By Arlenis Marmolejos
The listening session consisted of faculty and students in the Multicultural Center (Photo by Arlenis Marmolejos)
Following the death of Tyre Nichols, Purchase students gathered to dispute what they called a lack of institutional support given to people of color and continue the conversation of discrimination on campus.
“It’s time for y’all to act up!” said Navah Little, a senior and co-president of the Queer People of Color (QPOC) club, speaking at a Feb. 1 gathering at the Multicultural Center. “We’re asking for equity—not equality. Spend more time on us, spend more money on us, spend more humility on us. We’re just trying to get our diplomas!”
The college’s chief diversity officer, Lisa Miles-Boyce, planned the listening session dedicated to students to share their feelings and process Nichols’ death at the hands of the police. Miles-Boyce noted how an “expression of frustration and rage” was elevated within the room as students spoke on the disenfranchisement of people of color and their need for administrative support.
“I don’t want to appear to be putting a burden on the individuals asking for a fix in the institution, but I need to invite you and not assume I know what you need from faculty,” said Miles-Boyce.
Summer Carty, a sophomore and the vice president of the Organization of African People in the Americas (OAPIA) club, had concerns about the college’s communication regarding racial advocacy on campus. “This meeting was sent under an email and not advertised anywhere else,” Carty said. “There is a lot of hurt and pain that a lot of us feel, and no action taken by the administration.”
Students of color have shared their experiences of racism in not only the education system, but their classrooms as well.
“Being in class and recognizing how professors see you and not even care about your existence is insane,” said Akilo Kelly, a sophomore and secretary of the QPOC club.
University Police Chief Dayton Tucker condemned the actions of the Memphis officers. “To be a police officer, you must have love in your heart,” he said. “That was hate in their hearts, it was hateful—not black not white, just hate!”
Tyre Nichols, 29, was a photographer and father who was murdered by five Memphis police officers in early January (Photo via "AP News")
Tucker released a statement on Jan. 28 noting that University Police are “recruited and trained to the highest standards in law enforcement and undergo annual and bi-annual training in de-escalation, anti-bias policing, and interacting with persons who are in crisis.”
Tristen Tomlin, a senior and the president of the Political Science Club, said that most people of color feel like they’re under constant surveillance by the police officers on campus. “You don’t feel safe,” he said. “You feel watched.”
Janis Astor del Valle, assistant professor of arts management and chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEIC), said she hopes her committee can be a resource in better connecting, welcoming, and creating dialogue and an overall better experience on campus for students.
“We want to make this campus truly a more diverse and inclusive environment and not just talk the talk but walk the talk,” said Astor del Valle.
Alondra Martinez-Geronimo, a senior and president of the Latinos Unidos Club, said, “We just want to be part of these important conversations with administration as students who are involved on campus and recognize what is needed in support of the students.”
Samuel Galloway, an assistant professor of political science and the faculty advisor for the Political Science Club, works with students to build momentum in drafting ways to address the legacy of enslavement on campus grounds to the Purchase College website.
“A big piece that is missing is an open and honest acknowledgment that we’re on lands where people were enslaved. The way we move forward begins by owning our past,” said Galloway.
In an effort to bridge the communication gap between the administration and students, Miles-Boyce says she plans on establishing “working groups” where students can meet virtually with her to share their concerns. Receiving feedback on policies, practices, and specific instances of prejudice can help facilitate the action needed to move the Purchase community forward.
“It is one thing to sit and wonder, what can we do to alleviate this grief but what can we do to prevent this grief from occurring over and over again?” Kelly said.