On a cold, windy first day of classes as Clemson University opened its spring semester, nearly 80 students marched from the university’s center of social and athletic life – Memorial Stadium – to the school’s administrative offices in Sikes Hall to present a list of grievances and demands to the school’s president, Jim Clements.
The students, a loosely formed group called A Coalition of Concerned Students – many but not all of whom are black – say the university as a whole and many students in particular have exhibited a pattern of social injustice that exploded last semester after a fraternity gang-related “Cripmas” party and comments by Clemson students on social media.
The students stood on the front steps of Sikes Hall at lunchtime Wednesday and demanded an apology from Clements for the party and a formal response to a list of seven grievances the group presented.
Clemson is taking the grievances seriously and will formally respond to the list of demands before the next meeting of Clemson’s Board of Trustees, scheduled for Feb. 5-6, said Almeda Jacks, interim vice president of student affairs.
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Administrators have been working behind the scenes on a course of action, she said. “We’ll share with you everything that’s going to take place,” Jacks said.
The group called for Clements to formally and publicly apologize on behalf of the university for the “Cripmas” party, which came to light after photos posted to Instagram showed students dressed in gang-related garb gesturing with gang symbols and wearing handcuffs and T-shirts with images of rappers.
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity’s national chapter suspended all of its Clemson chapter’s activities indefinitely, and several of the Clemson frat’s leaders resigned after the December incident.
Clements addressed the school’s social climate when he spoke to faculty and staff at the close of the fall semester and said the school will take steps to improve.
Clemson announced it would form a Diversity Council of on- and off-campus representatives, would hold monthly student diversity luncheons to improve communication and would start a President’s Lecture Series on Leadership and Diversity.
But students Wednesday said the university hasn’t done enough to show it’s willing to change a culture that they say is hostile toward minorities.
The first grievance called Clements’ response to the “Cripmas” party “woefully inadequate and insecure.”
Students called for Clements to seek criminal prosecution for hateful speech or actions committed by members of the Clemson University community.
The group also wants Clemson to build a multi-cultural center as a “safe space for under-represented groups,” wants more funding for organizations that represent minority groups and wants the university to hire more minority faculty members.
The group also called for Clemson to rename Tillman Hall, the signature building at the center of campus named after former South Carolina Governor and U.S. Senator Benjamin Tillman (1890-1894), who became known as a white supremacist and racist politician who made speeches advocating for lynching black men.
The group said that buildings on campus named for people who are now known for their racism make minority students feel “disrespected, uncomfortable and unwelcome.”
Clemson should offer incentives for diversity training for administrators and faculty, the group said.
It also should include diversity as a core value and add diversity history teaching to the school curriculum, the group said.
Clemson will issue a formal response, said Leon Wiles, Clemson’s chief diversity officer.
Wiles said he met with Clements on Wednesday morning and “he is aware that we need to make some changes and we will do that.”