By Collin Atwood
Most people are afraid of change. The slightest difference in someone’s life can get them flustered. Whether it’s a new haircut, packing everything up and moving or just taking a step out of their comfort zone, change can be threatening. Why fix something that isn’t broken, right?
That’s the problem – things are broken.
The lack of racial justice in America has been an issue forever and change in this regard can’t be ignored. Thanks to Springfield College’s current Student Trustee, Kris Rhim and Student Trustee-Elect, Sabrina Williams, the fight for racial justice is in full effect within the Springfield College community.
In April 2019, Rhim was elected as the Student Trustee-Elect and is currently serving as the Student Trustee for the 2020-21 academic year. Rhim is the president of the Men of Excellence club, a member of the track and field team and is on the Alumni of Color sub-committee.
Rhim knew that the only way to be heard on campus was to run for Student Trustee.
“I felt like a position where I could be on the highest governing body of the college and talk to those people would be the best position for me to make a change,” Rhim said.
The following year, Williams was elected as the Student Trustee-Elect and will take the role of Student Trustee during her senior year. Williams is the President of the Women of Power club at Springfield College and has also worked with the Office of Multicultural Affairs on campus.
Much like Rhim, Williams knew what she needed to do to influence change.
“I knew I wanted to address racial issues on campus, but I was never sure how to ensure I was heard. I figured this position would be a great opportunity to make some changes for BIPOC students currently and in the future,” Williams said.
With these two in the Student Trustee position for the current and upcoming year, change is inevitable.
When the 2020 spring semester ended, Rhim and Williams got right to work. Over the summer they both helped organize the “Conversations on Race” series. During these meetings, Rhim and Williams talked about racial issues and how to overcome them.
“The Conversations on Race series was a good start to addressing that there is a problem and acknowledging that the problem is also on our campus,” Williams said.
That wasn’t the only step taken by these student leaders. The list of demands that were made in September by four Black student groups on campus have all been met or are in the process of being completed.
“We’re happy with what administration has been able to do in terms of responding to things that we’ve asked for. They’ve met every demand on that list, or it’s in progress, and I am confident that it will get accomplished,” Rhim said.
One of the demands that has been met is the addition of an anti-racism course. This semester Calvin Hill, Vice President for Inclusion and Community Engagement, is teaching a course called Deconstructing Racism and it is worth one credit.
“We’re proud of and happy that Dr. Potvin put that course together as quickly as she did and that Calvin is teaching it. The one thing that we want moving forward is that anti-racism classes become a part of the core curriculum,” Rhim said.
Rhim and Williams have also worked on defining what hate speech means on the Springfield College Campus which was also on the list of demands. The request for a Black Counselor in the Counseling Center, funds for the Office of Multicultural Affairs and a high profile speaker for SEAT at the Table were all met as well.
It has been less than five months since the demands were released and with help from others, Rhim and Williams have shown the campus what it takes to make serious changes on campus.
“I want faculty, staff and students to know that there is room for improvement and we need to act on it,” Williams said.
Williams co-hosted a SEAT at the table event called “Colorism in Popular Media.” This event helped show how different forms of media can be prejudiced based on one’s skin color. “It opened many people’s eyes to some of the many forms of racism that exists in the world today,” Williams said.
In addition to the list of demands being met, a new light has been shed on the Board of Trustees. They are doing inclusive training which includes learning about pronouns and reading “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram Kendi.
“Many of the things that I’ve said at board meetings [have] made the board uncomfortable and surprised because they’ve never had a student who is as outspoken as me. Also, [I’m] a student of color speaking up about the Black experience and I think they’re alarmed by that,” Rhim said.
Having someone to relate to the Black experience with is something that is very important to Rhim. He feels that students should be able to connect with past students of color so they don’t feel alone. “I always feel like we didn’t have those people to reach out to,” Rhim said.
Moving from Student Trustee-Elect to Student Trustee has made it possible for Rhim to get the conversation going about diversity and inclusion. He now feels more comfortable to speak up at meetings and spread his message across campus.
Rhim doesn’t want his message and goals to die when he leaves though. Getting things set up before he graduates is vital for Springfield College. Luckily, Rhim knows that Williams won’t let their message go silent which is why he is happy that she will be taking over when he leaves.
“She has the same fire in her gut for change as I do,” Rhim said.
The hustle and dedication from Rhim and Williams is unmatchable. They work non-stop to make sure that the Springfield College community is aware of the racial justice problem in our country and on our campus. They are a true dynamic duo.
“I don’t want to be the person who took the Student Trustee position just to put ‘Student Trustee’ on my resume,” Rhim said.
These two natural leaders know the fight for change is far from over. Their presence on Alden Street makes Springfield College that much closer to being where it needs to be.
Progress has been made, but there is still more work to be done.
Photo: Kris Rhim and Sabrina Williams