“Time to Focus on the Black Lives”: Students Fight for Change Nationally and On Campus
June 8, 2020
George Floyd’s death spotlighted racial issues that have plagued America for centuries. These issues can be seen on Millikin’s campus, and the Millikin community is pushing for change.
“A lot of Black students on campus feel as though they can’t build relationships with their professors,” Jauhara S. Muhammed Bey said. “They literally have said, ‘They don’t care about us, Millikin doesn’t care about us.’ That’s how most Black students feel, and that shouldn’t be the case.”
Bey has been working closely with administration to combat this feeling. On June 1, students received emails from President Patrick White and Vice President for Student Affairs Raphaella Prange. These emails addressed the death of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“We must continue to challenge ourselves to body forth inclusion, equity and justice in our daily work and lives,” White wrote. “Now is not the time to look away. Now is the time to see what is happening in our country and work to make it better. Each one of us can honor the life of George Floyd and others by connecting on the most basic level, as humans. Black Lives Matter at Millikin and everywhere.”
Prange echoed this sentiment, calling on students to self-reflect, educate themselves, and check on POC friends. Her email included tips for students to engage, including places to donate and resources for education. She also announced that the new Director of Campus Life for Inclusion, Dr. Alex Deeb, would be working with student organizations to continue the dialogue.
But for many students, these emails, which came one week after Floyd’s death, felt like too little too late. Allison Manning, a human services major and the secretary for the Black Student Union, wants Millikin to act on the statements they’ve made.
“We all received the emails, and read what they said, but we are ready to see action,” Manning wrote. “We do not want short term changes, we want to see that the university that we call home will fight for us as much as some of us are willing to fight for it…There have been situations in the US, including on Millikin’s campus, but the situation with George Floyd is really when people decided to open their eyes and see what People of Color live with everyday…We would like to see more support from the university and see them stand on the principles that they say they live on (i.e. Inclusion and Diversity).”
JaCarla Anderson, 2020 graduate and president of the Black Student Union, agrees that Floyd’s death was the catalyst for Millikin’s statement. She wants to see continued support for Black students going forward.
“Honestly I just want Millikin to be more genuine in their responses,” Anderson wrote. “I mean with recent events happening one after the other it was like they were pushed to make a statement but I want [them] to really sit back and think about their black students and continue to stand and support them fully.”
Administrators are aware that students are ready for action. In his new role, Deeb is developing a plan to continue the dialogue and actively support The Black Campus. He is currently compiling a list of resources about social justice and equity, and he wants students to see him as a support.
“I plan to continue the dialogue by serving as a resource for students, faculty, and staff to be someone who can learn from them, but also an individual who is prepared to guide these tough conversations that we all come to with varying levels of experience,” Deeb wrote. “I am most interested to hear what students wish to see, and working with other faculty and staff on campus to do our best to show we are not only willing, but actively working to make this campus a space they can call their own.”
Like Deeb, Prange recognizes that students are eager to see the active response that Millikin has promised. She says that the Office of Campus Life will continue to promote resources and virtual conversations on their Facebook page, and they are working to create a book club that highlights BIPOC authors and creators. Prange has grieved for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor with students, and she wants Millikin to come together as a community and act.
“Students want to see Millikin take action. While statements of support are important, our students are keenly interested in seeing their educators embody those statements and demonstrate personal action that will create a culture of respect, equity, and understanding,” Prange wrote. “Diversity and inclusion are the beginning of the process to create a truly equitable culture. We must also seek to engage in action that creates cultural competency, cultural humility, and cultural responsiveness…Students want to be heard and feel safe to voice their experiences in an uncensored way. We need to provide these spaces and opportunities.”
As administrators work toward this, Bey, who believes that speaking up about social justice issues is her calling, has recently had several conversations about the experience of Black students at Millikin. She spoke with Christopher Morrell about the necessity of hiring a Black counselor at the Student Mental and Behavioral Health office, and she talked with Prange over FaceTime about ways that Millikin can support Black students, including more representation in faculty and staff.
Bey believes that the fact that she had Prange’s phone number illustrates that Millikin cares, and now she wants to see change.
“I want to see small implements that are going to stick,” Bey said. “What it takes right now is a lot of little nuances and a lot of focus. I told Vice President Prange that it is a time to focus on the Black lives right now. This is a time to focus on the Black issues. But with that being said, this is no longer just a Black people issue.”
Prange agrees. She has spoken with her colleagues about active allyship and supporting students both during this time and after students return to campus.
“It will take all of us to improve the culture on campus. All of us have critical roles,” Prange wrote. “As a tight-knit community, we need to express common expectations and values surrounding equity. We need to be effective bystanders. We need to be an anti-racist campus. This means we need to go beyond being inclusive and actively intervene in, address, and denounce any racist, discriminatory, or exclusionary acts.”
