Graduate students from the Educational Counseling and Leadership program at Monmouth University held an Anti-Racism rally on April 4 to bring awareness to campus about the need for tolerance.
The date itself was symbolic for their cause because it was also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. King is considered one of the founding fathers of the equality movement, so it was only fitting that the rally’s date hold a connection to him. Originally the rally was set to be held in front of the 9/11 memorial, but weather led to the rally being relocated to Anacon Hall and the halls of the Rebecca Stafford Student Center.
“The goal is to raise anti-racism awareness and one way was to support the initiative of a Multicultural Center that was already in progress by Dr. Nicolle Parsons-Pollard,” explains Vanessa Bernal, one of the graduate students leading the rally. “Other future goals of this project are to support a more diverse enrollment within Monmouth University, provide students with a solution to barriers, and create a culture of equity within the University.”
At the event, students had the opportunity to sign a petition supporting both the Multicultural Center and anti-racism, with the hope to get 1,000 signatures before the end of the semester. As students signed the petition they were given black-and-white ribbons. The ribbons symbolize a solidarity of all races.
Students leading this crusade were encouraged to create an innovative campaign for their Advanced Topics in Race and Racism class. Their semester-long efforts formed the Anti-Racism Advocacy Project (AAP).
In order to get the project off the ground, eight groups were created that had their own objectives to achieve: Leadership, Outreach, Research, Social Media, Website, Creative, Proofreading/Editing, and PowerPoint.
“Each leader of the team will communicate with groups about specific tasks to be done. The leaders seek guidance from our professor, Dr. Tina Paone, regarding school policies for producing flyers, tabling events, creating petitions for student support, etc,” said Matthew Vargo, one of the leaders from the Leadership Team.
“I am so excited that [the graduate students] are doing this,” said Anne Deepak, Ph.D., an associate professor of social work who incorporates anti-racism into her career. “That’s the promise of anti-racism. [Racism is] something we made and can destroy. We all play a part in dismantling it.”
The floor was open to anyone who wanted to share their stories of racism, whether they were first- or second-hand. Anonymous stories were also shared. Called “Spotlight Stories,” they were documented by the Outreach team and read aloud during the rally by the Leadership team.
Cory Cummings, Ph.D., an associate professor of social work, agrees with this sentiment of change. “I think it’s important as a professor to support a diverse student body,” said Cummings. “It helps our faculty and students change their world view.”
“There is a serious problem with racism around the country through corporations, universities, [and] education,” noted Vargo, “By us being here today, we’re throwing a pebble on a pond.”
According to the University’s website, only 24.7 percent of full-time students fall under the category of racial or ethnic groups.
“In the past few years Monmouth has tried to increase the amount of diverse students within its population and that’s great,” said Taffy Lashley, a sophomore communication student and co-Vice President of the Gender Studies club. “But when they get here they realize there aren’t many resources for them.”
Bernal believes that the Multicultural Center can be a safe place where people of different backgrounds feel like they belong and are able to raise their voice to causes that concern them.
“At times, [racism] is seen as taboo and this is where we find many problems stem from: the lack of awareness and education on race and racism,” said Bernal. “As long as we can bring up the conversation during our short time here as graduate students we know we have been able to achieve something.”
An earlier story about this rally referred to the Leadership Team students as undergraduate students. However, they are indeed graduate students enrolled at the University.
PHOTO COURTESY of by Natalie Ostermann