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‘Peaceful and strong’ — Centre sit-in continues as students demand changes on racial issues

Centre College students continued a second day of peaceful protesting during a sit-in at Old Centre on Thursday. 

While visiting the sit-in Thursday afternoon, Dr. Andrea Abrams, professor of anthropology and chair of the Gender Studies Program at Centre said the college’s demographics have changed over the  past 10 years. “So the college needs to do some catching up,” Abrams said.

She believes the protest is “a reflection of the ways how the college has changed.”

She said the students did a wonderful job in organizing the protest and in expressing their needs.

“The administration has been very good at listening,” Abrams said. She believes the sit-in has enabled all students on Centre’s campus to hear each other’s stories.

Abrams said it was a positive thing that during the negotiation process, the students were better able to understand how the administration sees things, and the administration can better understand the students’ perspective.

(Robin Hart photo) Delia Smith, from Lexington and Vivian Bowles, from Louisville, study together on the front porch of Old Center Thursday morning.

While studying on a sofa in the entry hall of Old Centre Thursday afternoon, student and Danville native Emma Jackson said that during a meeting earlier this week, black students asked for the support of their white counterparts. She said they “needed the presence of white students because there is power in numbers.”

“I’m here just as a student. I’m not taking sides,” Jackson said. But she does think changes need to be made on campus so that all students feel safer. 

Jackson said during the past six to 10 years, Centre has been recruiting more minority students. But once they arrive on campus, they feel isolated, she said — isolated academically, socially and culturally.

She also thinks there have been many underlying issues and instances, such as some students saying hurtful things concerning black students, but the incidents were never addressed. She thinks when black students and other minorities brought up their concerns, the administration didn’t listen.

Jackson said when the negotiations ended at about 10 p.m. Wednesday, she was one of about 150 students who stayed overnight on the premises. She said the administration preferred that the students leave for the night but gave them permission to stay following a vote the students took on whether to stay or not. “That’s the point of a sit-in” Jackson said.

She said students brought inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags and hammocks, and teachers donated tents.

“It was peaceful, inside and outside. Peaceful and strong,” Jackson said.

The administration promised that their academic studies would not be hurt if they stayed overnight and insisted a few administration staff stayed with them. 

There was even a prayer circle later in the night, Jackson said. “It was a beautiful atmosphere.”

Centre College’s official Twitter account tweeted Wednesday night that “after nearly 10 hours of constructive dialogue on a range of issues, student leaders and President Roush have agreed to reconvene tomorrow morning to continue their conversations.”

Talks began again around 9:30 a.m. Thursday, according to the Centre College Twitter account. “The business of the college continues as usual, with classes still in session and all regular events taking place as scheduled,” read a tweet.

Michael Strysick, chief communications with Centre, said via text Thursday night that the talks with students are “very cooperative, respectful and productive.” 

Strysick said as far as the administration is aware, very few classes have been cancelled due to the protest.

The University of Kentucky Black Student Union is also becoming involved with Centre College students’ protest. UK BSU president Tsage Douglas said the organization is, “Heading a corrective effort throughout Kentucky to have a massive show of support through publicity, food and donations.”

Today (Friday), a group from UK BSU is coming to Centre’s campus with supplies of food, water and monetary donations, Douglas said.

“What is happening currently at Centre College will have an external effect in Kentucky when all students come together,” Douglas said.

Strysick seemed to agree with this.

“I’m hopeful that our important conversations about diversity and inclusion might spark similar conversations at other campuses. I further hope they will be as cooperative, respectful and productive as ours,” Strysick said.

Douglas said the BSU is also contacting some of their most prominent alumni to help “put more pressure on Centre’s administration to make the changes for minority students.”

SO YOU KNOW

The sit-in protest concerns a list of 44 original demands released by students earlier this week. The demands were made “as a result of recent racial incidents on campus targeting black students,” according to a “statement of intent” the students released with the demands.

The demands focus on six areas of the college. The original demands included:

• Athletic department: “active recruitment” of players and coaches of color; transparency when dealing with “racial discrimination/misconduct” by players and coaches; “racial sensitivity training” for the entire athletic department; required diversity training for head coaches; a “seasonal evaluation” of whether the athletic department is “being fair and inclusive;” and a “mandatory reporting tool” for instances of discrimination.

• Department of Public Safety: racial sensitivity training; a requirement that DPS officers “engage with students through intentional programming;” a way for students to report DPS officers for “inappropriate conduct;” transparency and input on the hiring of DPS officers; that a DPS officer be “on-post at all times;” that complaints against DPS not be handled by DPS; that a specific DPS officer be fired; and “active recruitment of DPS officers of color.”

• Dining services: The students’ original demands included a “wider variety of food options” to “accommodate cultural and religious dietary restrictions;” accurate labeling of “cultural dishes” in the dining hall; an investigation of how promotions are determined; racial and cultural sensitivity training; and input on the renewal of the contract for the current food provider, Sodexo.

• Diversity office: transparency in dealing with misconduct issues; hiring of a full-time “diversity and inclusion director” and a full-time “diversity and inclusion coordinator;” student involved in the hiring of the associate vice president for academic affairs and diversity initiatives; a temporary multicultural space and transparency on the creation of a permanent multicultural space; “hiring of counselors who reflect the demographics of the Centre College community;” hiring of an independent party to conduct surveys on diversity and inclusion; ongoing diversity training; an online reporting tool allowing students “to report fellow students and faculty and staff;” and inclusion of demographics information in the Centre directory.

• President’s office: increased recruitment of professors of color; a requirement for “convocations that deal with topics of diversity;” diversity training for all new faculty and staff and ongoing training for everyone; and “a mechanism … to address other needs of marginalized groups on campus.”

• Title IX office: more transparency; increased outreach to the student body; a third-party survey on Title IX issues; an evaluation of the Title IX office’s investigative processes; “open student forums to discuss policy” related to Title IX; release of “the full report of the data collected from the campus climate survey regarding sexual misconduct;” and “that the deputy Title IX coordinator make themselves visible to the campus community through outreach.”