Franklin College’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion hosted a Black Lives Matter week from Nov. 16 to Nov. 20 to encourage deeper conversations about the movement on campus.
Each day of the week had a target area, such as Monday’s focus on alumni and Thursday’s focus on comedy. As a symbol of the week-long event, Franklin facilities employees hung Black Lives Matter flags in the student center atrium.
At the Black Alumni Matter event on Monday, former Black Franklin students shared their experiences from when they attended the college. The conclusion was unanimous: Franklin does not do a great job of accommodating students of color. Many of them said they never felt at home at Franklin where they were surrounded by people that didn’t value their uniqueness.
The Zoom meeting was hosted by Taylor McElwain, a 2019 graduate. While she was a student, she said everyone liked to assure each other that they lived and worked in a welcoming environment, but that was a facade to cover up the reality of microaggressions and a lack of support.
The alumni also discussed the statement that the college released over the summer regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. They said that it came too late and lacked substance. McElwain said that Black alumni and community members had to “plead” to make that happen.
One alumna said the statement as was neutral as it could have been, likely to cater to college donors.
“It was a joke,” she said. “You might as well have not said anything.”
“I did not feel supported,” said another.
During their time at the college, the alumni were expected to represent their race, rather than simply being students, they said. Meanwhile, community members claimed to support their cause but often didn’t come to their events. That’s why one alumna said the college should build diversity education into its curriculum — to make people listen.
“We put our blood, sweat and tears into a lot of the work that we did at Franklin College,” she said. “I was exhausted because we would have BSU events, pass out fliers for a month in advance—like promote the heck out of it—and the event came, and we were just preaching to the same people who didn’t need to hear this stuff.”
Another alumna said the college’s approach to diversity matters shouldn’t depend on individuals’ willingness to participate. Rather, it needs to be institutionalized.
“If a policy doesn’t change, if the way that they handle Black and Brown students doesn’t change, who cares — it doesn’t matter,” she said.
Still, she did acknowledge diversity initiatives at the college have improved since she attended over 30 years ago.
“I don’t remember a Black professor. We didn’t have that,” she said.
Tuesday was designated for parenting, with a focus on how to raise anti-racist children. This was followed by Black Queer and Trans Lives Matter and a panel discussion on racism in higher education on Wednesday.
Thursday’s virtual event, Black Joy Matters, lightened the mood. It featured comedian Sydney Adeniyi of Los Angeles, who cracked jokes about being Black in America, the pandemic and show business.
As a kid, he joked that his prospects of becoming a thug failed when he realized that he was too short and too happy to be respected by gang members. He predicted that if he tried to mug someone, they’d laugh at him, to which he would reply, “Give me your purse and an apology because you hurt my feelings.”
Adeniyi, who’s father is Nigerian, called himself a “halfrican American.” Growing up, his father expected him to comply with certain traditions embraced by his West African lineage. He had to kill a goat with a machete when he was 27 to celebrate his arrival to adulthood, while his uncle and father stood watch.
“Come on, man. I just wanted a regular cake and ice cream,” Adeniyi said.
His first role as an actor was in a KFC commercial and his second was to play the part of a generic thug in a movie. He said that shows that stereotypes are still alive today.
“This industry puts you in a box.
"You either like chicken or you’re a gangster,” Adeniyi said.