Hundreds of members of the St. Thomas community gathered in the Anderson Student Center on Thursday in response to last week's racially-biased incident on campus.
The vast majority of those in attendance wore white, as the Black Empowerment Student Alliance (BESA) – which hosted the event – called for help symbolizing the current demographic at St. Thomas. BESA president Amira Warren-Yearby; Undergraduate Student Government (USG) student body president Bisrat Bayou; USG vice president of diversity Malcolm Lawson; executive director of campus inclusion and community Patricia Conde-Brooks; and English associate professor Todd Lawrence all addressed the crowd after about 20 minutes of silence.
Speakers underscored the difficulties of being a person of color at a predominantly white institution, called for substantial action toward systematic change throughout all levels of the university, and highlighted the collective responsibility of every St. Thomas community member to commit to changing themselves and the university's culture.
"Black students belong at this university, and we're not going anywhere," Warren-Yearby said. "I hope that within the next few years that we can make a lasting change. ... To our black students: You are wonderful, you are beautiful, you are intelligent. You have every right to be here."
"None of this is new to us. None of this is new. If we want change, every single one of you has to be a part of it," Bayou said.
Lawson read a poem he had written earlier this year describing the difficulty of his experience as a black man at St. Thomas and consistently feeling he is viewed as an alien, an enigma.
"You look at me. Next time, try to see me," he said.
"I've had enough," Conde-Brooks said. "I've had enough of wiping tears. I've had enough of telling students, 'This is not who we are.' Enough of telling them, 'I'm sorry this happened to you.' ... When I hear the story of why St. Thomas was founded by Archbishop Ireland, it was for immigrants. Yes, they were white immigrants, but they were those people in the community no one wanted to give a chance. They wanted to give an education so they could so something, go forward and do the common good somewhere. These are the students you told, 'Go back.' Go back where? This university was founded for them."
"It's everyone in here's jobs. It starts with examining our own position, feelings assumptions. Everything we bring with us," Lawrence said. "This is a process that begins with each one of us, but that we take on together. It's painful. It's uncomfortable. It's going to take time. ... You have to ask yourself, 'What am I prepared to do?' ... And then we ask ourselves as a community, 'What are we prepared to do?' Today is day one. As everyone has said here, we all belong here. If this is our place, we get to decide what it's going to be for us and everyone here. You can't stay silent, sit on the sidelines or be complacent. When you see something you've got to do something."
An action planning session and dialogue was held in the Anderson Student Center's Father Dorsey Way commons. The entire university community has been asked to come together on Oct. 31 at 1 p.m. to attend a campus-wide in the field house of the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex (AARC). Classes have been cancelled on Wednesday afternoon to allow as many as possible to attend this important event. The program for students, faculty and staff will last for one hour. At 2 p.m., the student program will conclude, and faculty and staff will be encouraged to stay for employee education and training.