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BSU protest against the new UNC DEI policy change

Students and faculty walking down Chancellors Walk shouting, “DEI cannot go!” (Samantha Hill/The Seahawk)

A call to action was announced on Sunday for a peaceful protest on Instagram by the UNCW Black Student Union (BSU) to protest the UNC DEI policy change that is being voted on in May. Students and faculty gathered in the Upperman African American Cultural Center to decorate and assemble signs for the protest that would be happening at noon. The last day of class was not silent for those standing up against the new policy change.

On April 17, the UNC Board of Governors swiftly voted to repeal diversity, equity and inclusion programs and services from N.C. public universities. This new policy states all UNC universities remain neutral about all “contemporary political debate on social action” in terms of “view on social policy” or “political controversies of the day.” These terms can be found in G.S. 126-14.6(c)(1)–(13), G.S. 116-300 (3) and (3a).

Students and faculty marching down Chancellors Walk. (Samantha Hill/The Seahawk)

While students finished up their last-minute touches to their posters, a discussion was held with the President of the Black Men Initiative (BMI), Jordan McLeod, Vice President of BMI, Jackson Rouser and Secretary of BMI, Antonio Adetoye.

Q: What are your thoughts on the change of the DEI policy?

McLeod: I think this type of move from the Board of Governors seems to be just a disservice to efforts that have been put in place, efforts that were planned to go in place and are currently going into place. I was telling someone that it feels like we are taking a lot of steps forward with initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion but somebody is trying to take two steps back. While in their article they reaffirm their commitment to diversity, the rest of the article within the equality for the University of North Carolina policy proposal does not seem to promote that. Especially with their section seven, Maintaining Institutional Neutrality. Which seems to imply that this move is really trying to eliminate staff DEI positions which in turn would hurt not only students of color and minority students but every student at UNCW. Without these staff and faculty, these ideas of inclusion will grow and die and will not be carried out.

Adetoye: In my personal experience, I came over to UNCW from Italy. When I came here, I didn’t know anybody. I was a brand-new person from another country. I remember I was struggling to get to know people and make friends. Not only was there a language barrier but I was shy and introverted and afraid to meet new people. I remember I was on my way back to classes to head back home and there was an event in the amphitheater outside. It was the yard show where the Black fraternities and sororities would stroll in and have a good time. Everybody that I met there was really welcoming and it was a friendly community. From there, it definitely bettered my experience here at UNCW and it helped me get out of my shell and accept the move here to UNCW. Whenever I heard that DEI was going to be taken away, it made me think about where I would be now if it were not for the community that I found here at UNCW because of DEI. For that, I find it incredibly unfair for them to take that decision away and it could impact other students in the future, like me, who will not be able to have the same opportunity as me that was offered because of DEI.

Rouser: To add what Jordan said earlier, as a freshman coming into UNCW, I had a similar experience to Antonio. I had to find one of these events that was run by my people so that I could get in touch with more people like me. That’s how I found out about the organization that we are running, the BMI. It wasn’t until later that I found out that this organization had been struggling to stay over the years. As people graduate, the leaders leave and there is no one to take their place. This is something that is necessary in order to keep bringing everyone together in this community in this space at UNCW.

McLeod: Adding onto what Jackson said, with the organization that we are representing, Black Men Initiative, we are all going to be taking leadership roles next year. We would not have been in contact with the organization, or it would have been harder to have been, to actually find this organization if it were not for the DEI staff here. We are actually supportive of keeping this organization together. Even when students left the university, the DEI staff at Upperman were able to keep it alive and keep it going long enough for us to find it and to be able to help. The staff have all of the information and all of the ‘know how’ experience from previous leaders to give to us to make sure we are able to build the organization back up and keep it strong.

Students marching down Chancellors Walk. (Samantha Hill/The Seahawk)

Q: If the policy does go through, what steps would you make to keep the community together?

Rouser: Immediately the sense of the community for incoming freshmen will definitely be hindered because we probably won’t be able to keep our current label. Seeing that it was already hard enough to find the groups as is, it is definitely going to be harder.

McLeod: If this does go into place and we do lose initiatives, it just kind of snowballs into the loss of initiatives and centers, like Upperman, then students are not going to want to come to UNC system schools. They are not going to come to UNCW which has historically had low enrollment from Black and other minority students. It is just going to make the community here even smaller and isolate the community. The Board of Governors seem to think that DEI is divisive in nature or segregational, when in reality, it is entirely the opposite. It is the reason why many of us are able to meet and come together. UNCW is a large campus and it can be hard to find people like you, especially if you’re a minority. Having a central space like this, if that is gone, we lose a major part of our community in a safe space.

A sign made by a student stating: “Protect DEI So All Students Can Thrive.” (Samantha Hill/The Seahawk)

Q: What are you hoping to achieve from today’s peaceful protest?

McLeod: The goal of the peaceful protest is just to bring awareness. I think because this new proposal was added so late into the agenda and voted on so quickly, all of those factors have taken it out of people’s minds and people’s view. People don’t know too much about this or are not informed much about it. They are probably thinking that this change will not impact them but in reality it is impacting everybody and every student. Not just at UNCW but in the UNC system as a whole. We need to let people know about this, get the word out and share our opinions to the UNC Board of Governors that we are not okay with this. We want to be heard, we want to know what is going on and spread awareness to other students.

Students holding signs and marching. (Samantha Hill/The Seahawk)

Once gathered, the protest started with students holding signs to share their opinion about the new DEI policy change. The protest proceeded down Chancellors Walk and in front of Randall Library shouting, “DEI! DEI! We need DEI!” “We need to keep DEI alive,” and “This won’t fly, keep DEI!”

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