Byline : Kayley Weeks / Staff Writer
Over the years, black students at USM have been forced to make their own safe spaces, and nobody has commended them for their leadership, activism, and organization efforts. “Instead we were demonized. We were told that we were too much. We were told we were too loud. We were told that we were too black, and were told our blackness was violence,” said Mariana Angelo, a former USM student who is now a community organizer for Black Power in Portland, ME. Black students have had to rely on each other and stay silent, due to the lack of infrastructures set into place by USM that would encourage and aid them to succeed.
On December 8, 2020, the student body presidents cabinet held a Zoom panel discussion called Naming and Framing Racism. There were a total of eight panelists which included both past and present USM Students. The discussion focused around the panelists own experiences with racism on campus, and how they would like to see the problems that they addressed resolved in the future. The discussion was led by Amran Osman who is a current student, and the Director of Racial Equity & Inclusion.
One topic that was highlighted throughout the discussion was that black students at USM are under represented. There is a high percentage of white students at USM, and the majority of people who hold power are also white. The positions mentioned included resident assistants, resident directors, the head of housing, academic advisors and professors.
The panelists shared their negative experiences in the residential halls, in the classroom, as well as with their academic advisors. “There isn’t a strong push or effort from the administration to find individuals who represent the student body, and what they need within their four years at USM,” Angelo said. The panelists emphasised that it is important to them to have faculty that they can relate to across all departments.
Further in the discussion, panelists explained that USM does not offer any educational diversity workshops for students and faculty. Many nearby universities already have these programs in place. Students are often put in a position where they have to educate their peers, coaches, and professors about racial equity and equality.
“Workshops will help bring more awareness, so we can feel like we are understood and we are heard,” said Abedom Gebreyesus, a current student at USM. The students explained to the audience that the university has been pushing the narrative that is up to black students to hold workshops, and to create their own sense of belongingness on campus. A forward step for USM would be to hire a black administration member to organize educational workshops, like the workshop held on December 8th. Panelists expressed their interest in student involvement for this hiring process to make sure the person hired will facilitate these conversations.
Panelists also proposed that workshops regarding racism should be mandatory for all students to attend. At the beginning of the semester, USM put a book on display all around campus entitled “How to be an Anti Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi. Students were strongly encouraged to read the book, however, not all students are willing to read a book on a volunteer basis if a problem is not impacting them directly. Students who spoke felt that the book was a way for USM to address racism on campus without starting the conversation. Besides being strongly encouraged the book was never mentioned afterwards, and there were no discussions held by professors. The panelists introduced an alternative solution which is for USM to hold mandatory workshops as previously stated, or adding mandatory class time to educate students such as a required one credit course for incoming freshman students.
The panelists concluded that USM must start to make a change by showing that they are concerned and actually care for students of color, rather than continuing to treat them as an afterthought. The conversation must start with the administration. Administration and faculty need to be held accountable for equity and equality. Students are seeking an ally they can turn to at a departmental level, one they can share their concerns with. They are also looking for a system, from USM, that will give minorities a chance to succeed from here on out.