Black Student Union petition demands action from college

Students ask for support from President Glassner on racial issues and the diversification of school curriculum

By Julie Oatfield /// Staff Writer 

This month, Lewis & Clark’s Black Student Union released a petition calling on President Barry Glassner to continue efforts to turn the college’s mantras of social justice into reality. Student and faculty signatures are currently being collected, and will be presented to the president at the end of February.

Following 2013’s Walk the Talk movement and national outrage over racially charged police violence in Fall 2014, the BSU seeks to keep momentum going for positive social change.

The petition makes two specific requests. First, for President Glassner to “make a public statement in support for activism and protest against racism, and all issues of discrimination and injustice in the United States.” Second, for the president to “encourage the Curriculum Committee to revise its course offerings and incorporate not only scholars outside of the typical white male catalogue of thinkers, but scholarship that has students actively engaging with social justice, civil rights and human rights issues.”

BSU President Raymond Fenton (’16) said that although such change requires the engagement of the entire LC community, President Glassner is the best man to lead the charge.

 “I think he’s the person who would listen most,” Fenton said. “We’re looking to him because we think his heart is in the right place.”

 Fenton points to the speech Glassner gave during a sit-in outside the Manor House in December 2013 as an example of the president expressing emotional concern for issues of discrimination and diversity.

Meanwhile, certain changes are already happening both inside and out of the classroom.

Many students are concerned about the lack of perspectives and dialogue on sensitive topics, especially in Exploration & Discovery courses which largely focus on white, male authors. However, some changes have already been made to help diversify the curriculum.

“We’ve heard of different professors incorporating different authors [into E&D curriculum],” Fenton said.

Additionally, the E&D program held a screening of the documentary “Black Girl in Suburbia.” Director Melissa Lowery and Professor Kim Cameron-Dominguez opened up a discussion surrounding intersections of race, class, and gender after the film.

BSU member Sonja Nosisa Noonan-Ngwane (’18) said of the event, “I thought it was very engaging and helpful, because it was relevant to many kids who find themselves at LC. It facilitated good conversations within the showing and the panel, and afterward those conversations carried on. It was helpful to me at least, relevant to my own life. I like that it was incorporated into the academics of LC.”

The Pioneer Success Institute seminar series for incoming students has been another effort to open up discussions around race, class, human rights, and social justice. Effectively incorporating these discussions directly into academic settings, however, remains a priority.

The BSU, and those who sign the petition, are asking the college to better reflect its written motto to “explore, discover, and work together” in understanding and creating social change.

“We’re asking for a follow-through,” Noonan-Ngwane said. “If this petition goes through, the public will know what we stand for, and that could be a very strong part of this college. If we stand for social justice, those searching for colleges in the future will be aware of it, and strive for this kind of message to be a part of what they’re looking for and expecting.”

 

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