Students are also calling on professors to speak up about the protests and support Black students. Bey says that a professor saying that they are available to talk is not enough to build trust; students need to see more than that.
“I want my teachers to get specific,” Bey said. “I want them to get specific. And I want them to ensure that they don’t let this pass by as just another chapter in history, that they remember. It needs to stick.”
Communication professor Amy Delaney is aware of this, and she encourages students and faculty to have conversations about racial justice in every class and major. She believes that everyone has a duty to advocate on campus.
“I think one of the most important things my faculty colleagues and I can do, particularly those of us that are White, is to listen,” Delaney wrote. “The conversations we’re having and the learning we’re doing this summer should permeate our classes across campus, because we’re learning a lot this summer about just how pervasive racism is in our society.”
Delaney says that it has been hard to offer the support she wants to from a distance, but she has been emailing and texting students and connecting on social media.
However, a lot of students feel like their professors have not been engaged enough. While some professors and coaches have reached out to students, others have not. Manning wants to hear from Millikin beyond the administration. To her, the silence says a lot.
“Some people that I expected to hear from such as advisors, faculty, and staff were nowhere to be found,” Manning wrote. “Those are the people that know us the most, and more personally, and even a simple check in would have made a difference.”
Delaney encourages her colleagues to not only check in on students, but also to educate themselves. She has been sharing resources on social media, and she wants to see people return to campus with more education about racism in the U.S.
“I would urge my colleagues to spend time this summer learning more about institutional racism broadly and reflecting on how that appears on our own campus, then get to work on dismantling it,” Delaney wrote. “We can support our students interpersonally by reaching out and letting them know they have our support, but we also have to do the work to create a better campus culture.”
As protests continue, a lot of students are taking action to educate themselves, fight for justice, and support the Black Lives Matter movement. Professors and administration alike are proud of the work that students are doing. They are excited to see the changes at Millikin that result from more education and awareness.
“Many of our Millikin students are invested and engaged in doing the work of anti-racism,” Delaney wrote. “We have Black students participating in and even leading peaceful protests in their communities, and White students doing the same alongside activism and educating their friends and families…I cannot overstate just how proud I am of our Millikin students.”
After the summer ends, Deeb wants students to continue their activism at Millikin, and he hopes that this will result in programs that inspire students to do even more. He believes that people can spark change through resolve and determination.
Prange also encourages students to bring their passion back to campus, and she challenges Millikin’s majority students to use their privilege and join the activism. She is thinking about what she can do to support students, and she wants everyone in the Millikin community to educate themselves and learn how they can have a positive impact.
“I want to lift their voices at the leadership tables I sit at to address these concerns,” Prange wrote. “I do not want our students to be afraid to share their feelings. I want to empower them to challenge us, me, to do better. Every Millikin student should expect to feel included, cared about, and respected. Each student’s needs are worthy to be met, and all our students should feel safe and supported. These are basic needs we must meet.”
Sports management major and campus leader Seron Pettis says that the best thing that students can do right now is offer support to the Black community.
“We just want to be understood where we’re coming from, and understand that these things are happening and it shouldn’t be pushed behind closed doors,” Pettis said. “This time right now is pretty much the biggest time where a lot of people are being woken up and really seeing what’s going on, and I hate to see that it has to come to this…We just want to have them understand what’s going on and support us from their perspective. They might not be able to understand it completely, but we just ask for their deepest support.”
Bey echoes this, and also encourages students to reach out to one another and learn about the issues. She is proud that her generation is leading the movement.
“Young people are on the forefront of this movement,” Bey said. “People our age. Us. Me. And that’s kind of crazy. Doesn’t happen very often. And so it’s time to really undo and unlearn and relearn a lot of things, and it’s time to pay attention to the logic that goes behind why we do the things we do and just get rid of discrepancies.”
As Millikin prepares to return to campus in the fall, students hope that their peers will keep fighting. Anderson remembers a protest on campus last year that prompted conversations but lost momentum. She hopes that students will continue to push for change after the summer ends.
“I just want students to keep the ball rolling on keeping on making Millikin people realize that their black students matter,” Anderson wrote. “I hope students return to campus with that fire of being ready to just finally have Millikin make leaps and bounds to really being inclusive!!!”
In the last few months, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have sparked public outcry, and Floyd’s death was the catalyst for protests that are now taking place across the country. For a lot of Millikin students, particularly BIPOC students, these deaths hit close to home, and they illustrate some of the deep-seated racial issues in communities across the U.S.
These issues are national, but they can also be seen on Millikin’s campus. As protests continue, students look to Millikin and each other to enact positive change and support.
“To get specific, we need a Black therapist, we need to be able to trust you, and you know, we just want to see that you’re there for us,” Bey said. “Anybody who finds a problem, especially after seeing this—Are you serious? 2020? If anybody has a problem with Millikin University saying Black Lives Matter at Millikin, they’re a part of the problem.”