Student Assembly hosts inaugural symposium on race in higher education

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The College of William and Mary's Student Assembly hosted its first annual symposium on race in higher education. GRAPHIC BY NIA KITCHIN / THE FLAT HAT

This weekend, Student Assembly hosted “Tending Our Roots,” an inaugural symposium on race in higher education that reflected on the College of William and Mary’s history — and the history of similar universities across Virginia.

This symposium was held Thursday, March 29, through Saturday, March 31. There were several events each day, including a film screening with Claudrena Harold, a discussion on the historical context of “hate speech” and a keynote address by Mayor of Richmond Levar Stoney.

In fall 2017, outgoing SA President Elijah Levine ’18, outgoing SA Vice President Annelise Yackow ’18 and Chief of Staff Noah Ferris ’20 began brainstorming this statewide effort after reaching out to student government leaders at the University of Virginia. One impetus of this effort was the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August. Another was the College’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of African-American students in residence.

“All of it definitely comes back to our motivation, our two big anniversaries [for]our schools,” Levine said. “These are such salient topics that it seems very apropos to hone that energy into a very constructive conversation. I think that at the basis of it is a premise that we have a platform, have access to our wonderful faculty, a network of students both here and beyond in other Virginia schools — that we would be selling ourselves in the position short if we didn’t capture that and use it to, in the broadest way possible, make a conversation that involves promoting as many voices as possible.”

The majority of the smaller discussion sessions, as well as the keynote address, were held at the College’s School of Education. The bulk of the events happened Friday, beginning at 10 a.m. These events included discussions of the history of civil rights, early Virginia history, cultural expression and immigration in the context of higher education. The keynote address also took place Friday, at 6 p.m.

Ferris, who was one of SA members involved from this program’s beginning, said that he saw Friday’s events as a way of raising awareness about prevalent issues.

“From the inception, we were talking about a more robust way to bring these ideas to the forefront of campus,” Ferris said.

“From the inception, we were talking about a more robust way to bring these ideas to the forefront of campus,” Ferris said. “We talked about curriculum change but didn’t know if it was feasible. This conference seemed like a robust way to further discussion and bring student leaders from around the state and promote ideas and get these ideas on people’s radars.”

While the events were open and free to all students at the College, the symposium was also open to students and faculty members at other colleges and universities in the commonwealth. Admission was $15 for students from other schools.

Speakers at the symposium included government professor Lenneal Henderson, the Muscarelle Museum of Art’s curator of Native American art Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, Africana studies and linguistics professor Iyabo Osiapem and Dream Project Executive Director Lizzette Arias.

These speakers were recruited to share their academic research as well as their backgrounds with activism and social change. Saturday morning, at the end of the symposium, Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement and Leadership Drew Stelljes and the Center for Student Diversity’s Assistant Dean and Director Kimberly Weatherly presented on the topics of campus organizing and leadership development.

Moving forward, Yackow said that this symposium will be adapted to fit with contemporary political and social themes.

Levine, Yackow and Ferris applied for and received grants from the College and from UVA for this event. However, the team also introduced legislation before the SA Senate to allocate more money for anticipated costs. Class of 2018 President Laini Boyd ’18 and President-elect Brendan Boylan ’19 sponsored the Tending Our Roots Act, which allocated $3,586.75 for the symposium.

$1,593.75 were allocated for the reception open to the entire student body and invitees such as Stoney. $1,175 were allocated for a catered lunch Friday, $500 were allocated to reserve the rooms in the School of Education and $318 were allocated for Harold’s travel and lodging expenses.
All fees associated with transportation and lodging for other student attendees were not covered by SA.

This inaugural symposium was the first multi-day event sponsored by SA, and Levine and Yackow said they hope their successors, Boylan and SA Vice President-elect Samir Tawalare ’19, continue the initiative of hosting an event which acknowledges different elements of the College’s history.