The Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), the Student Government Association (SGA), National Advancement Association of Colored People(NAACP), the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), Brother2Brother and Tri Sigma collaborated on Feb. 26 to host an event called the “UNCP Diversity Dialogue,” involving students and faculty to discuss the importance of diversity on and off campus.
The UNCP Diversity Dialogue was held in response to the situation regarding a picture of a student in blackface and the reactions from students after the picture surfaced on social media on Feb. 14. A panel of students, administration and faculty all representing different organizations and departments on campus was assembled to tackle the audience’s questions about the blackface incident and discuss the need for diversity.
The panelists included Director of ODI Dr. Canida, the University Chapter NAACP President Nick Courmon, National Pan-Hellenic Council President Paul Anderson II, NPHC President Melanie Beck, Native American Student Organization President Jorden Revels, Assistant History Professor Dr. David Walton, Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Jade Jones and Freshman Senator Simone Spencer.
The crowd was scarcely packed as empty seats were accompanied by various fraternities and sororities including some Tri Sigma members, SGA, the Provost and the Chancellor. The seminar was focused around three main questions presented to both panelists, administration and the audience:
“Why is diversity important to our campus?” “What expectations do you have about diversity with the student body?” “What expectations do you have about diversity with Administration/ Staff?” The seminar started with comments from the office of Student Conduct, director Dr. Jonathan Pettigrew.
“I can assure you guys, as a director of student conduct, and a university administrator - we take all allegations very seriously,” Pettigrew continued. “The university as a whole was very proactive and we did our due diligence.”
After the comments from Pettigrew, Assistant History Professor Dr. David Watson talked to the crowd about the history of blackface.
“Performers who would perform AfricanAmerican characters would put soot from burning cork on their face to darken up their face. Predominantly or majority white actors, but even those actors were required to put blackface on,” Walton continued. “Behavior was a part of blackface, mocking African-Americans and African-American culture. In many instances it was designed to reinterpret and represent history - to present slavery and the enslavement of African-Americans as a joyful, wondrous, exciting time,” said Walton.
The conversation shifted in a different direction as the main topic of the night switched from the blackface incident to diversity and inclusion on the University’s campus. Two of the demands that were listed in the statement by the NAACP and NPHC following the incident also made their way to the diversity dialogue.
Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Jade Jones stated that the creation of executive committees within Greek life, and required diversity and inclusion training for pre-recruitment Greek life, were being looked at as possible implementation to avoid future events such as this. T
owards the end of the night, one Tri Sigma member spoke out about the need for diversity and stressed the importance of talking to our friends and coworkers about uncomfortable dialogue surrounding race. Later on in the seminar, the floor was opened up to faculty as professors from different departments made suggestions to the panelists and students.
One professor suggested mandatory reading to all students including upperclassmen. The suggested mandatory reading was also buffed up to include all faculty and administration coupled with a seminar for a platform to discuss the reading.