Junior Miles Middleton was the only black person in his freshman year hall.
“In that retrospect, I think that’s a little ridiculous,” Middleton said. “And I’m not telling them to fluctuate the number of how many minorities they accept a year. I’m just saying they need to at least have some type of purpose to include people.”
The spring semester of 2019 was a time of growing racial tensions, action and change at the university. A photograph of the dean of admissions, Martha Allman, surfaced, in which she is pictured standing in front of a large confederate flag in the 1982 Wake Forest yearbook, The Howler. After a campus-wide forum and subsequent speak-out, students demanded action and change from the administration regarding race relations on campus — first and foremost, a zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy.
A student activist group on campus, the Anti-Racism Coalition (ARC) created a list of demands in spring 2019. The university was quick to act on some of them, such as allotting a larger space on campus for the Black Student Alliance, providing them with a new lounge in Kitchin Residence Hall. However, they were less willing to compromise on some of the other demands.
“If Wake Forest wants to continue to proclaim that this institution welcomes and supports all students, then there needs to be a policy that explicitly states that white supremacy will not be tolerated,” said senior Tariq Shanks.
The university administration has seemed hesitant to implement a zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy. One concern for the administration regarding a zero-tolerance policy is figuring out what it would look like. The administration is cautious to include a policy that is not comprehensive.
“What do you mean by white supremacy?” said President Nathan Hatch. “Is wearing a Trump hat a sign of white supremacy?”
Dean of Students Adam Goldstein had similar questions and concerns to those of Hatch.
“We want to be careful about our use of terms, because what’s hate speech?” Goldstein said. “What’s free speech? What does free speech mean and what doesn’t it mean? You want to be really careful about how we are all either agreeing or disagreeing to those definitions. I would also [ask], what’s zero tolerance for white supremacy?”
Hatch also clarified how we must balance damage done to a person with standards of freedom of expression.
“The phrase is very simple, but the implementation is extremely complex,” Hatch said.
Many students feel the policy would be less complex than the university is letting on, and can be clear on what acts indicate white supremacy.
“White supremacy is any behavior or symbol that endorses the idea that white people are superior, or that people of color, Muslims, Jewish people and other marginalized communities are a threat to this country and the livelihoods of white people,” Shanks said.
So, what would such a policy look like and how would it be implemented?
“Just putting out a statement that says we don’t tolerate actual white supremacy,” Middleton said.
The university has certainly grown, and the administration, although hesitant to implement such a policy, appears to have become more attuned to what students of color are experiencing on campus.
In an effort to better understand what has occurred on campus, Hatch has set up new commissions to look at how the university handles issues of race: The President’s Commission on Race, Equity and Community and the Committee on the Intersection of Bias, Expression and Conduct. Further, the Slavery, Race, and Memory Project has been made more public by the establishment of its own website.
“I think that what I heard about the lived experience of people who had experienced overt racism or sort of more implicit racism,” Hatch said in reference to conversations from last spring. “I think there were some very poignant stories that had a huge impact on me and how do we build this campus to be a place where everyone feels at home.”
Goldstein said that when he experiences anti-Semitism, he feels fear and anger and for that reason, he is very aware of the troubling and damaging effects of white supremacy.
“It’s a scary world right now,” he said, “and I think it’s scarier than it was five years ago. For some, people view these issues as issues of policy and law. For others, they view these issues as issues of human dignity. For me, these are human dignity issues. Yet, I understand that there is a legal framework and there’s also a policy framework.”
This is not just a university-specific issue. Campuses all over the country are struggling with issues of race and inclusion. Students and administration alike are feeling the pressures from our more polarized culture, especially in the years of the Trump presidency.
“There have been white supremacist actions on campuses across the United States. For example, at American University, black students were called racial slurs, threatened and found bananas hanging around the campus,” Shanks said. “Also, Syracuse University students protested after discovering racist graffiti in a first-year dormitory. All these examples support the need for a zero-tolerance for white supremacy.”
Students expressed that our divisive culture is even more of a reason for the university to be a leader in our mission for Pro Humanitate and implement a policy of zero-tolerance for white supremacy.
Moving into the new year, the university will continue to grapple with issues of race, especially in the greater context of white supremacy, which our entire country is finding to be more common in day-to-day life.
There will also be the acts of white supremacy on campus that most students and administrators will never hear about. Students of color live in fear of white supremacy and many of these vicious acts will continue to go unreported.
“Obviously I can point to the Dean Allman thing like a thousand times, and I can point to the little instances that happen on campus,” Middleton said. “But there are a lot of stories that we just don’t know.”