Student Spotlight: Jackie Cerón-Hernández

Jackie - White House cropped

Ask a student on campus when they first knew that Carolina was the place for them, and many would answer, “As early as four years old.” Indeed, for many, Carolina blue runs through their veins. For others, however, that dream doesn’t manifest itself until much later. Consider Jackie Cerón-Hernández, who hadn’t entertained a notion of attending Carolina until her senior year in high school, when she first heard about the University while applying for college.

Jackie’s story begins in Mexico, where she spent the first 12 years of her life. Like many children, her intended career path was constantly changing and her move to the United States changed the trajectory of her future plans. She knew she had to go to college if she wanted to follow one of her many career paths but that dream seemed out of reach due to the high cost of attending college. With the help of a merit scholarship awarded to Jackie by the University of North Carolina, her dreams of obtaining a degree were realized. In her time here at Carolina, Jackie has served as the MLK 5K Coordinator, a summer intern in D.C., and a mentor for other students. Just prior to her graduation from UNC-CH, Jackie described her journey from Mexico to Carolina and beyond:

Could you describe your childhood and family structure growing up?

I was born and raised in El Estado de Mexico and I lived there until I was 12 years old. I lived with both of my grandparents on my mom’s side. My dad was not around during my childhood because he was going back and forth between the US and Mexico. So, for a long time, I did not have a father figure. I do remember every two weeks we would go to Tlaxcala, the state where my grandparents are from. That is where I spent most of my childhood.

Why did your family decide to move to the United States?

We moved here because my father had been coming back and forth from Mexico to the United States. He finally decided that it was time for all of us to come with him. He didn’t want us to be separated and he thought he could give us a better life in the United States. We moved to Durham, NC when I was 12 years old and have been there ever since.

Were there any defining moments or events growing up that led you to choose your current path?

Ever since I was little, I would mention all these different types of careers to my mom. I would tell people I wanted be a chef, model, a doctor — everything and anything. For the longest time, I said I was going to be an accountant like my uncle or get involved in business like my aunt, but that changed when I got to high school. My pediatrician inspired me to look into health careers. I shifted everything I had wanted to do to something in the health field. When I got to high school, I continued on the health path, but when I came to Carolina and started taking science classes, I learned that healthcare was not my passion. Then, someone in the Public Policy department, a professor, reached out to me at the perfect moment and told me about the department. I ended up liking public policy courses, so I switched my major.

Jackie, posing at the Old WellWhich aspects of Carolina aided in your decision to choose this school?

My whole high school career I had never heard of Carolina. I knew I had to go to college and get a degree, but as a first generation college student and an immigrant, I was not fully aware of the schools or my options. When it came to applying, I applied to a bunch of different schools in North Carolina. I ended up here because I was offered a merit scholarship that covered all costs. There was no way my parents could afford my education, which is why I chose to come here, because of my scholarship.

What did you find most rewarding about your work as the MLK Coordinator for the 5K?

I was never expecting this position. I had originally planned on working with the recruitment side of DMA. When I was offered this position, I took it because I was interested in what the office stood for. The 5K was a totally new initiative, which I began working on during my sophomore year. No one had any experience but we were all excited because we were raising money for a good cause. There is a lot of behind the scenes work, such as trying to reach out to sponsors and organizations that are receiving the funds. The most rewarding part is all the work you put into the program over the course of the semester finally comes together. You get to witness everything you planned. Then you hear people talk about how much they liked the event, the idea of getting people together for a cause, and raising awareness for the cause.

What other extracurricular activities have you been involved with at Carolina or in the Chapel Hill community?

Since my first year at Carolina, I’ve been involved with DMA. I started with MSRC (Minority Students Recruitment Committee), just being on panels for students and parents, helping out during registration and recruitment events. Then I decided to take on a leadership position within DMA and that’s how I came to be the 5K Coordinator. In addition, I’ve been a part of NCsli, a mentoring program for high-schoolers, where I served as an English instructor for sophomores. I was part of the Masters of Accounting mentoring program where they bring in different speakers, [and] put on workshops about how to be professional. I served on the Teaching Awards Committee to help select the Lifetime Mentor Award and then I served as a Scholarship Ambassador through the Office of Scholarship and Student Aid, [which is] made up of a group of students who are supposed to talk to university administrators and potential donors about why their money is making a difference at the University.

