On May 25, 2020 George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was murdered by a police officer who asphyxiated Floyd by kneeling on his neck for close to nine minutes. Floyd was arrested for alleged use of a counterfeit $20 bill. His murder was filmed and the video of the horrific act, in addition to the recent murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, sparked international outrage at police brutality, which led to protests and mobilized support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
What follows is a description of the response to this situation from William Jewell College and its organizations. A future article will be published highlighting the extensive involvement of members of the community in protesting and standing against racism and police brutality.
Administration and Student Senate
William Jewell College and members of the Jewell community have responded with condemnation of the murder, racism and police brutality. On June 1, Dr. Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, president of the College and chief diversity officer, and Mario Magaña, interim Student Senate president, released joint statements to condemn the racist act and call for unity and support within the community.
MacLeod Walls’ statement recognized the history of systemic racism and violence against black people in the U.S. and expressed empathy for people of color in, and beyond, the community. She also issued a call to action in the form of Radical Inclusivity from the Jewell community.
“But there is hope. Our Radical Inclusivity work at Jewell has helped us not only to identify our challenges, but also to embrace our Values of Authentic Engagement, Inclusive Communities, and Courageous Citizenship as we continue to have difficult conversations about race, equity, and justice on our campus. The Jewell Family is nothing if not honest, kind, direct, and critically minded; we don’t varnish the truth nor do we exaggerate the problem. We are pursuing meaningful lives—which is why we will continue to encounter this moment with awareness, compassion, forthrightness, and commitment,” the statement said.
MacLeod Walls announced plans for a “structured dialogue” to be hosted by Stephenie and Rodney Smith of Sophic Solutions later in June. More information will be released in the coming weeks. MacLeod Walls also called for critical reflection upon the issues and praised responses from the Jewell community.
In a comment to The Hilltop Monitor, MacLeod Walls described her process of formulating her response to the current situations.
“I seek wisdom from my colleagues and others in the community as I write drafts of the statement,” said MacLeod Walls. “I also reach out to my peers at other institutions, seeking their wisdom. In this case my interactions with [Magaña] were also extremely helpful in terms of striking the right tone and approach.”
When asked about Jewell’s relationship to local police, MacLeod Walls said that Jewell has no formal affiliation with the local police departments. She said that if police will be on campus, they will be expected to abide by Jewell’s anti-harassment policies. Similarly, campus safety officers are “partners and vendors” who are expected to abide by the anti-harassment policy. MacLeod Walls did not mention any formal anti-harassment training given to campus safety officers or local police by the College.
On the evening of June 2, MacLeod Walls’ letter was linked in a post on William Jewell College’s Facebook page, along with a highlighted portion, which read:
“We will, as we always do, come together to ask reflective questions, apply critical thought, and act with purpose in response to the turbulent and divisive moment in which we are living. In the meantime, I applaud our Jewell community, and especially our students, for embracing every person—and everyone’s lived experience—in order to make us better, stronger, and more whole both as a College and as a nation.”
Several Jewell alumni expressed disapproval in the post’s comment section, particularly the statement’s failure to neither explicitly condemn police brutality nor reference the Black Lives Matter movement. As of this article’s publication, no other statement has been posted publicly to Jewell’s social media accounts.
When asked about the feedback, MacLeod Walls explained that social media can be an emotionally charged place for feedback and she encourages members of the community to view Jewell’s response holistically. She provided context for her motivation and thoughts while writing the statement.
“I chose to write to our community from the heart, reflecting on my own literal journey through the roots of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the current Equity and Justice movement represented in Montgomery, Alabama. Through this journey, I came to understand in a palpable way the interconnection between the past and the current injustices African Americans encounter in daily life. This injustice is precisely why Radical Inclusivity at William Jewell is such important work—and why it must continue. I ended my message with words of hope, because I believe that through critical thought and civil discourse, William Jewell will do what it does best: Create space for collaborative reflection and opportunities for meaningful change both on and off of our campus,” MacLeod Walls said.
Magaña’s statement on behalf of Student Senate explicitly and directly supported the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The statement described the goals of BLM and called for students to learn from and act on those goals.
