December 15, 2020

In the wake of nationwide protests, Black students and alumni called for meaningful action to address issues of inequity and bias.

By Catherine Womack ’08

People around the United States and the world reacted to multiple videos of aggressions against Black people at the hands of police officers. In Dallas, as in nearly every other major city in the U.S., citizens took to the streets to protest the deaths and injuries.

“I felt like I had to do something. It’s too important,” SMU junior Tyne Dickson ’22 told The Daily Campus reporter Michelle Aslam, explaining her choice to join a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Dallas in late May. Dickson was just one of many SMU students, faculty and alumni who joined protests in Dallas. On June 3, SMU Head Football Coach Sonny Dykes, along with dozens of SMU players and staffers, attended a protest outside Dallas City Hall, listening and handing out water to those were voicing their outrage against police brutality.

“You have to do what your heart compels you to do and what it tells you is right,” Dykes told The Dallas Morning News.

SMU students and staff also focused atten-tion on issues of inequality, discrimination and racial prejudice on campus. Dickson started a GoFundMe page called “SMUBlackLivesMatter.” She plans to use the money raised through the site to produce Black Lives Matter apparel for students to wear on campus. It’s just one way, she says, students can publicly support the Black community on campus this fall.

#BlackatSMU

SMU students joined Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice in Dallas.Just like the larger Black Lives Matter movement, the hashtag #BlackatSMU saw a resurgence this summer. Since its inception in 2015, the hashtag has helped bring to light problems of racism on campus and amplify the voices and stories of Black SMU students and alumni.

When the #BlackatSMU hashtag initially went viral, the negative experiences shared sparked SMU President R. Gerald Turner to respond to students’ concerns and demands by initiating the creation of the Cultural Intelligence Initiative (CIQ@SMU). The program was launched to infuse the principles of cultural intelligence into every aspect of SMU’s campus life, provide sensitivity training for faculty and staff and do more to recruit minority students.

This year’s resurgence of #BlackatSMU reveals there is still much work to be done to intensify and finish the work started in 2015 and have a University community in which equality and inclusion are demonstrated in all aspects of campus life.

Black alumni stand shoulder to shoulder with students

On June 9, Anga Sanders ’70, D’Marquis Allen ’16 and the Black Alumni of SMU Board published an open letter to Black SMU students in The Daily Campus. “We hear you. We feel you. We are with you,” they wrote, standing in solidarity with students who posted their stories using the #BlackatSMU hashtag or protested against police violence.

Placing today’s protests in historical context, they reminded current Black students that they are continuing the work of generations of SMU minority students who have pushed the University to become a more inclusive, welcoming and equitable space. They urged SMU leadership to provide accountability, calling for a robust response to Black students’ experiences and demands.

Excerpt from alumni letter to Black SMU students:

“Being a Black college student at a Predom-inately White Institution, or PWI, presents a particular set of challenges, and this is no less true at SMU. When you are not in the majority, when your history and culture dominate neither experiences nor activities, the simple tasks of daily living require greater expenditures of physical and emotional energy. It’s exhausting. It sometimes seems overwhelming. But you are not alone.

“We can say this with confidence because of the rich history of mobilizing that precedes your current station. In 1969, and on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, 33 members of SMU’s Black League of Afro-American College Students (BLAACS) sat in on President Willis Tate’s office to protest the lack of academic diversity and (to call for) the improvement of working conditions for Black employees. In 2015, ABS (the Association of Black Students) helped launch the #BlackAtSMU movement to call attention to long-standing racial insensitivities across SMU’s campus while incidents of police brutality increased nationwide. And at multiple points in between, Black students have raised their voices to seek equality and fair treatment at SMU.

“Today, you all are calling the University to accountability by advancing the #BlackAtSMU movement during a global pandemic and in the midst of national protests in response to the unjust killings of Black people by law enforcement officials and civilians. Though the times have changed, we are uniquely united by similar sets of circum-stances that we most certainly will overcome.

“As present members of ABS, you are playing an active role in honoring the legacy of Black students who came before you. More importantly, though, you are extending a tradition of resistance that will live beyond your time on the Hilltop. While doing so, it is important to express your feelings freely. Share your stories in both cathartic and instructive ways. Listen to the experiences of others, learn how they dealt with them, and internalize the fact that just as they belonged, you too belong at SMU. Though this journey might not always be what you anticipated, you have the power to effectuate change proactively and strategically for yourselves and future generations. The skills and resilience that you are developing now will serve you well throughout your life.”

Read the complete letter.

Through a series of online discussions, President R. Gerald Turner listened to and learned from leaders of Black student organizations, the Black Alumni of SMU Board, staff and faculty. In June, he outlined his early takeaways from these sessions in a letter to the SMU community.

Excerpt from SMU President’s letter to the SMU community:

“Accompanied by Vice President of Student Affairs K.C. Mmeje, Senior Advisor to the President Maria Dixon Hall and our Provost-elect Elizabeth Loboa, I heard firsthand what it means to be Black at SMU. These were not easy stories to tell and they were difficult to hear. Those who participated virtually on calls and by using the #BlackatSMU forum demonstrated courage and love for our University by sharing not just their stories, but also suggestions that will enable our campus to become a true community. For allowing me to hear from you, I am grateful.

“This will be a journey during which we will continue to listen. And there will be action. Next week, we will meet with Black graduate student leaders to ensure that no voice or experience is left unheard. We recognize that there are other members of the Mustang family who want to be part of this process, so I know we will be holding more listening sessions. In the meantime, please continue to use the #BlackatSMU forum to make sure we hear from you and learn of your desire to participate. As we progress, we also plan additional meetings with each of these groups to ensure we stay on the right track to address this systemic issue.

“These important conversations and the themes that are emerging from them are just the beginning. But one thing is very clear: Our Black students, staff and faculty need more allies and advocates on campus to create an environment where they feel they belong. We must affirm that the lives and experiences of our Black students, faculty, staff and alumni matter. Black lives Matter, and Black Mustang Lives Matter.”

Read the complete letter.