is to create an environment that is more welcoming of all genders, races and identities—and to make New College a place that successfully recruits and retains a more diverse group of students and employees.
“We can’t turn a blind eye and act as if racism and discrimination do not exist,” Shields said. “We want everyone to feel like they belong here.”
Miles Iton, a 2018 New College graduate and filmmaker who accepted a Fulbright scholarship to Taiwan, has widely shared his experience with on-campus racism. He created and directed a film called Sincerely, The Black Kids, which chronicled the challenges that young black leaders (himself included) face in academia countrywide.
“Racism is an ongoing concern for the black and brown bodies whose identities become career fodder for campus provocateurs,” says Iton, who was the first black co-president of the New College Student Alliance and co-founded the Black Student Union. His experiences with discrimination on campus have not gone unheard.
Students who graduated after Iton have worked to further enhance the cultural climate at New College. Cabrini Austin, an activist and 2020 graduate collaborated with sociology professor Queen Zabriskie, Ph.D. to compile one of the most impressive Black History Month celebrations New College had ever seen.
Austin was a panelist and moderator for New College’s New Schools of Black Thought Symposium: Systemic Injustice and the Meaning of Citizenship in America’s Democracy, an all-day event that highlighted problems with the American justice system and how it disproportionally affects black people.
“I truly think we’re at a turning point in history right now,” says Austin, who is currently living with family in Wellington, Florida, and watching protests emerge worldwide. “People are tired and angry. Going online every day is just a reminder of the nightmare we’re constantly living in, and it really makes things hard.”
For other students who struggle to deal with the current chaos, staff members like Jada McNeill in the office of Student Activities & Campus Engagement (SA[u]CE) at New College help provide mentorship opportunities and campus programming (such as an upcoming event called “Race, Power and Politics”).
“When our campus is open, we have students who hang out in our office and just want to vent.” McNeill says. “We make sure we are a listening ear and give them the necessary resources they need to move forward.”
We will share stories. We will listen. We will grow. We will act. We will move forward, and our graduates will create a brighter future. Stay tuned.