Black Lives Matter subcommittee has a conversation with the Collegian about their mission, 44 days events, recent strives for change in the Saint Mary’s Community, and how students can be allies of the Black community.
By Victoria Vidales
Within all institutions, leaders must be established, those among us who take charge in advocating for positive change for all members of their community. A group of leaders within the Saint Mary’s community is the Black Lives Matter subcommittee, a team of individuals who strive to promote diversity, inclusivity and understanding of the Black community to accomplish changes within the Saint Mary’s community.
The BLM subcommittee is a part of the Saint Mary’s Committee on Inclusive Excellence (CCIE), an organization meant to support underrepresented students, staff, and faculty, and create an inclusive environment. A vital group of positive role models, the BLM subcommittee is a voice for Black students, faculty and staff who deserve for their voices to be heard. This committee has worked tirelessly to promote outreach and collaboration within the Saint Mary’s community, in order to create a more diverse and inclusive community for all students, faculty and staff.
“Helping Black students feel welcome comes from the institution and the structures within the institution. The institution must commit both in words and deeds to change policies and structures to reflect what diversity really is,” Dr. Zahra Ahmed, Co-Chair of the BLM subcommittee, said.
The Saint Mary’s College website defines the BLM subcommittee as existing to demand “accountability of Saint Mary’s College of California, as a community and institution, to recognize and address, rather than react to circumstances of inequitable treatment of Black students, staff or faculty particularly systemic racism at the institution.”
The BLM subcommittee is comprised of various Saint Mary’s faculty, staff, and students to ensure diverse perspectives, and collaborative decisions amongst members of different branches within the Saint Mary’s community. The BLM subcommittee is co-chaired this year by three individuals, faculty member Dr. Zahra Ahmed, Assistant Professor of Politics, staff member Legacy Lee, director of the Intercultural Center, and student representative Kulia Osborne ‘22, Vice President of the Black Student Union. Co-Chair leaders change each year to provide fresh perspectives from other Saint Mary’s community members.
Active year round, the BLM subcommittee has been especially busy within the past few weeks preparing for the College’s 44 Days events, celebrating Black History month. In their discussion with the Collegian, each Co-Chair member spoke about 44 Days events, recent strives for change within the Saint Mary’s community, and how students, faculty, and staff can be allies for the Black community.
In preparation for the event, the BLM subcommittee was faced with new challenges that were unexpected for the 4th 44 Days event, adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and distance learning. “COVID has impacted, changed how we have moved forward. [What has] made this year so special has been the different kinds of events. [Social distancing] has forced us to adjust to this new form of reality, taking on more ways to learn,” Student Representative Osborne, Co-Chair, said.
The 44 Days celebrations, similar to most Saint Mary’s events, have had to undergo transformations on how to reach students in a virtual environment. Although not the ideal setting, the BLM subcommittee highlights that 24 events have been created for Black students, faculty, staff, and allies to participate in, and learn from in order to celebrate the Black community.
The BLM subcommittee acknowledges that support has been generally positive from the student body, who have made efforts to better support the concerns of the Black community. “[From the students] a lot more understanding of the support system. More physical presentation and listening from the community,” Osborne, Co-Chair, said.
The BLM subcommittee also reflected on responses from other members of the Saint Mary’s community, to the changes suggested to reform the College. Although responses have been mostly positive, Co-Chairs admit that there are many changes that need to be addressed, and made. Dr. Ahmed noted that, “[Responses to calls for change] are always mixed. My impression is the College is accepting in terms of rhetoric. I have seen some openness and willingness [to address concerns]. [However,] obstacles come up in the way leadership comes up. Obstacles in [people] who do not support agenda spectrum.”
Osborne, Co-Chair, added that “Change doesn’t happen overnight. [We have seen] a growth in understanding complaints of [Black] students. There has been growth but we would like to see more support outside of the Black body.”
The BLM subcommittee also encouraged the continuation of dialogue and conversation within the Saint Mary’s community. As a smaller College community, Saint Mary’s has advantages in creating personal connections that larger universities may not. Osborne, Co-Chair, stated that “A way to strengthen our community is to be open about having more discussion. Everyone on campus has different experiences, [which makes it] so great to be in an intimate community, to have outreach to learn from each other.”
These dialogues can create the much needed collaboration between students, and student run organizations. The BLM subcommittee hopes to see increased interest from student organizations to working with both the BLM subcommittee, and BSU to create more inclusive events that recognize the Black community. The Co-Chairs acknowledge how underfunding, especially during distance learning, can impact these efforts, but encourages students to make plans to grow.
“Students can only do so much, ideally lets move beyond what organizations were created to do. Student organizations have accomplished what they were meant for, now its time for them to evolve into something more” Director Lee, Co-Chair, said.
By making recommendations to the CCIE, the BLM subcommittee is making sure that Black students, staff and faculty are recognized and welcomed by the Saint Mary’s community. Totaling 15 members from other organizations on campus, the BLM subcommittee is making a positive impact on the Saint Mary’s community, for the current, and next generation of members to come.
Special thanks to the Dr. Zahra Ahmed, Legacy Lee, Kulia Osborne, and Holly Dusenbury for their participation in this interview.
For more information visit the BLM subcommittee at https://www.stmarys-ca.edu/inclusive-excellence/44-days-celebration
Victoria Vidales '21,