Protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown prompted a discussion among several student leaders at UTC, who exchanged their thoughts about what racism looks like in the 21st century. Those discussions motivated the students to take action.
The Black Issues Steering Committee began a speaker series this semester, to discuss issues in the black community “in an effort to deepen students’ knowledge of the institutional and structural hurdles Black Americans face,” said Robert Fisher, one of the students involved in planning the series.
On October 7, “A Discussion of Black men and Education Equity” drew more than 70 people to the Multicultural Center on the UTC campus. Two more events are planned, one in October and one in November.
“A Discussion of Health Justice in the Black Community” will be held on Tuesday, October 28, at 7 p.m. in the Multicultural Center, located on the third level of the UTC University Center. The UTC University Center is located between East Fifth Street and Vine in the 600 block.
Dr. Shewanee Howard-Baptiste, Assistant Professor in the Department of Exercise Science at UTC, will lead the discussion. Howard-Baptiste has researched experiences of black female faculty in higher education, the role of stress and teaching strategies for minority faculty, and health education curriculum in Haiti.
Fisher, a Brock Scholar who is serving his second term as Student Government Association (SGA) President and was recently named a 2014 Truman Scholar, says SGA is working with the Black Issues Steering Committee. The common goal of the two groups is to move beyond discussion and influence policy.
“Among the early ideas was the development of a more robust UTC Africana Studies Program, with both historical and philosophical context,” Fisher explained.
Additionally, the group would like to see Student Development encourage more cross-cultural impact on leadership development. Fisher said the group would also like to see more structure and support provided to more student leaders.
Students involved in this movement realize change will not happen quickly. Fisher says there are sophomores, juniors, and seniors involved, indicating continuity in their efforts.
Plans are coming together for a one-day conference in late February with a keynote speaker and one or two plenary speakers. Fisher is hoping to include community and campus leaders in workshops with opportunities for students to lead small discussions.
“UTC is not unique in having these discussions. Students in universities across the country are also participating in the dialogue,” Fisher said.
Looking ahead, Fisher says there is a possibility SGA will support additional groups, like those who advocate on behalf of the LGBTQQIA movement and the growing Hispanic student population.