The University and the Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a “Demonstration of Solidarity” with black student organizations on Thursday. The event coincided with the memorial service for George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis, Minn. police on May 25 has caused widespread protests against police brutality.
The virtual event, which featured speeches from University administrators and black student organizations leaders, comes after criticism of both the University and the SGA for not responding adequately to national unrest and discontent over systemic racism.
“Let us seize the moment to help create a more just and equitable society,” University President Joseph Nyre said. “As Setonians I invite you to become and stay involved in efforts to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to thrive on campus.”
The event also came one day after another SGA initiative, a forum to discuss solutions to combat racial injustice and to promote the Black Lives Matter Movement, which was hosted on the organizations Instagram Live.
“Let this serve as the first step towards more action for our community so we can all grow and be better together,” SGA president Julia Nicolls, who hosted Thursday's demonstration, said. “Use this opportunity to hear from your community, to listen and to reflect going forward.”
Vice President of Student Services Shawna Cooper-Gibson said that the recent unrest underlines the necessity of diversity and inclusion, and called for “substantive, far-reaching” changes.
“Our anti-racism resources include podcasts, videos, reading guides and teaching materials, self-care tips, programming and organizations to follow on social media and can be found on the Diversity and Inclusion website,” Cooper-Gibson said. “Advancing Diversity and Inclusion initiatives are central to our University mission. This goes beyond Student Services and I am excited to partner with students and members from our faculty, priest community, administrators and staff as we coordinate our efforts to educate, support, and improve campus community inclusion.”
One student voice that was featured in the event was that of junior diplomacy major Akaysha Palmer, whose poem, “Dear Black Man,” was inspired by the death of George Floyd.
“I do not write poetry often, but with everything surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, my heart was feeling so heavy on Monday morning when I wrote this piece,” Palmer said. “I thought of all the black men in my life and how much they mattered to me and that the world would not view them the way I did regardless of the great men they are.”
Palmer said the event was appreciated, but that she hoped it was only the beginning.
“The university needs to ensure that their students of color are heard and feel like they belong on this campus as much as other students do,” Palmer said. “We ultimately just want to see things change and know for sure that racism is something that Seton Hall condemns.”
Students have accused the University of being slow to respond to racial incidents in the past.
The 2018-2019 academic year saw controversy over diversity and inclusion on campus, with student activist group The Concerned 44 staging multiple protests over diversity concerns.
The initial protests began in October 2018, with the group, which derives its name from the reported percentage of non-white students at the university, delivering a list of demands to the Provost’s office, which culminated in a 9 day sit-in in the lobby of President’s Hall in November 2018.
In May 2019, the group began protesting again, calling for the termination of history professor Williamjames Hoffer, who compared the Concerned 44’s tactics to the Ku Klux Klan in a blogpost.
Daniel O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @ItsDanOConnor.