A group of about 30 students gathered on the Green on Jan. 18 at noon to protest what they feel is the unjust treatment of students of color and a disregard for the Africana Studies program at Seton Hall.
The protest was sparked when the contract of Dr. Karanja Keita Carroll, a former adjunct professor of Africana Studies, wasn’t renewed, according to Aleessa Akegnan, a junior biology major who helped to organize the protest.
Akegnan shared why she felt it was necessary to demonstrate on campus.
“Many of us have had issues with this university in regards to the treatment of students of color for a while and addressed some of them to the administration, but the answers we were receiving did not seem to be effective,” she said.
Akegnan also said that the protest was in the works for about a week and a half before it actually happened. She then shared what inspired the students to go through with the protest.
“Finding out the news of Dr. Carroll motivated us to really address all of our issues and get it down on paper,” she said. “It was just time to put some pressure on Seton Hall so that we could fully address the racism and have a better environment and education for all students.”
The protesters also emailed a list of demands to the Seton Hall administration.
A few of the demands included hiring more faculty of color and giving the Africana Studies department adequate funding.
Akegnan said that the protesters are aware that the list of demands may take some time to implement, but that they are willing to do whatever it takes to help minority students feel welcomed.
“We want people of color to be included and to be treated fairly,” she said. “We want change for the people: current students and future students. Even if we are not able to see the change, we hope that the students who come after us will see it and have a better experience at this institution.”
Christian Duran, a junior history major, who was also involved in organizing the protest and drafting the demands to the administration, shared his thoughts.
“I don’t know how many times I have had to read Socrates and Plato and Thomas Aquinas here,” he said. “Meanwhile, this is reflected in faculty makeup – where there is a significant deficiency in faculty and administrators of color.”
Duran said that overall, he has not been pleased with the way Seton Hall has handled conversations on race.
“Simply put, my experience in the political science, history, Latino studies and Africana studies departments – and with basic student life – has been one where racism and intolerance to anything not centered on Western mentality has been rampant,” he said. “A lack of care for the welfare of the student body – in a curricular way, and in a mental and physical health aspect – drives my desire for change on this campus.”
Devyn Johnson, a junior diplomacy and international relations major, also attended the protest and shared why she felt it was necessary to participate in the protest.
“The Africana Studies program, from which I have decided to get my minor, has been dying for years,” Johnson said. “There are no full time faculty and the one adjunct professor we had in the program who was dedicated to black studies was recently [let go]. There are a limited number of courses offered and not enough professors to teach them.”
Johnson then went on to say that she hopes that the university starts to recognize the needs of minority students at Seton Hall.
“We need the 44 percent diversity rate to be more than just a ploy for attracting more students of color; the diverse backgrounds of students on campus need to be respected and honored, not tokenized. That is why I support these demands,” she said.
Karen Boroff, interim provost, shared via email her thoughts on the protest.
“Since December, several of us have been working hard to develop a grant, centering on self-reflection as the way to reduce hate and bigotry, and thereby to bring about dignity and a sense of belongingness for every one of us here,” she said.
Mary Meehan, interim president, also commented via email about the demands that were proposed.
“I have been given a copy of the demands that were read at the protest, and will take seriously the feelings and the concerns that were expressed,” she said. “Seton Hall is a place where all members of our community should experience a welcoming, just and respectful atmosphere at all times. The protesters today modeled that kind of community for all of us.”
A forum entitled “Real Talk About Race at Seton Hall,” is scheduled for Jan. 30. According to an email sent from Dr. Tracy Gottlieb on Jan. 19, the goal of the forum is to brainstorm solutions on how to make all students feel welcome at Seton Hall.
When asked if the talk was scheduled in response to the protest, Gottlieb said that no, it was not, but said it was a result of the racist incidents that happened on campus during the fall 2017 semester. The Setonian reported on these incidents which included a racist social media post and a racist email sent to the African Student Association.
Gottlieb wrote in an email what she hopes happens as a result of the talk.
“We are hoping at this forum that we will get an understanding of student concerns and their perceptions of racism,” she said. “And then be able to plan steps for going forward.”
Isabel Soisson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.