Activists Rally to Demand More Support for Black Students


Haneen Alkabasi

CCSU students protested in front of Davidson Hall Monday.

Haneen Alkabasi, News Editor

Members of the CCSU clubs, Black Student Union (BSU) and Women Involved Now (WIN), and fellow students marched across campus Monday to pressure administration for more support for black students.

The protest was a continuation of concerns BSU has raised over the past few weeks, which they shared through a statement outlining what their group has identified as “chronic racial battle fatigue, disenfranchisement, and microaggressions from both faculty and peers.”

In their statement, which was shared through their Instagram page, BSU spoke out about a lack of support on campus, which the group feels has led to a low graduation rate among Black and African-American students.

Following the release of BSU’s statement, Executive Board had a meeting with Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Dr. Craig Wright and Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Kellie Byrd-Danso on Nov. 15.

BSU said this was an effort to collaborate on next steps in their push for campus equality, but according to Club President Zoe Pless, nobody on the union’s executive board was prepared for the response they received.

“We were met with what the administration could not control as opposed to what they could,” Pless said to the crowd of about 30 gathered Monday.

Pless said members of the student organization were told their request was out of the administration’s hands. She said they were asked to be patient and give it some time.

“Imagine, trying to be an advocate for your community and being told you were making people’s jobs harder than they needed to be,” Pless said.

Pless said they did not feel like the administration was listening to them nor will they push for change.

“We were upset,” Pless said. “We walked away from that meeting feeling like we hit a wall.”

Pless said these feelings of wanting to be heard prompted them to organize today as well to raise awareness for their needs.

“As a student advocating for those who look like me but also those who do not, it was disheartening to hear that my desire to be seen and heard put this campus in a negative light,” Pless said.

Pless said the initiatives they want to see at CCSU will benefit all students here and those to come.

“We want you to be heard,” Pless said. “The issues we have identified do not just impact black students, they impact all students.”

Pless said their rally cries should not be ignored and that the organization will continue to push the administration to change.

“We are more than athletes, advertisements and diversity statistics,” Pless said. “We are whole students who deserve to be valued and protected by our institutions.”

Pless said their demands include representation amongst professors. She said to provide students with a diverse professorship that mirrors the racial demographic of students at Central.

“We want funding poured into our already existing resources,” Pless said. “If you are going to advertise safe spaces for us to exist, then you need to pour resources into them so they can flourish and continue to support us.”

Pless said they want professors to be encouraged to diversify their curriculum to reflect the interests of students. She said students do not stay in classes they are not interested in or see themselves reflected in.

“In the world we live in, it is crucial that educators stay up to date on how their biases impact their students,” Pless said.

Pless said they want increased faculty training, implicit bias and racial sensitivity. This also includes faculty variation and pre-identifying potential for faculty bias, Pless said.

“We are asking the administration to show us evidence that they are listening to our voices and publicly acknowledge our concerns,” Pless said. “We are your student body and deserve to be heard.”

Pless said they are planning on having a sit-in Monday in Davidson Hall so their message gets to as many people as possible.

“We are going to work our hardest with the administration, if they will allow, to change things that are happening on campus,” Pless said. “I truly believe there is room for change.”

Pless said she wants students to continue to stand together and work with the administration to make it better for the next generation.

“This is a slow burn,” Pless said. “This is not an overnight solution and we are going to continue to push for it.”

Leaders of the rally speak into a megaphone.
Women Involved Now Club President Dina Cassie (left) and Black Student Union President Zoe Pless make a statement calling out administration. (Haneen Alkabasi)

Women Involved Now President Dina Cassie said the university’s response did not leave her hopeful. “Honestly, I did not feel encouraged after,” Cassie said. “They did mention there’s a lot of stuff they couldn’t do on their end but at the same time, I’m paying my tuition here.”

Cassie said there should be something done if Black and  African American-identifying students are not graduating.

Cassie said there wasn’t that much said about their talking points and it was shown that they were making their jobs harder.

