With a sign reading “End WFU’s White Supremacy” centered in the background, students took to a makeshift stage on Manchester Plaza to share their experiences as persons of color on Wake Forest’s campus and to advocate for two new demands put forth by the Wake Forest University Anti-Racism Coalition (ARC). The event, which was hosted by ARC on Monday evening, was the result of their boycott of the community conversation hosted by the university administration on April 17 (To learn more about the event and the boycott, refer to the article titled “Administration hosts community conversation” on Page 4).
After students of color shared testimonies, a representative from ARC, who did not self-identify, called for President Nathan Hatch, Dean of Admissions Martha Allman and Associate Dean of Admissions Kevin Pittard to come up onto the stage and apologize. Hatch, who was present for the entirety of the event, did not speak.
Although the ARC representative stated that the three administrators were “notified beforehand,” Hatch said in an interview with the Old Gold & Black that he was not contacted prior to the event and asked to speak.
“This was a time for persons of color to speak,” Hatch said. “If I had been asked to say certain things, I might have questioned it because of the nature of the evening, but I could have done it. However, I didn’t feel like, in the spur of the moment, I could have adequately conveyed something.”
Further, Hatch discussed how he was unsure of the nature of the apology ARC was requesting.
“I wasn’t sure what the apology should be. I’ve apologized to [ARC] and I’ve apologized in public to the college faculty and to the senate,” Hatch said. “When it was asked for [Allman’s] dismissal, I made the institutional judgment that she would be retained, and I conveyed that decision in the form of accepting her apology, and I don’t think that was the right way to do it. So, I am sorry for the quick acceptance of the apology, that was not mine to accept … I came [to the speak out] to listen, so I was not prepared to speak. I was just surprised.”
Although Hatch, Allman and Pittard did not speak that evening, ARC cited that the event aimed to address the previous apologies from the administrators.
“The speak out was hosted in direct response to the insufficient apologies issued by Martha Allman, Kevin Pittard, and Nathan Hatch in a private space, which specifically went against what ARC requested — a public address and reconciliation of their complicity in anti-black racism and dedication to the comprehensive elimination of white supremacy from Wake Forest’s campus,” said the ARC in an email to the Old Gold & Black.
Allman and Pittard were not at the event. Jose Villalba, vice president of diversity and inclusion, was also not present at the event; last week, he told the Old Gold & Black he was unable to attend because he was out of town spending time with family.
Ultimately, much of the event focused on creating a space for students to tell stories and share their thoughts about the presence of white supremacy on campus. After an opening statement and the setting of ground rules, which included not engaging counter-protestors and not needing to share one’s name, the microphone was opened up to the audience.
Jenny Mai, a first-year divinity student and Wake Forest undergraduate alumna, was the first to address the crowd. Mai emphasized that much has not changed since she first came onto campus four years ago, noting incidents of police violence and students of color being called racial slurs.
“I want to bring testimony to the fact that Wake Forest continues to be in complacency to white supremacy, and pretends like it doesn’t occur or happen on this campus,” Mai said.
Junior Alexander Holt also shared his experience as a student of color on campus, citing how he has been worn down by needing to educate others about issues of racism and white supremacy.
“In the past semester that I’ve been back on campus, I have experienced more stress, more emotional damage and more inability to handle things than I ever have in my entire life. And it’s not, at the end of the day, because things are different. It’s not even because I’m aware, because I was aware when I came to a speak out this time last year when things were happening,” Holt said. “I was aware when I sat in my freshman dorm and had a conversation about diversity and inclusion that went differently. As I was aware of all of these things, but I didn’t anticipate how the stacking of these things overtime would impact me.”
In total, 12 Wake Forest students spoke, as well as a representative from Hate Out of Winston, a group working to fight against racism in the Winston-Salem area, and two Winston-Salem State students, De’Naija Sims-Wilsner and Jasanna Quaye.
Provost Rogan Kersh was among many members of faculty and staff in the crowd, including Dean Matthew Clifford and Vice President of Student Life Penny Rue.
“I feel deeply pained, profoundly distressed and proud of the courage of our students,” Kersh said. “I teach, among other things, civic engagement. So, to see our students in a time, nationally and even globally, it is hard to stand up and articulate difficult truths. The fact that they are able to do so is a source of genuine pride and a hope for the future.”
Along with creating a space to allow students of color to bring testimony to their time at Wake Forest, the event also served as a platform for ARC to share two new demands: the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy by Oct. 25 and for the university “to offer to fund a mandatory African-American history course in all Forsyth County public schools.”
“We hoped to make it clear that Wake Forest University must begin the process of reconciliation by listening to its students of color, who bear the unfair burden of enduring racism while also pursuing higher education,” said ARC in an email to the Old Gold & Black. “We also wished to further express the need for a zero tolerance policy for white supremacy and believe the speak out vocalized why this policy is necessary to the furthest extent.”
In an interview with the Old Gold & Black, Hatch addressed both of their requests. While noting the complexity of establishing a zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy that “can be done in light of [the] code of conduct and … commitment to freedom of expression,” Hatch explained that the committee tasked with reviewing the bias report system (see article below) would most likely be done with their examination of the system by the Oct. 25 deadline.
“These are complicated issues,” Hatch said. “If I see statements of white supremacy, it is clear they will be condemned and, if appropriate discipline is necessary, that will happen. When you get into a policy, there are a lot of complicated issues that have to be taken into account. There are other issues of Islamophobia and antisemitism, all of which are sort of in the same category and in which, from time to time, you have students on campus who feel aggrieved.”
In regards to the call for funding for African-American History courses for Forsyth schools, ARC noted in an email to the Old Gold & Black that the idea was first conceptualized by Hate Out of Winston.
“Although the original demand for a county-wide African-American history class was not our own, we believe that one of the many ways to dismantle white supremacy is through inclusive, authentic education,” ARC said. “Black students deserve to have their histories and presences normalized in academia.”
Hatch discussed that the most pressing issue is the state of our campus. However, he noted the importance of the public school curriculum and that it is something he would discuss with Winston-Salem State University and Salem College.
“I am sure the process of changing the public school curriculum is complicated. It is certainly an issue worth raising, of how much African-American history studies are in the public schools,” Hatch said. “And we have increasing close relationships with all the universities in the area including WSSU. We have a forthcoming meeting, and I think that is an issue worth bringing to that consolidated body.”
As the crowd dissipated Monday evening, small groups of students continued to discuss the events of the night among themselves. Senior Sierra Leslie was among those remaining.
“Someone said white supremacy doesn’t present itself in one way, it presents itself in multiple ways. And that is something I’ve definitely noticed,” Leslie said. “Even now, in my last few weeks here, I have been starting to notice it profoundly. I don’t know, my spirit is kind of dampened right now. But, I came here with good intentions. We are here to support each other, so I have to keep that in mind.”