Antiracist students at Wake Forest University, backed by faculty members and community allies, reiterated a demand for administration to implement a “zero tolerance” policy against white supremacy during a rally on campus that drew about 250 people on Monday evening.
Reading a statement on behalf of the Wake Forest University Anti-Racism Coalition, Aries Powell, a senior, said the students’ grievances are not just about the dean of admissions’ appearance in an old yearbook photo with the Confederate flag. They listed a litany of racist incidents in which white perpetrators skated by with minimal or no consequences, including a recent Instagram post calling for a wall to be built between Wake and the historically black Winston-Salem State University, a “dress like a black person party” held a couple years ago by the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity and a 2014 incident in which a bucket of urine was left in from of the office Imam Khalid Griggs, the Muslim chaplain for the university. The coalition also called out the university’s expressed interest in revitalizing Boston-Thurmond, a low-income black neighborhood, accusing the administration of “gentrification.”
The speak-out also attracted support from Hate Out of Winston, a group that has led protests against the Confederate monument in downtown Winston-Salem and is calling on Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to incorporate African-American history into the curriculum; and Revolutionary Action Movement, a Winston-Salem State University student organization. At 5:39 p.m., a Twitter user identified as “John” @swampvittles tweeted a photo of a banner dropped to one side of Highway 52 reading, “End WFU’s white supremacy #NoHumanitate,” a play on the university’s motto “Pro humanitate.”
With the backing of some faculty members, the antiracist students at Wake had boycotted a “community conversation” on April 17 in which Dean of Admissions Martha Allman and Associate Dean of Admissions Kevin Pittard publicly apologized for appearing in group photos with Kappa Alpha Order that prominently featured the Confederate flag in the 1980s. Instead, the students requested that administrators attend the speak-out on Monday to listen to their concerns. President Nathan Hatch and Vice President for Campus Life Penny Rue were among the administrators who attended the rally, but an invitation by organizers to Hatch, Allman and Pittard to publicly apologize went unheeded. Hatch declined to comment to Triad City Beat after the rally except to say he was “there to listen and learn.”
Students of color at Wake Forest University said they have repeatedly been subjected to racial slurs and hostility while their concerns have often been ignored or dismissed by administrators and faculty.
Taylor Folks, a junior, expressed disappointment in what she said is a typical response from administration when a racial incident occurs on campus.
“I think it is so unfortunate that we get these impromptu and quickly crafted emails at least once a month, if not more often, about an act of violence against a student of color or against a group of minority students,” she said. “These types of things happen entirely too often on our campus, which is why I 100 percent, truly and fully and genuinely support a zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy.”
Rue, who spoke to reporters before and after the rally, reiterated that the administration is appointing a committee to revisit the Bias Incident Reporting System by “looking at the intersection of bias and freedom of expression.”
Folks said during the rally: “I understand that there is question about infringing on people’s First Amendment right, but personally I think that my right to not get up every single day and be harassed or belong to a group that is constantly oppressed and have to drag myself out of bed every day to go to class is more important of a right than someone’s First Amendment right to harass me.”
Alexander Holt, also a junior, expressed a sense of weariness.
“The reality of the situation is that black students, other students of color, faculty and staff of color, supportive faculty and staff who aren’t of color who have been putting in the work for way longer than a lot of the people standing here understand and realize, but at the end of the day we’re at another speak-out speaking about the same issues that we’ve been speaking about for ages,” he said. “At the end of the day we continue to talk about the same thing, over and over again, and people continue to say that they don’t see or don’t understand what’s going on. And I’m really tired of that. I’m tired of the fact that I have to force myself out of bed to get an education because I’ve been so busy working a second job trying to educate other people.”
In addition to demanding a zero-tolerance policy on white supremacy by Oct. 25, the Wake Forest University Anti-Racism Coalition also issued a demand on Monday that the university offer to “fund a mandatory African-American history class in all Forsyth County public schools.”
Rue, who was designated as a spokesperson for administration at Monday’s rally, said she couldn’t comment on the demand, adding, “That’s really outside of my area.”
Chris Lutz spoke on behalf of Hate Out of Winston, which called on Wake Forest University to take responsibility for addressing inequality beyond campus.
“Wake Forest University has had a heavy hand in branding the city as a ‘city of arts and innovation,’” he said. “Millions have been spent to build fancy buildings and attract wealthy outsiders. Small parts of the city benefit from opportunity and profit, but only for a few. Winston-Salem is a gilded city. A short drive off of this campus or outside the small downtown area, you find neighborhoods trapped in some of the highest concentrations of poverty in this country, abandoned after waves of layoffs decades ago and starved for resources ever since. Historically black neighborhoods are continuously hurt by the ever-encroaching tendrils of Wake Forest. How can we protect the longtime black residents of this city from the pain of this so-called innovation? How can we improve the schools, eliminate food deserts, end the evictions and ensure housing for all? How can we ensure the voices of black residents are heard? Wake Forest must end its parasitic relationship with the people of Winston-Salem and it must become an asset to this community.”
Steve Boyd, a professor of religion, said he is “grateful” for the students’ activism. He added that African-American enrollment has changed little since he came to Wake 35 years ago, and is nowhere near the 26 percent share that blacks hold in the Forsyth County population.
“We’re not reflective of the community we’re in,” Boyd said. “This semester I have 40 students in two classes — no African Americans. So one issue I’m really concerned about — we could do something about this — we need recruit African-American students, faculty and administrators. It’s got to be an educational and budget priority for our trustees, the administration and also the faculty.” Boyd added that there needs to be a “critical mass” of black students and faculty who can support each other and hold the university accountable, so the burden doesn’t fall on one or two students in a particular class.
Boyd also said it’s up to the administration to address a persistent climate of hostility towards students of color.
“I think it comes from the very top of the organization about what kind of speech is acceptable and what kind of speech is not,” he said. That’s not to say you infringe of people’s First Amendment rights. But you lead by example and by statements about what is appropriate and what is not, what will be tolerated on this campus and what will not. And by tolerated, I mean social censure. If it’s not cool to say it, people will stop saying it.”