As the national conversation surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement continues, several members of the AU community have called on the university to use its platform to take a stand.
Among other AU affiliates, alumnus Alphonso Blackwell, class of 2020, has offered his input and shared his experiences to shed light on the racial discrimination faced on campus.
“I have plenty of stories about my experiences of racism on AU’s campus,” said Blackwell, citing incidents of racial slurs used by students during public gatherings on campus, offensive comments left on the AndersonU App, a rock hurled at one of his friends and racial discrimination experienced during dorm room searches.
“The school does a bad job in saying that they have oppression of colored people on campus,” said Blackwell. “There’s only a handful of minority staff members and none that actually get to make major decisions. It was hard to talk about my experiences with racism to someone who has not experienced the same things that I have.”
Despite these negative experiences, AU holds a special place in Blackwell’s heart, and he hopes to see his alma mater contribute to the national conversation.
“I love AU—don’t get me wrong—but this school does a really really bad job on supporting minority students and staff,” said Blackwell. “We have to support one another, but the school has to come out and say Black Lives Matter. It’s not hard. AU can’t get better if we don’t support our minority students and actually try to help—not just make another dang meeting.”
Over the summer, Dr. Joel Shrock, associate provost and dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioral Science, saw this need for a campus-wide discussion about racism—institutional and individual—and started brainstorming ways to shed light on the matter.
“It started with the provost this summer when the Black Lives Matter movement was really roiling nationally and as it continues to roil. We continue to see African Americans who seem to suffer from a disproportionate level of force used by the police,” said Shrock. “That hasn’t just started now. That’s been a historic thing. We just have social media now that makes it easier to see it—easier to spread—and the provost came to us and said ‘What can we do?’”
Along with other campus leaders, Shrock began to develop the plan for a series that highlights different areas of racism.
While AU’s past is rich with stories of historically radical inclusivity and equality, Shrock recognizes that campus has never been immune to issues of racism.
“Anderson University, previously Anderson College, did amazing things for the time—incredible things. Dunn Hall was named after an African American pastor,” said Shrock. “But we’ve also struggled. The fact that students have come here and experienced issues with race—that’s real. We cannot deny that, and we don’t want to. What we want to do is try to move forward and try to make it a better place—try to solve some of these problems.”
Shrock noted that the national conversation of racism is far from new and that racism has been festering in this country since long before its founding.
“I know people get really frustrated,” said Shrock. “‘Why are we still talking about this?’ We’re talking about it because it’s only been one generation since Jim Crow and voting restrictions have gone away. They still existed when I was born. I am not that old. It is a problem that is not easily solved and it will never be solved if we don’t do something.”
The series that Shrock has organized is entitled “Black Lives Matter—How did we get here and where do we go?” and will take place in Reardon Auditorium on select dates throughout September and October.
Set to take place on Thursday, Sept.10, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., the first event in this series is called “Black Lives Matter—What is it all about?” and will be led by Michael Thigpen, director of the Cultural Resource Center.
“We need this conversation and not just as people on the campus right now, but as alum and as community leaders,” said Thigpen. “I think that’s the plan—to broaden this conversation because AU is just a part of a global community.”
The second event, “How does white supremacy work: Historical framework and continuing power” will take place on Thursday, Sept. 17, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
“I’m going to talk about the structures of white supremacy and how they exist and why they exist and how they are perpetuated, because they clearly are,” said Shrock.
Led by Dr. Jaye Rogers, chair of the department of history and political science, “The Civil Right Movement after 1954” is the third event in the series and will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 22, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
The fourth event, “Microaggression training,” will be led by Dr. Lolly Bargerstock, professor of social work, and will take place on Thursday, Oct. 1, from 7 until 8:30 p.m. That will be followed by the final event on Thursday, Oct. 8, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., which will be a roundtable discussion with Michael Thigpen, Nathan Willowby, Juanita Taylor and a student.
“We all have a place in the conversation,” said Thigpen. “It’s not a black conversation or a white conversation. It’s not an Asian or Hispanic or Latino conversation. It’s a people conversation and everybody has a portion to add to it.”