Southern Methodist University is vowing to do more to help Black students and staff feel safer, more welcomed and understood.
The private university has been called out by current students and alumni for past racist experiences on campus.
SMU has also been criticized recently over its response to current social unrest following the death of George Floyd.
Two students are planning to bring their own form of change to campus.
You’ve likely seen the t-shirts worn by protestors reading ‘Black Lives Matter.’
The movement for racial equality will be on display at Southern Methodist University in the fall semester.
“I wanted to create a space where Black students can feel more safe in an environment that SMU is a predominately white institution,” said SMU junior Tyne Dickson.
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Dickson started a fundraiser to buy ‘BLM’ t-shirts, hats and buttons.
The goal of the fundraiser was initially $1,000, but as of Thursday, it has surpassed $13,000.
Dickson plans to hand out the merchandise to any students willing to wear them in hopes of improving what she describes as a sometimes ‘overwhelming’ campus experience for Black students.
Part of the money will be used to buy apparel and the rest will be used to host events on campus to talk about race relations and to highlight Black students.
“I heard a lot my freshman year people saying ‘All lives matter! All lives matter! And like having debates my freshman year in my dorm,” she said. “This could actually be a really good statement to see someone in class wearing a shirt that you disagree with but it makes them feel safer.”
Dickson enlisted fellow SMU junior and ‘ally’ Laura Scott Cary.
“I see my peers saying things like ‘All lives matter,” said Cary. “I see my peers singing the n-word when they’re singing along to songs and it’s hard to be one of the few people who’s willing to stand up for that kind of thing.”
These friends say the problems go deeper.
Students, past and present, have taken to Twitter using the #BlackatSMU to recall micro-aggressions, even racism while at SMU or off-campus activities.
Many have used the hashtag to criticize the letter posted by SMU’s president following George Floy’s death.
The letter urges unity and an end to racism, even mentions George Floyd and others killed by police by name, but never mentions the word ‘Black.’
Turner then released a second letter days later specifically to Black students, staff and alumni.
“There was a sense that I needed to use the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ and so I wanted to make that very clear that that was the case,” said Dr. R. Gerald Turner. “I was very concerned about the pain and all the emotions that were expressed in those tweets that I wanted them to know that we fully recognize it. So that’s why I set up all those Zoom meetings with constituents.”
Turner has since met with Black students, faculty and alumni in a series of online Zoom meetings (given COVID-19) to discuss racial issues on campus.
“I thought they were very productive [meetings],” said Turner. “This is a time in which I think great progress can be made not only in the university but in the country on the perception and support of social justice.”
The school’s leader has vowed to increase cultural training to all staff, groups and resident advisors.
SMU will also increase efforts to add more Black faculty and students.
“We’re going to review particularly our DISD [Dallas Independent School District] efforts. We already are in each of the schools but when you’re looking for the best students in the country you have to look real hard because the competition is pretty high,” he said. “The ability to recruit more Black faculty is challenging but one we work very hard on and try to have what we call ‘hires of opportunity’ but we’re very committed to increase the number.”
Turner also welcomes the BLM merchandise being handed out on campus saying “That’s a great idea. I hope they give me one.”
As for the experiences detailed in the hashtag, Turner said “It’s painful to hear it. We’re committed to doing everything we can to eliminate those kinds of behaviors and when they occur to respond very forcefully.”
Asked if he’s done enough, Turner responds: “I don’t think anyone’s done enough. But I think we have done a lot and we’ll need to do even more.”
Action is what students are demanding.
“I’d like to see things start rolling not just messages or statements,” said Dickson.