West Virginia University students asked questions and presented ideas to better WVU for members of the Black community during a Student Government Association Town Hall on Wednesday.
SGA Town Hall Series is back with our first meeting of the year on Wednesday. Students, we want to hear your perspective on the events taking place on our campus and in our community. pic.twitter.com/RireSZh9BF— WVU Student Government Association (@wvusga) June 13, 2020
The event was held through a video conference with close to 70 students, SGA members and University administrators in attendance.
SGA Elections Chair Camryn Pressley said she sees many students being uninvolved with the non-mandatory diversity training that is currently offered during Welcome Week.
With the University requiring all students to complete a COVID-19 education course before returning to campus in the fall, Pressley said she’d like to see a similar program promoting diversity and inclusion.
“While COVID is something serious, being inclusive and allowing people to learn about diversity is very important,” Pressley said.
Pressley, an executive of two Black organizations on campus, said many do not receive enough financial support from the University. Takara Robinson, a Ph.D. candidate at WVU, shared a similar sentiment, saying that the University needs to explicitly name funding for Black organizations and initiatives.
“The only way to stand in solidarity with Black people in higher education is to stand in material solidarity with Black people in higher education,” said Robinson. “Black people need funding.”
Pressley also said she’s seen that Black organizations don’t get shared as much as other student organizations on social media by University accounts, and often have trouble reaching students.
“We do our own marketing,” Pressley said. “I feel like we’re put on the back burner compared to other organizations on campus.”
Kurt Walck, a recent graduate of the WVU School of Pharmacy, suggested renaming the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center after a new representative. Byrd, a former United States Senator from West Virginia, had prior involvement with the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s before later renouncing racism and his anti-integration views.
Walck suggested renaming the Center after Katherine Johnson, a decorated NASA mathematician and West Virginia native who passed away earlier this year.
"I think she's a better representative of how Mountaineers truly go first," Walck said.
Several students expressed their concerns about lower retention rates for Black students because of finances. Many said Black students struggle to pay for school due to a lack of scholarships specifically for minorities.
SGA Senator Amaya Jernigan said she doesn’t see many other Black students in her classes and tutoring. She said she wants to see more classmates and tutors that look like her.
Over a dozen University administrators were in attendance, including the deans of several colleges and WVU Dean of Students Corey Farris. Several administrators spoke and thanked the students for sharing their concerns.
SGA members in attendance said they would bring up the addressed student concerns in future SGA meetings and legislation.
Correction: An earlier issue of this article identified two people by their old positions with WVU SGA. These descriptions have been updated to reflect their current roles.