VIDEO: Students hold sit-in, make demands at president’s house

The small lobby of VCU president Michael Rao’s office was packed with students dressed in all black this morning.

Following the events at the University of Missouri, students brought their concerns about issues of race to the doorstep of VCU’s administration at a sit-in at the president’s house, following a demonstration of a few hundred students in the Compass yesterday.

Photo by Brooke Marsh
Photo by Brooke Marsh

During the hour-long discussion with Rao this morning, students spoke about their frustrations with not having enough black counselors, mental health resources or faculty to facilitate their learning at VCU.

While yesterday’s event in the Compass was a demonstration in solidarity with students at the University of Missouri facing threats on and off their campus, today’s event at Rao’s office was solely focused on making a list of demands of the VCU administration.

These demands included topics regarding cultural competency training for all students and faculty, increased hiring of black faculty and staff, more funding for black centered multicultural programming and a need for safe spaces for black students on campus.

“We’ve done a lot of talking. Where’s the action?” asked one sit-in participant.

Students demanded the percentage of black faculty be raised from 4.7 percent to 10 percent by the 2017-2018 academic year, as well as an increase in the proportion of tenured black professors.

Yesterday in the Compass, a student asked vice president for Diversity and Inclusion, Wanda Mitchell, a question on the same topic.

Mitchell responded by saying the numbers of minority faculty who are adjunct and tenured at VCU reflect that there’s a lot of work to do and the university is starting the process.

In a December 2014 presentation to the Board of Visitors, Mitchell stated VCU’s faculty consisted of 706 tenured professors in Fall 2014. Of those, 564 were White, 74 were Asian, 37 Black/African American and 14 Hispanic/Latino.

Another discussion topic on Thursday was the possibility of integrating diversity training and conversation on issues of race into required UNIV 101 courses for freshmen.

Currently, the one credit class covers topics such as career development and time management tailored to individual groups of students.

Photo by Brooke Marsh
Photo by Brooke Marsh

“UNIV 101 was a waste of my time. Everything taught in there I could have learned on my own or already knew. Instead, by adding discussions of race and gender identity we can make this a transformative experience for new students,” said a sit-in participant.

Rao listened carefully to students’ concerns and acknowledged the existence of racism on campus and throughout larger society.

Black lives matter. Being black in this country is completely different than being like anyone else, and you cannot understand it unless you are black,” Rao said.

Ashleigh Shackelford, a student studying business administration, stressed the importance of challenging the system to enact change.

“Right now, Black Lives Matter in terms of a movement is at a pivotal moment. It’s important that we challenge institutions to center us in their initiatives, their funding, their decision making and representation,” Shackelford said.

Yesterday afternoon, shortly after students began convening in the Compass, Rao sent an email to the VCU community regarding the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

“One of the most important voices in this national conversation is our students’, and I am proud of the civil and productive ways they are making themselves heard.  Open dialogue is critical in any discussion, and VCU will always support everyone’s right to voice their concerns,” the email stated.

The email also stated VCU’s commitment to diversity is unrelenting and the student body is the most diverse of any university in Virginia.

On Wednesday evening, Rao sent a second email to the VCU community announcing a Diversity and Inclusion forum will be held at 12 p.m. next Wednesday, Nov. 18 in the Student Commons, Richmond Salons 3 and 4, in light of the demonstration in the Compass.

Yesterday's demonstration in solidarity with U. Mo. in the Compass. Photo by Travis Ellison.
Yesterday’s demonstration in solidarity with U. Mo. in the Compass. Photo by Travis Ellison.

See more photos from yesterday’s demonstration here.


Multimedia Editor, Margaret Carmel

12033240_10207878379380399_5898842611627224744_nMargaret Carmel is a senior broadcast journalism major with minors in international social justice and Middle Eastern studies and a certificate in global education. Her dream job is to make documentaries overseas, specifically in the Middle East. You can usually find Margaret at the movies or looking for more books to read. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Portfolio

carmelml@commonwealthtimes.org

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