“The message shared by the Black Lives Matter movement is simple: their lives matter just like anybody else’s,” the statement said. “We all have the right to life no matter our skin color, and no one should be treated differently because of it. A few of the radical and sustainable solutions proposed by the movement’s website are: Acknowledgement and Accountability for their Pain and Injustice, Divestment in the Police Force, and Investment in the Health and Prosperity of our Communities. With continued dialogue and conversation, we can all learn from this and find ways to reach a level of understanding.”
Magaña also called for students to take action within their own homes, own communities and on campus:
“Educate your families. Change has to start from within our homes before we can help those around us. We owe it to ourselves to teach those closest to us how to be accepting of others, no matter who they are.
Speak out against indifferences. We cannot just let our peers and families add to the divide between our communities. We especially cannot just sit back and let the Black community fight this battle alone.
Don’t be afraid to stand for what’s right. These times demand us to rise for the sake of the lives brutalized by an unjust and oppressive system. We must help build with them, and not take away from what must be accomplished.
Amplify their voices, but don’t drown out their message with selfishness. Join the movement with solidarity, understanding, and abolition; not for anarchism and instigation. BE THE DIFFERENCE! BE THE SUPPORT!”
In a comment to The Hilltop Monitor, Magaña described the motivation behind his statement.
“Senate’s response is my best effort to compile the various perspectives in the community, while not drowning out the message connected to Black Lives Matter movement. In this way, I offer up the support of Senate and my promise to keep the conversation ongoing. I also would like to challenge members of our community to continue to speak up and stand out for the sake of their neighbors in the Black community. The rest is up to you as people to make the difference on and off the Hill,” Magaña said.
Magaña began drafting his statement several days before its publication after he witnessed and reflected upon the Jewell community’s reaction to the murder of George Floyd, protests in his memory and BLM. He consulted with MacLeod Walls and Ernie Stufflebean, associate dean of students and director of residence life, before they decided to release joint statements.
“By simply taking the initiative to align the college with the movement and by standing in solidarity with the cause, we have proven how ready the school is to embrace radical inclusivity,” Magaña said. “With efforts like this, we are able to continue to educate our community and provide direction for activism. To be radically inclusive, means demonstrating extreme desire to accept and include those in our community. Our message should make it clear: that skin color is no exception to this definition.”
“Just please read the letters we sent out. I know these circumstances can create very polarizing opinions, but it is important that we do not divide from one another. Rather, we have to be prepared to engage, learn, and bridge the gaps through communication. Remember, Civil Rights are not a political issue. They’re a human issue,” Magaña concluded.
On May 31, Jewell’s athletic department posted a statement on its social media platforms in support and solidarity with people of color and condemning racism and hate.
Tom Eisenhauer, director of athletics, explained the motivation behind the post and the actions of the athletic department to support people of color in the Jewell community.
“Collectively, we felt it was important to issue a statement to show support for our students and staff of color. There were several staff members involved in the decision and we felt that staying silent was not an option. There are many people on our campus who are hurting right now and they need to know they are supported. That being said, a Tweet can’t be the end of the story. Our engagement must be greater,” Eisenhauer said.
Eisenhauer highlighted the need to recognize and acknowledge racism in our own community and on campus in order to help those hurting. This includes listening to and supporting students and staff of color who share their experiences and stories, in addition to actively providing opportunities for these stories to be shared.
“[The] campus embarked on the Radical Inclusivity journey about a year ago,” said Eisenhauer. “Our staff and coaches are fully committed to embracing a new way of thinking about inequity and working to identify weaknesses in our day to day. Furthermore, we are committed to hiring a diverse group of coaches and staff which, of course, goes beyond racial diversity. We will work with student leaders on campus and in SAAC to ensure that all people feel safe and welcome on this campus. Without dismissing what happens away from campus, we must be focused on improving the community we’re currently in. I believe that as students better grasp the challenges that many members of our community face, the better suited they’ll be to make changes wherever they land after Jewell. I want to be clear, all of us are on this journey together, not just the students. I know I still have much to learn and am thankful for the individuals on this campus that have challenged me and helped me grow.”
