By Ty Coney
On June 14, 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., just 10 months before delivering his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered the 78th annual commencement at Springfield College.
Over 55 years later, after the brutal fight against segregation has ended, another problem has surfaced: racial bias.
On October 3, 31 employees of the College congregated in Dining Room B of Cheney Hall. As colleagues laughed and shared stories from the day, an aura of comfort and safety started to envelop the room.
This allowed for the real conversation to start, as the group delved into issues troubling those in the room often on a daily basis, from micro-aggressions to the feeling of invisibility.
Leading and mediating the conversation was Vice President of Inclusion and Community Engagement at Springfield College, Dr. Calvin Hill.
One topic that soon became a root of the group’s discussion was how to refer to the people inside the room. Referring to someone as part of a minority can have a negative impact on that individual.
“From my perspective, we want to try and avoid the term ‘minority’ because people of color are kind of the majority in the U.S. population, so we want to be able to change our language around that. One phrase we use to describe ourselves is ALANA which translates to African, Latina, Asian, and Native American, though I use black and brown because I believe it is fully (inclusive),” Hill said.
One thing that most people believe is that Springfield College is a community at its core, though it may not be the most inviting one for community members of color. Whether someone is a student, faculty or staff member, living or working on a predominantly white campus can lead to problems involving racial bias.
Some employees expressed that they felt invisible at times and that most people didn’t even acknowledge they were there, because of people’s racial bias toward them. They stated that this needed to change and that it would have to start at the administrative level, in order for it to eventually spread to other groups of individuals.
While this event was mostly for faculty and staff, there were a few students in attendance.
One of the students was Valmore Stewart Jr., who is the co-founder of the Men of Excellence club at Springfield College.
Stewart said that seeing the strides the College is making to develop a more welcoming space for faculty, staff, and students of color are good to see, even if they came later than some had hoped.
“I think that this is a new era and a new approach that Springfield is taking on and from coming into my freshman year compared to now, it’s like ‘well it’s kind of late, but hey, it’s a start,’” he said.
“It’s an ecosystem where people can come together and make something happen and that’s great to see. Just being here and understanding that (these people) know what’s going on, that’s reassuring to students of color to know that there are (faculty and staff) here to support us and that they are willing to take the time out of their day to come to an event like this and actually drive innovation and creativity,” Stewart added.
He also acknowledged that a stride the College can take to help the process is having more exposure around events like these.
“I think what it really comes down to is having more events like these but having them in the Union where people can see us and be like ‘oh okay, that’s what time this is’ and so once we create that safe space, facility workers and students can come and sit-in these meetings,” Stewart said.
“There should be more exposure to this event, because this is something really good that we should be broadcasting more and more and more. So, everyone can see that there are people of color working here and going here,” he added.
When it comes down to issues like this, there are a lot of different perspectives, and according to Stewart, the best approach is fostering an open mind.
“I want more students to be open-minded,” he said. “I want them to get out of their comfort zone and get into the spirit, mind, and body that this school really embodies, because I don’t see it on campus. We don’t have conversations about the development of the institution and where it could go.”
“It’s always just talking about something, now it’s what can we do as students, because we are the people that actually keep this facility running and we aren’t doing enough,” Stewart added. “We need to do more and get more students to come to meetings like this and get more value from our school.” he added.
Photo Courtesy Springfield Marketing & Communications