black undergraduate life petition

Amid the international resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and incidents of NC State students using racial slurs coming to light over the summer, the NC State Coalition of Black Organizations and leaders created a petition in June 2020, demanding that the University make efforts to advance Black undergraduate life. Student Body President Melanie Flowers worked with several Black student organizations, including Nubian Message and the University Activities Board’s Black Students Board, to create the petition.

As of February 2021, the university administration is still in the process of meeting the petition’s demands. However, Flowers said she was pleased with the University’s response to the petition thus far, but the demands on the petition were not new requests. 

Chancellor Randy Woodson met with student leaders about the petition prior to its publication and committed to addressing the demands. Flowers said it was “really amazing” to hear that the University had committed to addressing the petition’s demands. The Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity (OIED) has been the primary department in ensuring and making these changes. 

1. We demand that representatives from the NC State Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity (OIED) must have regular (once a month) meetings with the leaders of Black organizations on campus to ensure that the University is actively listening to Black students' concerns.

According to OIED’s diversity landing page, this demand was addressed on June 22, 2020, after Woodson’s initial meeting with the NC State Coalition of Black Organizations.

Several OIED members now meet monthly with Black student organization leaders, along with Flowers, to discuss administrative progress in addressing the petition’s demands. Flowers said the meetings have been helpful and are used to give updates  regarding the progress on initiatives to make campus more inclusive and safe.

2. We demand that all incoming NC State faculty and staff must complete sensitivity training, upon employment and repeated every 3 years, on how to navigate and address racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discriminatory and violent language/actions. While the selection of the training program will be the responsibility of the university, the program must be evidence-based and not bid-based in order to ensure maximum effectiveness. This should be enacted by the end of the Fall 2020 semester.

OIED automatically registered staff and students for a highly-requested diversity, equity and inclusion training on Feb. 1 in order to meet this demand. Students and staff must complete the training by April 1. Faculty received the same training during the fall semester. 

According to Sheri Schwab, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity, OIED had difficulty meeting this demand due to Executive Order 13950, which prohibited employers from giving certain diversity training. President Joe Biden revoked the executive order on Jan. 20.

Flowers said the training provides a groundwork, but she wants to expand the initiative by hosting in-person sessions whenever possible.

She also expressed her disappointment that training only became a priority after students created this petition and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others. Flowers stated that Black student leaders spent their entire summer trying to get the University back on track.  

“I think it was heartening to see that we could move forward, and it also was just like ‘Dang, it really took us until this year to do something,’” Flowers said. “And that was disappointing. So, I’m excited and frustrated.”

3. We demand that NC State hires a full-time director for the AACC by the end of the fall 2020 semester. The director position has been vacant for a full academic school year. The hiring process should include students, having students appointed to the hiring committee. 

Angela Gay-Audre, who previously worked as the assistant director of the Women’s Center, became the new director of the African American Culture Center (AACC) on Sept. 8.

4. We demand that in addition to the currently required training, NC State requires all student organization leaders to complete a yearly training focusing on diversity and inclusion. If they do not complete this, they will not be able to register as a university-affiliated organization.  

According to Schwab, Executive Order 13950 also led to difficulties in completing this demand. Additionally, Schwab said not being on campus during the fall semester impeded the process of hiring student leaders to facilitate the training.

“A lot of those trainings benefit the most from in person, and we had set things up moving towards an in-person experience, and when that didn’t happen, we all have had to shift,” Schwab said. “But I know it’s being planned.”

Schwab said two graduate students have been hired to lead the training, and the curriculum is currently in progress.

5. We demand that a mandatory in-person diversity and inclusion training be added to the Greek life Standards of Excellence requirement. At least 75% of the chapter must attend the training. The training will specifically be geared towards Greek life. The training will be decided by the Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life based on evidence of efficiency.

Fraternity and Sorority Life chapters participate in the Encouraging Positive Interventions within Chapters (EPIC) program annually, rotating between topics, including sexual assault prevention, diversity and inclusion and alcohol and other drugs, each year. By the end of three years, chapter members should have completed all three trainings.

