On Tuesday night two hundred people filled the Strafford Room to hear from four extraordinary UNH alumni. Shelly-Ann Richmond, Earlene Mends, Malik Aziz and Tito Jackson were all students at UNH in the late nineties, early 2000s and were leaders of the Black Student Union’s 1998 Sit-in in then-President Joan Leitzel’s office. We were gathered to recognize the 15 year anniversary of the sit-in, to celebrate these incredible individuals, to learn about their experiences, and to see just how far UNH has come on issues for students of color on campus.
The alumni began the evening discussing what the campus climate was like in the late 90s. They spoke about how isolating it was to be one of so few black students on campus, they told stories of experiencing overt racism about standing up to those injustices. All of those experiences led up to the fall of 1998 when they planned a sit-in to bring attention to the climate for black students on campus and demand that the University make changes.
Over sixty students walked into the President’s Office with bags of food and water and sat there for close to 16 hours. Malik Aziz who was the BSU President was their spokesperson, and he, Tito Jackson and Earlene Mends met throughout the sit-in with UNH administrators, including the President. At points during negotiations they walked away from the conference room because they felt administrators were not willing to make big enough commitments to change. They finally reached a compromise, resulting in a document listing eleven objectives for the University. (That document is below).
When comparing their demands with where the University is today, it is clear we have made strides, but we still don’t have 300 black students or ten tenure track black faculty members, which were both goals set to be met by 2004. The alumni shared how a strong commitment to diversity is good for everyone on campus.
All four alumni shared that they all have a deep love of UNH and are proud of the education they received and relationships they created while here. They spoke of the amazing leadership opportunity they had as students to organize and create change. But they also shared that they think the University could be doing more to support students of color. It was clear that these four alumni share a tight bond and are committed to continuing to help UNH further improve on issues of race and equity.
Later in the evening we heard from three current students about their experiences currently on campus. They spoke about their being less direct racism, and more subtle forms like micro-aggressions taking place. They shared that they could relate to a lot of what the alumni spoke about, especially being singled out or isolated due to being a student of color at a predominately white university. They advocated for mandatory staff and faculty training on social justice issues and working with underrepresented students.
Many people thanked the alumni for their courage and leadership, including Professor Carol Conaway who thanked them saying that she was the first fully tenured African American female professor at UNH and it was in part due to their activism.
It was an honor to meet these four alumni and to be a part of such an important event.
For more photos from the event, please visit: http://unh.me/ruT8Y
UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT / BLACK STUDENT UNION
NOVEMBER 10, 1998
The University of New Hampshire and the Black Student Union agree to the
1. A Black student population of 300 students by the year 2004, adding
approximately 50 students each year starting in the year 2000.
2. The creation of a six-year university plan for the recruitment and
retention of Black students by April 15, 1999, including the involvement
of Black students in the development and communication of the plan.
3. There will be no fewer than a total of 10 Black tenure track faculty by
the year 2003; as well as no fewer than two Black visiting scholars per
year through 2003.
4. A full time minority student recruiting team, under the leadership of
the Vice Provost for Enrollment Management, by spring, 1999.
5. The creation of a diversity and multicultural presentation offered at
freshman orientation in June, 1999; outside consultation on the content of
the program will be sought. The presentation will be previewed by the
Black Student Union in the spring.
6. A prejudice reduction workshop will be developed and delivered to
faculty, staff and administrators, including the President's staff and
college deans, by fall l999. University Police will participate in
prejudice reduction training offered by outside experts. Proper channels
of reporting incidents of insensitivity and prejudice will be put in place
so that the Director of Affirmative Action is made aware of such
7. The university is committed to support curricula that address the
fields of race, culture, power, and African American Studies. In addition,
the history department will be asked to submit entry -level African
American history courses for review by the General Education Committee.
8. The hiring of a full time counselor at the Counseling Center, who has
practical experience in dealing with African American issues. Vice
President for Student Affairs Leila Moore will work within the student fee
process to secure the funding for this new position.
9. Black Student Union members will be included in the selection committee
for the counselor and will have input on the writing of the job
description for this position.
10. A written admission of the university's failure to fulfill the
commitment to a diverse campus and curriculum.
11. A signed commitment from President Leitzel to assume responsibility to
coordinate the agreements above.