Student after student stood on the steps of Knox College’s most recognizable landmark to address their grievances. Whether due to the chill of the cold gray afternoon or the personal statements of students involved, members of the Knox community shivered on Wednesday.
The event, organized initially by the Diversity Initiative, intended to address four grievances on campus: general lack of communication; tuition hikes without adequate resources; racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ablesim and classism on campus and donor priorities.
“Diversity to us means lived experiences and how they are unique to us depending on our identities … I think diversity, in the way that we’re viewing it, is inclusive of many, many grievances,” junior and Diversity Initiative member Allie Fry said.
The event was sparked by a need for inclusion and solidarity, especially after the Initiative attempted to discuss their grievances with faculty with no further response or discussion.
“These conversations haven’t progressed nearly as much as we’d like. I think a lot of it gets stuck in discussion, and it doesn’t move forward. This is an extra push. This is something we need to be taking care of now. These are our lives,” organizer and senior Maricruz Osorio said.
The event evidently has been a long time coming.
“We’ve tried multiple avenues and various things and it hasn’t all worked and this is a space where we felt this was necessary and this walkout and speak out was necessary,” Diversity Initiative member and junior Rachel Kuehnle said.
At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 14, students, faculty and staff gathered to listen and share experiences, hoping to voice concerns and, ultimately, convince administration that a meeting with the Board of Trustees is necessary.
At the beginning of the year, ABLE had seven students holding exec positions. Over the course of the year, three of the seven students had to leave Knox because of financial reasons.
“I was lucky … my dad can’t afford for me to come here so he doesn’t pay for anything,” said junior and ABLE president Dushawn Darling, who currently works three jobs to pay tuition. After losing three exec members, he was forced to sacrifice grades and time to plan Black History Month.
In the wake of tuition hikes, Darling fears being put in the same position.
“I work and I work and I work … every year the tuition goes up and I struggle to pay so what am I gonna do? I got merit scholarships, and they’re not getting raised,” he said.
Darling voiced his story on stage at the walkout, expressing a disillusionment with Knox’s use of equality.
“Sometimes equal is not right. You can’t judge me the way you judge a legacy child whose family is paying 1.5 million dollars to build the football field or a new gym. They don’t ask these questions,” he told TKS in an interview. “If I’m not being looked at as an individual, I’m not being looked at at all. You can’t look at me as a black person or the president of ABLE because I’m that, but I’m also a low income, first generation student that’s going through hell, that’s working three jobs, that’s not sleeping at night and getting Cs in classes.”
Freshman Jordan Hurst read a poem detailing difficulties she has faced during her first year. Hurst’s poem focused on conversations she has had with her peers in which they have been oblivious to the struggles she faced on her path to Knox.
“I wanted to address the ignorance that is in some of the students on this campus, how little they know about the lives of minorities and how sometimes these little comments that they make are very offensive,” Hurst said.
Hurst said that a greater effort must be made to educate students on the inequality of opportunity and the struggle of minority peoples in society today.
“But because we are in a world where we are dominated by the people of the majority, we feel like we can’t always speak up because it is often that majority that controls our future and then controls what we are allowed to say and what not to say and so many of us are silenced,” Hurst said.
Like many students at the walkout, Hurst looks towards the curriculum as a measure to call attention to more minority voices.
“I feel like there should be more than just what goes on during orientation week because it takes more than just a day to educate people; we don’t take classes for just a day, we take them for an entire term and there needs to be classes to educate people,” Hurst said. “There is a diversity requirement but there are so many ways you can fill the requirement but not actually understand what the issues are that you can just pass the class and not have learned anything about what’s really going on in the world.”
International students also shared their grievances. Diandra Soemardi, a freshman international student from Indonesia, seeks a greater diversity of counseling services.
“We need counselors that know how it feels to come here and be thrown into a new culture thousands of miles away from home. Nobody knows who you are, nobody knows your background. We need counselors who understand what it feels like,” Soemardi said.
She also advocates for a greater representation of international students involved in the orientation process.
“I know they’re trying their best but I think for international student orientation I really want to see a lot of international students being an orientation leader…I want to see students talking about their own experiences,” Soemardi said. “I’m so lucky I have an international resident advisor because if I had an American RA she cannot possibly know what I’m going through; it’s something that people just can’t imagine.”
The event lasted approximately four hours, with 150 people in attendance an hour into the event.
“I’m thankful that administration felt comfortable to come here because this is definitely something where we need collaboration between all parties involved so I’m grateful to have their support,” Osorio said.
“I’m proud of students for coming out and supporting,” Initiative member and sophomore Chelsea Bennett said. “The fact that they actually came out shows that there is an issue on campus that needs to be addressed.”
According to Osorio, alumni have reached out to her to express praise and gratitude for the event.
“We will meet with the trustees.”