“Because the Panhellenic community is a majority white space, it’s important that they do take opportunities that are intentionally going to educate them on how to interact with people that don’t look like them,” Flowers said. “Especially because when there are diverse students who are a part of Panhellenic, they’re always in the minority. They need to have just as welcoming of an experience as their white counterparts.”

With diversity, equity and inclusion training now required of all students, faculty and staff by April 1, Schwab said OIED is working to decide the best ways to augment prior trainings.

“Truthfully, with diversity and inclusion training, we know one and done is never going to be enough,” Schwab said. “It’s a continuous process. We certainly want to have the topics introduced to students as they’re coming on board, but it will be numerous times that we hope that people will have interaction with the concepts of the training.”

According to the OIED website, chapter presidents completed a virtual diversity, equity and inclusion training session over the summer, with facilitated video discussions in August 2020.

6. We demand that NC State administration releases a clear and detailed protocol of the Strategic Plan Taskforce before the start of the Fall 2020 semester. The administration should allow a window for public feedback. This protocol must explicitly state how it will benefit Black students. The protocol will be distributed via email and posted on a webpage. 

All nine task forces underwent a period of public feedback during fall 2020, including the diversity, equity, inclusion and well-being task force. Faculty, staff and students had the opportunity to send in written comments or criticisms.

The strategic plan executive steering committee, of which Schwab is a member, created six primary goals after working with the nine task forces. In early March, faculty, staff and students will be able to provide feedback on the goals, Flowers said. 

According to the OIED website, all steering committee members “will be charged to ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion, including an anti-racism lens, is incorporated into all aspects of the Strategic Plan.”

Schwab said steering committee members have been discussing the goals with students and faculty during meetings, and the task force is still working to meet this demand.

7. We demand the creation of a designated fund that allows Alumni and community member’s donations to be directly used for Black organizations, student spaces, and Black life on campus continuously throughout the year. The current fund, the African American Cultural Center Enrichment Fund, is not available continuously throughout the year. The dispersion of funds will be determined by the directors of the AACC and MSA.

According to Schwab, the AACC now has a giving page open for donations to the AACC Enrichment Fund any day of the year. The Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) Enrichment Fund is also available through the MSA giving page.

Additionally, Schwab said there was a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion during the 2020 Day of Giving. According to Flowers, there will be a spotlight on scholarships for Black students during Day of Giving events in the future.

8. We demand that the Black Male Initiative Village shall only relocate if there is an overwhelming majority of BMI students affirming the relocation. 

Movement of the Black Male Initiative Village “did not come to fruition,” according to Schwab. University Housing has been in contact with student leaders of the Black Male Initiative since the petition’s publication, Schwab said.

Flowers also mentioned that Student Government is currently trying to create a Women of Color Village.

9. We demand that the NC State administration actively recruits and hires Black individuals for all positions including faculty and staff. The university should work to gradually increase the percentage of Black faculty and staff each year. 

OIED’s work to meet this demand is “in progress continuously,” according to the department’s website. Over 35 staff members completed the Diverse Faculty/Staff Recruitment Certification, meant to train individuals in recruiting diverse employees.

10. We demand that the NC State administration install increased lighting throughout the entirety of the Brickyard and the areas surrounding Talley Student Union. The lack of proper lighting has raised several safety concerns, preventing students from feeling safe while walking in these areas.

Schwab said OIED will be able to work more to address concerns about lighting this semester since students were not on campus during fall 2020. 

However, lighting on campus has been increasing each year, and there are plans to add more lighting in the future, according to Schwab.

Flowers said lighting has “improved substantially” since the petition’s creation, and NC State Facilities are in the process of installing more LED lighting.

Students can stay updated with university responses to the petition through the OIED diversity landing page.

“I’m really proud to see all the strides that NC State has made,” Flowers said. “There have definitely been some frustrating lower points, like the Chadwick Seagraves investigation, but overall, I feel like NC State is talking about Black students in ways we weren’t talking about Black students when I first came to campus, and that’s really amazing to see. And I feel like I’m definitely leaving a university that’s much more conscious of the role it has to play, and it can play, in society."