This past week, students participated in the annual Concerned Black Students (CBS) walkout in support of black students on campus. At the same time, CBS says black students have been dealing with discrimination and have a list of demands that they had in the inaugural walkout.
As explained in another article in this week’s Torch, black students went to administration about what was felt to be over-policing.
Out of the six police encounters this past semester, three of them were black students (see page five for the police’s response.) However, one specific encounter with the police was incredibly illuminating for those on campus.
A student was arrested on campus for interfering with police business. The student was held for an hour. The university eventually dropped their charges against the student, as they believed the matter should be handled internally.
Assistant Professor of English Sha’Dawn Battle expressed the belief that Witt police dropped the charges because they did not have a case against the student. As a result, they said, the student had to hire a lawyer at his own expense and deal with the psychological trauma of the entire incident.
Beyond this case, a half dozen CBS students who met with The Torch said discrimination is present for every single black member of campus.
Black students say they also face discrimination from their white counterparts across campus. Gloria Craig, ’19, said a black peer was called a n***** at a party. Aacha Gregg, ’20, also shared a story where a friend had a white classmate claim that white students need exposure therapy in order to learn to be around black students.
“If you know what exposure therapy is, it is usually used for animals like if you are deathly afraid of spiders your psychologist is going to slowly get you used to them. So basically, you are comparing black people to animals and I [a white individual] need to slowly get used to you ,” Gregg said.
Black students also said that when going into parties, they are regularly questioned by white students as to whether they belong.
“We get asked what is the first and last name of the person who lives here and what’s the roommate, might as well be asking me what’s your social security number is,” Craig said. “It is absolutely ridiculous because it is clear that if I wasn’t black you wouldn’t stop me, but because I am, you feel I don’t belong here so now you have to make sure I’m supposed to be here and make sure that I know somebody here and things of that nature.”
“This campus is as much ours as our counterparts,” Asharee Jones, ’20, said.
Students say they also face difficulties difficulties with faculty.
“A lot of times we are looked at as the answer to black questions, which is obviously not okay. To elaborate on what’s behind that is the colorblind logic,” Craig said.
Battle also pointed out that some professors penalize students for missing class for a CBS event, like the walkout. Also, some professors believe it is not possible to incorporate diverse material on Martin Luthor King Jr. Day.
“It is not impossible whatsoever,” Gregg said.
Aacha Gregg also said their organization’s funding is down to $2,000 annually from a high of between $12,000 and $15,000 in years past.
“It’s the defunding of CBS that makes it difficult to create places for black students be together. “Blackness can’t exist as this autonomous thing on this campus,” Battle said.
The president of CBS, Leul Bulcha, ’20, also said that when CBS members talk with the administration, they feel what they are saying is just being taken as opinion.
“Our perception is denied. In many cases, the administration always try to justify our answer,” Bulcha said. “What the administration need to understand is that perception matters because it is formed by our lived experience. It’s always assumed the it’s not the fact, it’s our opinions.
“We human and when we get denied on multiple occasions that our opinion doesn’t matter, that it’s just noise, it isn’t fair to us. We want to be students of Wittenberg. We want our voice to be heard. One of the points we raised is that institutional racism exists at Wittenberg. Mainly black bodies are not respected in a way.”
Battle added, “diversity is one thing, but inclusion is an entirely different thing… [there] is no way to get around the binaries of inclusion and exclusion. It’s visibly demonstrable that Witt prefers to promote one and neglect the other.”
While students are deeply affected by the way this campus is operated, faculty are also affected. According to Wittenberg’s faculty ethnic breakdown on College Factual, less than 10 percent of faculty are colored. However, as Battle points out, these teachers are asked to not only complete their day jobs, but also help with students who are experiencing the problems of campus life.
When asked if he would recommend other students to Wittenberg, Bulcha said even as president of CBS he could not give students of color a reason to come to campus.
CBS listed the following demands they wish to be met by the University:
1) Fair judicial processes.
2) Tracking all interactions with students.
3) Have police officers attend a CBS meeting once a month.
4) A public apology by the Police Department, more specifically, from the arresting officer who arrested the student mentioned above.
5) Find a way to make faculty and staff accountable for their actions, specifically in relation to the medical and legal fees incurred by the student arrested.
6) Funding for CBS.
7) Mandatory diversity and justice training for faculty, staff, students and administrators.
8) More racial minority faculty and staff.
9) CBS needs to have complete control of MLK Day and Black History Month events. This involves collaboration with Witt Series and faculty and staff to actively encourage students to be involved in discussions on race and to attend events about race.
CBS members say the starting place is to give black students their own space, aside from the diversity house, on campus—a place to call their own and to feel at home. This does not mean these students want to be cut off from other members of campus.
“[This] doesn’t mean that we don’t want to interact with people that don’t look like us; it’s more of just having that space and having something that we can call our own,” Craig said.
The aforementioned students and Battle also urge white faculty and students to educate themselves and unlearn biases they bring with them to campus.
“What if the entire institution shouldered the burden of educating themselves about the lives of those that do not exist within the center, but exist in the margins? What if we all took it upon ourselves individually to examine misrepresentations of people of color… to avail ourselves of the knowledge practices that allow us to have more equitable structures on campus,” Battle said.
“The easiest thing is to empathize — to recognize black students as people of this campus. Ideology often times licenses hegemonic practices. The way that I think about people that are other than me determines the ways in which I treat them. We can begin to rethink how we treat people,” Battle said.