By Briana Brady, Opinion Editor
Following the unjust and tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, and George Floyd, people of all ages, races, backgrounds, and circumstances took to the streets of America to ignite a refreshed movement of progress; by proclaiming that indeed, Black Lives Matter, speaking truth to power, and protesting police brutality alongside other legacies of racism that have remained ingrained in American culture since even before the country’s founding, those rising up in those moments undeniably felt the urgency of the moment and the desperation for long-overdue change.
I marched for these causes, and I’m committed to joining in efforts to enact lasting change in our own community and far beyond. I stand with those doing the work day in and day out.
As this large-scale movement stood the test of time, lasting far beyond the media’s coverage of it and social media’s commonly surface-level fascination with it, many folks took to their own channels and networks seeking to hold institutions accountable to edifying their own policies and practices claiming diversity and inclusion.
At UTC, student Jennah Hyppolite started a powerful petition outlining demanded changes from the UTC administration that now has over 1800 signatures, and she joined other students in organizing a protest on Chamberlain Field and brought these demands to Chancellor Angle as well. I would like to quote her summary of the demands as described in her outstanding article piece in The Chattanoogan:
“UTC-PD must be disarmed, and UTC must divest from the UTC-PD budget and invest in underpaid faculty, staff, and working students by allocating funds for higher wages, scholarships, and counseling resources. UTC must provide essential mental health and counseling resources for students of color who have experienced hate crimes and racial discrimination. UTC must establish a mandatory racial and cultural sensitivity education program for all faculty, staff, and students. UTC must create a student run system for reporting racism and hate crimes. UTC must fully back the Chattanooga community in their call to divest from the Chattanooga Police Department budget and reinvest into Black and Brown communities that have been impacted by gentrification due to UTC’s downtown presence. UTC administration must take an affirmative stance on the Black Lives Matter movement by condemning local police brutality and racial injustice. They must condemn the Chattanooga Police Department for the murder of JaVario Eagle, and criticize the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department for their deployment of tear gas on peaceful protesters on May 31.”
I stand with Jennah and others in their work to catalyze real change within and beyond the bubble of UTC.
In the middle of June, Chancellor Angle sent out an email outlining steps the university planned to take to “focus our intensity, integrity, passion, and compassion to eliminate racism.” While I appreciate that specific points of action were mentioned in the email rather than simple affirmations, the email did not address many of the concerns and demands that students expressed, and further, I am not aware of any further communication that has been made with students on behalf of the university regarding these initiatives.
This summer, the United Campus Workers of UTC composed two open letters making clear their demands to the higher-ups at UTC regarding COVID-19 and racism concerns. The letters can be read and signed here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfN9XworVS0l_biktaGBu0QU4A1VvkjogFePtoCnwAD-by1Dw/viewform
The demands, especially those pertaining to racial justice, emphasize the need for a university commitment to supporting, promoting, and recruiting Black faculty, staff, and students. I strongly support and have signed both letters, and I encourage all UTC community members to familiarize themselves with the work of the UCW. We should advocate for the implementation of both student and faculty demands seeking to create a more inclusive, forward-looking campus community that not only welcomes diversity, but values it, celebrates it, and supports it through not just words, but through visible, public actions and monetary decisions.
Let me make it abundantly clear: Black Lives Matter. And because they not only matter, but have built the prosperity of our nation and richly contribute to our society, it is our duty to affirm the value of Black lives through our actions and policies both personally and institutionally.
Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter.