#VoicesOfUDel aims to help foster student activism

BY
Managing News Editor

March on Main
Kirk Smith/THE REVIEW
Students staged a March on Main protest, toting signs with slogans such as “Black lives matter” and “Hands up, don’t shoot”.

For years, the student body has been dismissed as a lukewarm, uninterested entity, markedly different from the feverish socially activist students on some other college campuses. The university was ranked in 2007 as the fourth most apathetic student body by Princeton Review.

Times have changed.

The recent wave of campus activism is in stark contrast to the indifferent reputation the student body has gained over the years. In addition to the change in student behavior characterized by protests, die-ins and marches, the school administration is working to foster an appreciation of diversity among the school community, specifically with projects like #VoicesOfUDel.

Jawanza Keita, communications director for the provost and one of the architects of the #VoicesOfUDel campaign, said it was primarily an organic process, borne out of the burgeoning desire for social activism on campus. The main purpose of the program is to facilitate the interactions that are happening around campus now that are inspiring change, Keita said

It has begun with a series of short YouTube clips of students and faculty expressing their views on the diversity at the school and other topics.

“It’s a safe place where people can present their views and opinions, at its core,” Keita said. “[…] Ultimately, we want people to have real conversations, person to person. That makes a difference.”

They Die, We Die
Kirk Smith/THE REVIEW
A wave of die-ins swept across the country in the aftermath of the Eric Garner decision in New York. University students held one of their own in Trabant Student Center in early December.

Junior Jasmine Anthony organized events last fall specifically dealing with the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. She said the recent activism has had an impact on the student body as a whole, but that administrative action will only be successful if it can engage students, something that may be more difficult than it sounds.

“I can only hope,” Anthony said. “I hope students want to change, I think first they need to realize that they need to change.”

Anthony has seen the need for changes firsthand, having been subjected to racial epithets by other students on at least two occasions in the past, she said.

The university’s lack of diversity has stirred more conversation as of late, including a letter sent by Richard Smith, president of the Delaware chapter of the NAACP, which lambasted the university and President Patrick Harker for the lack of diversity at the school, saying the school has a “serious systemic problem regarding diversity.”

There were 834 black students enrolled at the university’s Newark campus in 2013, representing just five percent of the undergraduate student body.

Lindsay Hoffman, a communications professor at the university who will be organizing a race-centric National Agenda speaker series next semester, said it is an unfortunately fair criticism. History of the state plays a role as well, she said, as most view Delaware State University as the more African-American school, while University of Delaware is viewed as more white.

“I agree that diversity is a big problem, I think we need more diversity,” Hoffman said. “[…] But the administration is trying, I don’t think they necessarily are succeeding or doing as well as they could, but it is something that is on the university’s agenda.”

Holly Norton, a social media manager for the university who also helped found Voices of UDel with Keita, said since she began here in September of this year, she has not felt the reputed apathy of years past among the students and hopes the Voices of UDel campaign will give those students with passion and energy a place to voice their opinions with each other.

“I don’t see that at all,” Norton said of student indifference. “The first week I was here I saw a bunch of students on the steps of Memorial Hall […] They could not be any more engaged, that’s what I see.”

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