“It felt like there was nobody listening,” Cassie said. “At that point, you protest and rally until somebody listens.”

Cassie said she is very happy they had a protest Monday and feels like it’s the start to something bigger that they might be able to fix at CCSU. She said it may help to fix the university’s diversity issues especially with faculty and staff.

“In all honesty, I don’t really feel like administration has our back,” Cassie said. “We haven’t seen any updates or announcements.”

Cassie said all she can say is to treat every issue of diversity on campus the same.

Dr. Craig Wright said he told the student leaders at the meeting that they will certainly do what they are able to do immediately.

“However, the reality in higher education is that you all will set the path for some great changes and advancements,” Wright said. “It takes time because of the life span of how things change at an institution.”

Wright said they didn’t hear the commitment from administration to making sure they are successful and that there is no barriers based on race and inequality at this institution. Wright said he needs to meet with them and show them the evidence.

“Unfortunately, we are living in a society where people often times are persuaded by others for whatever reason,” Wright said.

Wright said some of the questions at the meeting were more personal then administrative and he said to them to look at him and Dr. Byrd-Danso through their own prospective. He said to get to know who they are and what they have done or committed to doing as opposed to hearing what someone else may suggest.

“I want them to get the facts,” Wright said. “Our enrollment of African American students has increased from 2010. We’re up 13.2%.”

Wright said the national graduation rate average is six years. He said the graduation rate for most public 4-year institutions nationwide is 41% for Black and African Americans who graduate within that 6-year period.

“CCSU’s [rate] is 48.6%,” Wright said. “So statistically, we’re doing better.”

Wright said there’s still some work to be done and that organizations like the Brotherhood’s Initiative, the John Lewis Institute and the Center for Africana Studies are helping them close the six-year graduation gap.

Wright said the students spoke about being displeased with the lack of support and he never got a chance to follow up. He said since their meeting two weeks ago, there have been other protests and emergencies they have responded to.

Wright said we have to take care of and support all students. He said now they have an appointed director for the Center for Africana Studies, Toyen Ayeni.

“We’re fortunate to have someone but they don’t know this because they haven’t had a conversation with us and we haven’t had a conversation with them,” Wright said.

Wright said him and Dr. Byrd-Danso were concerned that the center was closed when they checked it out the day after the meeting. He said they expect that center to be a viable place for people to go.

Wright said it would be the African Studies Center but other African clubs and organizations are expected to use that space.

Wright said he knows that there’s work to be done at CCSU but there’s a commitment from the president and her Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to get the work done.

“This is a great institution and I want the students to know that we are committed to working with them,” Wright said.

Wright said they are working with other national organizations to bring in other social and cultural programs to make sure they are supported.

“We heard all the things that the students were talking about but unfortunately, we weren’t given an opportunity to have a follow up conversation,” Wright said.

Wright said he is very transparent and he stands on his history committed to social justice. He said he’s committed to making sure that every student, no matter what their political ideology, will have a safe space in the presence of where he’s working.

“I want to make sure that they can take a step away from the emotion commitment to it,” Wright said.

Wright said he is glad they are committed emotionally but he wants them to know that it’s not personal.

“We want to make sure that you see the process but understand that it is a process,” Wright said.

Wright said he would love to teach them how to strategically advance an initiative from a standpoint where everyone wins. He said he spoke to the students about how they can come together to make sure certain tasks are done.

“I want to help,” Wright said. “I just want them to understand that I love the fact that our students are not apathetic.”

Students marching around Central’s campus.
CCSU students exercising their right to protest. (Haneen Alkabasi)

Wright said CCSU students stand out no matter what the issue is. He said this means we are poised to change the world and he loves that about Central students.

“I’m concerned because I don’t want them to feel as if there’s a chasm and there’s a separation from us,”  Wright said.

Wright said they addressed this matter from other influences because he hasn’t had a conversation with them.

“I don’t want them to be manipulated by anyone to make them think that they can hurt my feelings or Dr. Byrd-Danso’s feelings,” Wright said. “We are here to help them.”