One day after Clemson University broke ground on a historical marker intended to express the institution’s acknowledgment of its racism of the past, more than 100 members of the school’s Black Student Union marched on the administration building Wednesday to complain that not enough is being done to deal with the racism of the present.
The group met in front of the John C. Calhoun home, where enslaved African Americans once worked for the vice president of the United States, and where two days earlier, students hung bananas on a banner depicting the role of blacks in Clemson’s history.
“Part of the reason we are here is to express not only our sentiments regarding the fact that this incident actually happened, but also the lack of productive response from the administration to the efforts made by concerned students relating to this event as well as others in the past,” said Richelle Hayes, a communications major from Mullins.
Clemson President Jim Clements stepped up onto a millstone in front of the historic site and asked the students to do their part to help make the university’s diversity training and inclusion efforts succeed.
“This is a team effort. We’re all in this together,” he said. “For us to make progress we’re going to have to do it together. There are a lot of things we’re doing. There are just a lot more things we have to do.”
The students who defaced the banner are being dealt with through the university’s Student Affairs office, Clements said. No criminal charges are expected.
“I know we were all hurt by the incident on Monday,” he told the group. “You were hurt, I was hurt. It was sad and sickening. But those things happen here at Clemson and anywhere.”
Wednesday’s protest was also part of a national “call to action” organized by the Black Liberation Collective on college campuses across the country.
The students, both black and white, carried signs with such slogans as, “Your ‘solutions’ are not solving our issues and concerns.”
Clements said he has faith in a process used when he was at Towson University in Maryland that engages people across campus in dialog to bring about a more inclusive environment.
“By the way, I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “But I’m around a whole bunch of smart people. Together we can come up with a lot of good ideas.”
A student asked why such things as Monday’s incident are still happening despite all the university’s efforts.
“I would almost turn it back to you and ask why do you think it’s happening,” he said. “And what can you do to try to minimize those events from occurring?”
A photo of the banner with the bananas was circulated on social media, which one student said makes people not want to come to school at Clemson.
“We’re working really hard to expand our recruiting efforts,” Clements said. “We’re making incredible investments and the numbers, believe it or not, are moving really good in the right direction.
“These things set us back.
“I can only do so much. My team can only do so much. You can do a lot.”
The previous day’s groundbreaking ceremony was part of the university’s response to protests last year in which students as well as faculty asked that Tillman Hall be renamed so as not to honor a violently racist founder of the institution.
That came on the heels of protests over a white fraternity party that spoofed black hip-hop culture, which also generated widespread controversy on social media.
Wednesday's protest comes just five days before the university's new Chief Diversity Officer is set to step into the job.
NEW HISTORICAL MARKERS
Clemson University broke ground Tuesday for a historical marker near the spot where slaves and imprisoned black laborers once lived.
School officials during a ceremony acknowledged the part that slavery played on the land that became Clemson University.
The marker outside Lee Hall will honor the recently discovered role that state prisoners, mostly African-Americans, played in building the school’s first buildings.
Officials also announced the creation of two other markers, one for the nearby former site of a Cherokee Village and the other to mark the burial sites of the Calhoun family, slaves and state prisoners who died during their confinement at Clemson.