BOONE — A group of “concerned Black Mountaineers” at Appalachian State University wrote a letter to university leadership out of “deep concern and exasperation” with a list of 23 demands they seek to be fully implemented within the next three years.

Demands were broken into categories such as admissions, faculty, student retention and support; health and wellbeing of students of color; curriculum; change in organizational culture; campus culture and leadership; and endowment and scholarships. The group submitting the letter consisted of current students and recent alumni who have served in some leadership capacity on the university’s campus under the name of Black at App State.

The demands ranged from calls for mandatory bias training for all faculty or staff; the hiring of professionals who are Black and others of color in roles such as university counselors, coaches, faculty, staff and administration; the drafting of a plan from university athletics to “end the exploitation of Black student-athletes” and the institution of more initiatives in the Intercultural Student Affairs office.

“We have attended every town hall, been a member of every committee, task force and panel,” the letter stated. “In our time at the university, we have noticed a profound contradiction between App State’s mission, and its treatment of its students from marginalized groups.”

The group also created a petition that the public could sign in support; the petition had 3,157 online signatures as of the following afternoon. The petition can be found at tinyurl.com/BlackatApp.

The letter was sent on July 6 and addressed to Chancellor Sheri Everts, university administration, Student Affairs personnel and the Board of Trustees. The group demanded that Everts give an official response no later than July 10, and stated that the three-year time span would start from the time a response was issued. If demands are not met, the letter stated that Black and App State participants will take appropriate, nonviolent actions that will disrupt university operations and escalate until demands are met.

On the same day the demands were sent, the Appalachian Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pass a resolution of confidence in the leadership of Everts during a special conference call meeting, in which the resolution stated that Everts brought experience in diversity and inclusion from numerous other educational institutions. The resolution also stated that Everts “recognizes successful diversity initiatives must ‘go beyond the numbers’ and include broad cultural changes that foster inclusive excellence.”

{span}The resolution notes that during Everts’ tenure, the proportion of ethnically diverse students has risen 46.6 percent, to 17.4 percent during the 2019-20 academic year. It also noted that since spring 2019, 90 percent of the university’s academic departments have hosted trainings on implicit bias, and currently, 32 percent of new faculty hires are from underrepresented populations.{/span}

During the July 6 meeting of the university’s Faculty Senate, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown mentioned that he had seen the petition. At that time he said he was looking forward to engaging in deeper conversations in how the university will move forward, and that the university has to “do more” when it comes to supporting students of color.

Similar concerns were voiced during a June 25 virtual town hall hosted by Black in Boone. The event consisted of current App State students as well as alumni who discussed their experiences of being a Black student and racial injustices they faced.

As an alumna, Mary Lyons — an organizer of Black in Boone — asked fellow Black alumni to not donate or give money to App State in solidarity as “they are not intervening in racism.” She advised that people should also advise prospective students to not attend the university. Bailey Gardin serves as a student orientation leader for the university, and said Black and other minority students have asked him about the culture on campus.

“It’s difficult because you don’t want to lie to them,” Gardin said. “You want to be honest with them, and you want to tell them … that (the university doesn’t) really want to stand up for you or advocate for you when it’s time to stand up and advocate. I don’t like lying to my students.”

Jay Edwards is entering his last semester at App State, and said he had approached administrators with a complaint about a professor who used a racial slur during class this past spring semester. According to a February article in The Appalachian, the professor read aloud the N-word during her African American Literature class. The publication stated that the chair of the Department of English had expressed that the department regrets if content from their courses caused pain to Edwards or other students.

According to information in The Appalachian, the department of English planned to have conversations to address the situation, and administrators were engaged in the situation as well.

Edwards said there wasn’t a policy that barred faculty from using that language, but that there was a policy stating that you can’t make a hostile classroom environment. The university’s Discrimination and Harassment policy includes language indicating that a hostile environment is creating by conduct that is severe, persistent or pervasive that is considered hostile, intimidating or abusive.

“There was no policy that was protecting me,” Edwards said. “When I (asked) them where is the policy and what policy can we put in place, I was told not to change the policy but to change the culture. That’s what happens when we speak up. That’s the answers we get when we do tell these kind of testimonies to administration. A lot of times they will reach out … and then don’t do anything to stop it.”

University spokesperson Megan Hayes said App State has processes, procedures and policies in place that provide students opportunities to express concerns with faculty. Policies and procedures for how students can file a complaint can be found at tinyurl.com/Student-Grievance. Hayes also stated that the Faculty Handbook does not address matters of race regarding the curriculum, but does address professional ethics. The Faculty Handbook can be found at tinyurl.com/Faculty-Handbook.

A demand in the letter called for the creation of a Bias Incident Reporting Protocol for student complaints about biased comments, attitudes and actions made by students or university employees. Reports would be submitted to the office of the associate vice chancellor of equity, diversity and compliance, according to the letter.

Faith Montgomery is a graduate of the university who spoke during the June 25 town hall, and mentioned serving as an equity peer under the Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance while attending as a student. Montgomery said the equity peer group was short lived, and that they felt the group’s hope of having a bias reporting form as a requirement on syllabi was not seen as a priority by the university.