SAAC and other student organizations
SAAC, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, provided comment on the situation and the athletic department’s response through their 2020-21 co-presidents, Rhyann Fisher, senior psychological sciences and chemistry major, and Abby Dubinski, junior nursing and Applied Critical Thought and Inquiry major. Although SAAC did not directly contribute to the creation of the statement, they fully support the statement and are eager to continue work within the athletic department for racial equality.
“Radical inclusivity is definitely an area we, and the rest of Jewell, are active in implementing. SAAC members are represented throughout other committees and groups on campus attending training sessions regarding diversity and inclusion… These experiences help SAAC because it widens the voices and experiences we have as a group. In the past we have teamed up with Student Senate for an education event regarding diversity and inclusion. Every athlete is [encouraged] to talk with their Coach or SAAC [representative] about any concern they may have. We are open to team up again with any other groups on campus to make a better experience for our athletes and students”
Fisher and Dubinski described current circumstances as an opportunity to renew efforts for equality and to evaluate how SAAC is participating in conversations of diversity and inclusion. They express hope that once people are back on campus in the fall, people will be ready to start having these more complex conversations both within SAAC and in collaboration with other organizations. They urge people to help right now by signing petitions, educating themselves, donating and more.
“We are extremely saddened by all of these events,” Fisher and Dubinski said. “We know that our fellow students and athletes are hurting, and have different levels of being affected. We will not pretend like we know how anyone in African American or black community has felt. We want our students and athletes to know that SAAC is here for each of them and we will do all we can to help! We want our black students to know that we are here to use our voice on campus, within the GLVC, NCAA, and be [a part] of the solution as a whole. This has been a crazy year and do not be afraid to reach out for help. We are excited to be reunited on campus where we can take an ACTIVE role in improving the environment and know that we will be TOGETHER. We are here to listen and take action!”
SAAC also publicly acknowledged their support by making a post with the hashtag “#BlackoutTuesday” on their Instagram – this hashtag is part of a social media movement that aims to raise awareness of police brutality against black people and to shine a light on content created by black creators.
SAAC was joined in their public demonstration of support on social media by other student organizations like Jewell’s fraternity chapters of Kappa Alpha, Lambda Chi Alpha and Phi Gamma Delta, as well as their sorority chapters of Delta Zeta and Zeta Tau Alpha. Mi Gente, Jewell’s club for Latino students, and QUILTBAG, Jewell’s club for LGBT+ students, also made posts of support using the “#BlackLivesMatter” hashtag.
One of Jewell’s diversity and inclusion initiatives is the Climate Assessment and Response Team (CART). Tavarus Pennington, junior communications major and member of CART, explained how CART has not been involved in the College response to the murder of George Floyd and recent protests.
“[The] last time the CART convened was April 15. This was the only time that the group met following the transition to online classes… I tend to shy away from framing the functions and purpose of CART as a group to be consulted about racial issues on campus. Particularly issues directly pertaining to black students. Instead, [CART] is focused on taking incidents that demonstrate negative racial, economic, and gendered biases and formulating ways to positively respond to whatever situation may arise (ex. CART crafted the language and strategy for addressing cultural implications of tomahawk chop in February). Our focus is on creating actionable reforms to educate and promote inclusivity within our campus culture. So when asked about consultation in regards to support, it’s difficult to give a straight answer because we don’t necessarily provide consultation (or at least haven’t been asked to) and we don’t necessarily work to create proactive supports so much as reactive ones,” Pennington said. “[Secondly], I believe CART to be of the mind that the singling out of particular racial groups and the aligning of specific goals to benefit that group, is inadvisable as it ignores the other “cultural groups” our campus is host to. This trend is not isolated to the organization of CART itself but rather I view this perspective as a larger institutional one.”
CART has not provided a specific response to recent events, nor has expressed explicit support for BLM. Pennington explained that this lack of response is due in part to the decentralized nature of campus in the pandemic. Members of CART have not been able to understand how members of the community are reacting to or impacted by the circumstances due to this decentralization – making performing CART’s reactive capacities more difficult.