After more than 800 people, including current students, alumni and others, signed a petition calling West Virginia University “systematically anti-Black,” the university is forming groups this summer to recommend solutions.
The petition said, “we have served as teachers for West Virginia University administration, only for our knowledge and experiences to fall upon deaf ears.
“Our time, effort and emotional labor have repeatedly been exploited. Too many of us have been tokenized. We are not just Black faces on a college admissions pamphlet to showcase your ‘diversity.’ We are tired. We are angry. We are not proud of West Virginia University. You have repeatedly shown us that Mountaineers are not always free.”
At at a WVU Board of Governors meeting Friday, President Gordon Gee didn’t commit to fulfilling any of the petition’s demands — many of which would cost money. Nor did he or other WVU officials contest the letter’s scathing critiques.
But Gee, who is white, assigned several top university leaders to lead four groups that, by July 27, must each recommend at least three actions for WVU to take.
He said the groups’ other members and their contact information will be released June 30. They are to address issues raised in the petition, such as providing anti-racism education, addressing university policing and developing Black student leaders.
“Upon review,” Gee said, “the university will prioritize the actions to move forward, with many being implemented by the first day of classes on Aug. 19.”
“We must move from words to action,” he said. “Our role as a university, however, is not to merely make change because it is being asked of us. Our role is to examine the fundamentals of the request, and then, we should go further.
“This is just the beginning, and it is true that we have talked about all of these issues many, many times before. We have been listening. We have not been acting. Together, we can and will do better, but we can only do that through honest conversations.”
WVU board President David Alvarez suggested that the fact the board is currently all-white will change — something the petition did not request. It is ultimately up to Gov. Jim Justice to nominate Black board members, and up to the state Senate to confirm members.
“Let me state unequivocally: Black lives matter,” Alvarez said.
The petition said many African Americans “are worried about coming back to a campus that is systematically anti-Black.”
“Although various departments of the university have released statements of support, no long-lasting tangible action has been taken,” the petition said. “It’s patronizing to hear how sorry you all are that this is happening to the Black community without reflecting and confronting systemic racism with our campus community. Your words, alone, are solely for publicity and therefore, not genuine. Equity for Black and brown students, in 2020, requires more than a couple of diversity and inclusion statements.”
The petition goes on to mention a racist video from a then-fraternity member in 2018, an incident with a baby doll with a black face hanging from a noose in 2019 (the student newspaper reported it was in a sorority house) and, earlier this month, WVU Police Chief W.P. Chedester having a Blue Lives Matter flag behind him when he took part in an online conversation with students about diversity.
Chedester apologized and said he would take the flag down.
“West Virginia University, we urge you to show your care for us through your actions,” the petition stated. “Do not only say that Black lives matter but show us through changing policies and providing for equitable student support.
“Show us that our voices are being heard and taken seriously. Show us that those who do not uphold the policies in the Student Conduct Code will be held publicly accountable for their racially insensitive actions. Show us by providing proper funding to The Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Center for Black Culture and Research.”
The petition also demands that WVU:
- Require annual diversity and anti-racism training for students and employees,
- Hire at least three more Black counselors, therapists and psychiatrists at the Carruth Center,
- Fund and promote specific existing programs, including mentoring programs,
- Hire more faculty, student recruiters, marketing specialists and other employees of color,
- Provide at least an additional $1,500 to each Black student group each academic year, above what they receive now,
- Reinstate the Office of Multicultural Programs,
- Guarantee an annual number of graduate assistantships for Black students,
- Recruit Black students into the Honors College and retain them there,
- Increase opportunities for students to study “Blackness, African-American studies, and Africana coursework.”
Gee said WVU will create a web page regarding the response, and there will be public forums.
The public may send initial input to email@example.com by Wednesday, he said.
Also Friday, the WVU board, according to a university news release, approved:
- Using $2 million in Sodexo money for dining changes, including a Panda Express to replace the current Burgershop in the Mountainlair student union and a Starbucks and convenience store to fill the former Sheetz space in the University Place apartments,
- Paying about $3 million to prevent further rockslides, such as the one that hit a PRT car in February.