When asked if the university was willing to look into rejuvenating the equity peer group or the bias reporting system, Hayes said that it is a matter that the Student Government Association and Faculty Senate have engaged in before. Hayes said she understood that SGA wanted to revisit this conversation, and said that Student Affairs would be willing to help facilitate those discussions.

The letter listed three demands pertaining to curricula: greater inclusion of Black and brown scholars and contributions of people of color in all disciplines; the allocation of additional funding and support to faculty and staff of color researching social justice, anti-Semitism and anti-racist work; and the creation of a social justice designation requirement for all general education.

Lyons presented information during the town hall about recommendations that were presented to the Equity, Diversity and Compliance office in 2015. Some were represented in the July 6 letter in a similar format, such as requesting that the university hire Black and LGBTQIA+ affirming medical professionals in roles such as nurse practitioners, registered nurses, office staff/support, counselors and a sexual assault nurse examiner.

Hayes said Student Affairs and the Counseling and Psychological Services Center are committed to increasing the diversity of staff in the center, and continue to hire and work with counselors of color to support students. She added that while some of these are adjunct positions, a multicultural-focused counselor was hired in summer 2019.

As a member of the university’s women’s track and field team and the president of the Black Student Athlete Association, Kynda Bichara said she felt that Black student-athletes weren’t given the opportunity or the support to pursue interests outside of athletics. Athletic Director Doug Gillin gave an update on diversity and inclusion initiatives within the athletics department during the June 26 meeting of the board of trustees athletics committee — including starting a voluntary athletics department culture committee that will be comprised of athletic staff and student-athletes to “lead in change.”

Additionally, Bichara said she feels the university doesn’t support offices concerning race and race relations financially or with proper staffing — a decision she feels is done strategically. Bichara said she thinks Chief Diversity Officer Willie Fleming’s office isn’t given the proper tools to help meet student demands and needs.

Hayes said the Intercultural Student Affairs office — formerly Multicultural Student Development — has a new director who began work July 1, and two assistant directors along with several graduate students to support their work. An additional coordinator position was added in summer 2019 to further support the work of the office. Hayes said Everts and Fleming are in discussion about additional needs of that office.

Additionally, the letter asks that the university commission an unbiased comprehensive report compiled by an independent third party regarding diversity, equity and inclusion at the university. The group also demanded the creation of a standing committee —comprised of nine individuals including Black students, faculty, staff and alumni — charged with accountable implementation of equity initiatives.

“I’m really hoping that the next time we have conversations it can be action plans to help our … students who are the most marginalized on campus,” said Korbin Cummings, director of diversity and inclusion for the App State’s SGA. “What I don’t want to happen is continuously having the same drawn-out conversations that lead to nowhere and frankly, just leads us on a wild goose chase.”

To view the full list of demands, visit www.wataugademocrat.com.

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(5) comments

dianagarcia3345

This is just sad. As a Latino student at App State, I find this very disturbing. I have never faced racism, hate, or bad treatment based on the fact that I am not white. This just feels like an attack on anyone that is white, while seeking preferential treatment for only people of color. Getting special treatment based on your skin color is racism. I have always felt equal here and this is pure nonsense. I honestly feel like these individuals are unhappy with their own decisions they made in life and are looking for someone to blame. And as it is 'cool' to attack white people, they are using the current narrative to exploit the school system as they won't speak against any people of color out of fear. I hope the school expels these students for their threats.

sickofstupid

The University should tear up the so-called "demands." No, don't call me racist. This group is in an assertive pursuit of their own aims and interests. Watch what happens if one disagrees with these demands. Realism takes a back seat to this narrative. If one doesn't agree with this viewpoint we will be made to feel bad, we will be attacked with aggression, or slander or suppression. We will be blamed, made to feel guilty, or forced to accept responsibility for things that may or may not even exist. This is exactly the type of movement that is tearing up our country right now and creating exclusion. Not inclusion. Is it right to hold another group hostage in an attempt to obtain demands? It sounds like a political power play. Again, where is the realism? A public that thinks for themselves (free-thought) is what they are most afraid of. Speak up.

andrewsw607@gmail.com

It is a very sad situation. Based on the list of demands, these individuals expect App State to provide a learning experience equivalent to that of a HBCU (historically black college/ university). App is not an HBCU and should not try to be one. But all these people, despite overcoming white privilege and obtaining acceptance to a fine state institution, found that it was not a good fit for their situations. Hopefully they can learn from the experience and move forward. In the future, if you want a degree from Howard University, go to Howard. It is a fine institution too.

Meanwhile say a prayer for the administration. They will probably be second guessed regardless of any action they take or don't take. What a world.

jeremyward521@gmail.com

yall are serious iv lived here all my life what happend to the world this year first sick death virus then racial protest since something happend way far from watauga county why is people not happy and treat equaly instead of complain about crazy stuff anymore this is watauga use to be lillte and quiet what happend

Mslnm74

Is that all?

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