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  • Jamesia M. St. Louis

Signs of racial insensitivity at Coastal

The purpose of this Opinion piece is to amplify the voices of students who are not only black or African American but whose voices often get lost in the process of asking for change when it comes to racial insensitivity at Coastal. This article is not only bringing light to a very clear issue that often goes unreprimanded but is also offering suggestions, given by students who are directly affected.

Some students at Coastal Carolina University wonder if they are truly a part of Teal Nation, and I am one of them.

For a week, students in the Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts boycotted their theater classes by refusing to attend class and sitting in the Edwards courtyard. As The Chanticleer reported on Sept. 23, the boycott began after Steven Earnest, a professor in the Theatre department, replied to an email chain sent by the chair of the department, Eric Hall.

Hall’s initial email chain responded to student reports of a list of students’ names being left on a theatre classroom whiteboard. The professor who created the list was white, but the students listed were not. During the boycott, students in the theatre department were seen dressed in all-black attire and hanging signs around the Edwards building.

According to The Chanticleer, Hall’s email acknowledged the list as “dehumanizing” and “hurtful,” however Earnest replied to the email chain “Sorry but I dont think its a big deal. Im just sad people get their feelings hurt so easily. And they are going into Theatre?” Earnest in a later email thanked students for their hate mail and said he was just defending the guest artist.

After the five-day boycott on Sept. 24, a student town hall meeting was led by CCU’s Student Government Association (SGA) and various school organizations to address students' concerns about racial insensitivity at Coastal.

Dr. Gary Schmidt, a professor and department chair in the Edwards College, said racial insensitivity involves a lack of unawareness that an individual does not recognize nor attempt to correct.

“When dealing with people from different racial backgrounds, [it’s] an unwillingness to understand the unique perspectives of those individuals, their experiences, life history, and their different positions, either within an institution or a society at large, that may lead to people from different backgrounds experiencing different events in a different way,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said he believes it's important for faculty to have an awareness of how “people experience different events, different actions in a different way based on not just their own personal life experiences but also on the community of the group that they identify with.”

Some students who attended the town hall meeting, however, said they feel Coastal downplays incidents of racism and that professors don't really care for students who are not white.

Trinity Mccoy, an Edwards College student, said as someone who identifies as a black person, she feels lost in the theatre department. Mccoy said she would overall like to see more professors who look like her at Coastal.

“It's hard but I'm here for an education,” Mccoy said.

In the Communication department, where I am a student, there are very few of the 26 professors within the department that are not white.

Many of my professors are previous broadcast journalists yet none of them look like me, none of them share a similar background as me, and it's harder for them to understand the struggles I face as a black person trying to pursue a career in this field. That is a problem many students at also Coastal face: there’s not enough representation of diversity in the faculty.

During the town hall, some students also gave examples of microaggressions they have faced at Coastal. Euniqua Jones, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Color People (NAACP), gave a heartfelt plea as she begged Chief of Staff Travis Overton to let students help with racially insensitive issues at Coastal.

When asking for time off after the bereavement passing of her brother, Jones said a faculty member told her that her racial background was causing Jones’ stress.

On the surface, comments like these may not seem like they have a deep effect or meaning, but overall, microaggressions like this assume people of the same race have the same cultural experiences, and that’s not true.

I believe a way to fix the issues surrounding racial insensitivity at Coastal, is to take public action against professors and faculty members who display actions or say things that are harmful to members of the CCU community. Making an example out of one may sound harsh but what else can you do if a group within your community doesn’t feel accepted in a place that’s supposed to be their home.

Another way to fix the issue of racial insensitivity is to hire a more diverse staff of professors and faculty members. This would help students not only feel more at home but also help Coastal present an accurate representation of their overall population.

Students at the town hall meeting also said it should be mandatory that every semester faculty and staff complete diversity and equity training. The training is already a requirement students must complete when wanting to be a part of certain organizations on campus.

Students who experience or witness acts of racial insensitivity, microaggression, or racism, in general, can make an anonymous, confidential report to University Compliance through the Ethicspoint hotline either online or by calling 855-595-9580. Ethicspoint is not 911 or emergency services.

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