SPECIAL REPORT: UA administrators discuss equity-related changes in past year

KNWA

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The University of Arkansas experienced public calls for equity-related changes following the 2020 death of George Floyd. Some students fear progress is not being made quickly enough, but administrators point to several implementations as proof of that progress.

The UofA unveiled a new space in Oct. honoring historically-Black fraternities and sororities on campus: the National Panhellenic Council Gardens. Black students and faculty members asked for this for decades.

“It really means a lot for us to have this space for our African-American students,” said Parice Bowser, the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Greek Life.

Some Black students said 2020’s prominent, nationwide social justice movement revealed disparities campus needed to address. Acting Chancellor Dr. Charles Robinson said it took a tragic event to spark conversation.

“George Floyd’s death was tough for the entire nation. As a campus community, we mourned with the nation,” Robinson said. “It did lead to our students raising concerns about things they felt we needed to address.”

Following Floyd’s death, the Black Student Caucus posted a list of demands for administrators. They brought to light issues they said have persisted for years.

“This isn’t brand new,” said Tyrah Jackson, a Black Student Caucus Spokesperson, in a summer interview. “It seemed brand new because we told people about it, but it isn’t brand new.”

The group requested the school remove a statue and namesake in honor of late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright. Fulbright was a former UA president and so-called Dixiecrat who voted against the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts while in Congress.

A commissioned panel recommended removing Fulbright’s name and statue, but that did not happen. Jackson said it felt like Black students weren’t listened to again.

“It’s tough,” Jackson said. “Compromise is the way to go for almost everything in life, but who are we compromising with and what are we compromising?”

Coleman Warren is the student body president at the university. He said some feel the Fulbright decision indicated administrators still weren’t listening.

“For many of our Black students, it’s very frustrating,” Warren said.

Other recommendations from the panel were accepted.

The university removed Charles Brough’s name from a dining hall. Brough was governor during the 1919 Elaine Race Massacre and used his position to protect those who murdered a large number of Black sharecroppers. Robinson said the removal signaled one part of the UofA’s commitment to change

That goal includes hiring more minority staff members, creating a more-equitable culture and increasing the number of scholarships for minority students.

“When you talk about underrepresented students in the state, that often means the poorest students,” Robinson said “[It’s important we’re] creating, making sure we’re lean and that we have scholarships, particularly for those first-generation, low-income Arkansans.”

Warren said progress is being made in multiple areas, including in the form of an upcoming student success center with tailored resources like tutoring and counseling to help Black students feel more comfortable and connected.

“[It’ll be] an actual student space, staff and community space for our Black students on campus,” Warren said.

Robinson said administrators are listening to calls for change, but it takes time.

“If we continue to work on our retention rates, making the campus one in which they feel they belong, there will be a natural growth there because students will hear about what we’re doing,” Robinson said.

Robinson and other Black faculty said the new gardens are another big step. Bowser was emotional at the unveiling.

“I’m looking forward to the things to come,” Bowser said. “I’m so excited for where we’re going as a university.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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