For the better part of the last year, the conversation surrounding race in America has only grown, and colleges and universities are playing a central role in furthering it.
At Shaw University, the first historically black college established in the South in 1865, students are leading those discussions.
After the George Floyd protests in May 2020, a handful met with one of the school’s deans to help and create the Center for Racial and Social Justice, which aims to answer the question: what does systemic racism look like?
The university, located in Raleigh, North Carolina, gathered business and political leaders in the community to confront the inequities that have fostered divisiveness with the city and abroad.
“We need to collaborate with our counterparts in order to move forward,” said Ian Finley, a senior at Shaw.
“I actually thought [the United States] was less divided before coming here,” added senior Ashley Neely.
Both Neely and Finley are from the Bahamas and came to Raleigh for school. They quickly learned the America they dreamed of was not the America they now know.
“Even walking downtown sometimes I was advised to not wear a hoodie,” said Finley, who has been accepted to eight law schools once he graduates. “My parents would tell me to wear glasses and I would be like why are they telling me to wear glasses, but for some reason me wearing glasses makes me seem more innocent and less violent.”
“I was walking in a convenience store and this person kept following me down the aisles,” added Neely. “[My mother] said ‘Well, Ashley, that’s your reality now.’”
Both seniors collaborated with Shaw’s Dean of the Divinity School, Dr. Johnny Hill, to bring the Center for Racial and Social Justice to life.
“This is our time. This is our moment to really shine the light on the power of the human spirit to bring about change and social transformation,” said Hill.
Around Raleigh, there are now art installations using plywood from stores that boarded up their windows during the Floyd protest. Shaw University also brings speakers and events to its campus as it offers a place for those who might not see the same inequities its students do to educate themselves.
“For me, I think it’s important we move from feeling an emotion and this sort of visceral response of those kinds of images to organizing and developing thoughtful action,” said Hill.
“Knowledge is power, but it’s the correct application of knowledge that will really get us to the point that we really need to be at,” added Finley.