You spent some time interning in DC. Describe that experience.

I was in DC for a semester and the summer. During the semester, I was there through the Honors Public Policy program, where you get to intern at a place of your choice and you get to take two classes. I took a class on domestic policy as well as [one on] foreign policy. I applied to intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics out of the Department of Education. In my role with the Initiative, I was in charge of social media to share resources that the Initiative has created for people and to amplify that through social media or recognizing students that we heard about in the department. I also helped lead the Women of Color STEM conference at Arizona State University. I also helped create a guide for DACA students to help them know what to do post-graduation. Then I interned with [NC] Congressman G.K. Butterfield, just doing clerical work like answering phones, emails, White House tours, House Congress tours, greeting people who came into the office. Actually, for a week, our supervisor was out of the office on vacation and my co-intern and I had to run the office! Sometimes I would get to go to briefings either on the Hill or at universities. I would go, sit in, take notes, and write memos for the staff in charge of immigration or transportation.

Jackie, at the Department of Defense podium in the PentagonWhat are your plans post-graduation? Where do you see yourself in five years?

Plan A is to go to graduate school. I applied to the Masters of Accounting program [at Carolina] and I should hear back about that [soon]. I will go for a year and then I will practice accounting for a couple of years. If not, plan B is to work around the area within higher education, since that’s what I’ve spent my time as an undergrad doing. Regardless of where I end up or what I end up doing, I would like to be a role model or mentor for underrepresented students who have struggled like I have and provide [the kind of] moral support that I was offered throughout college. I want to show students that there are different people who look like them working in a variety of fields. Lastly, I would like to start a scholarship fund for students trying to get into graduate school because there are many funds available for undergraduates but not as many for graduate students.

What lessons have you learned in your time at Carolina that you hope to carry with you as you start a new chapter in your life?

To be flexible, open minded, and always keep your options open. Don’t have a set plan. Have an idea, but from my experience, you may encounter different opportunities that you have never heard of before and then you end up pursuing a different route. Be open to change.

What advice would you give to incoming Carolina students or students currently here at Carolina?

Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re struggling. Use your resources and get to know your classmates, peers, work peers, boss, etc. Every person knows someone that you may need to know and they can get you connected to different opportunities.

By Brittany Grant

Diversity In STEM Conference promotes resilience and life balance

The second annual Diversity in STEM Conference brought together participants for developmental learning experiences, networking, and guest speakers, designed to better educate faculty and staff regarding diversity and inclusion of ethnic minorities and women in STEM.

The morning Welcome and Workshop featured Dr. Christine Grant, an Academic Resilience Strategist and Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State. As one of fewer than 10 African-American women at that rank, she shared her experience as a minority in laboratories who had to learn to literally claim her space as a scientist.

Dr. Christine Grant at Diversity in STEM Conference workshop

Dr. Christine Grant shares the importance of resilience and balance in STEM

Grant’s upbeat and interactive session taught faculty, staff and graduate/post doc students about Leveraged Empowerment, encouraging participants to address critical issues to bolster their ability to network, mentor, manage time stress, sharpen their negotiating skills, become better leaders and develop mental toughness. She stressed the importance of identifying and cultivating one’s leveraging opportunities in order to achieve an optimal balance of resilience and contentment, and to follow one’s dreams.

Cheerful and encouraging, Grant also stressed the importance of finding something that makes you happy outside of your STEM field so that you can have life balance. In her case, it’s knitting and making jewelry, skills which were delightfully demonstrated at the session’s end, when she invited the audience to choose an item from a gift tree. Inside small, shimmery sacks were handmade earrings, bracelets and other items she’d created during her time outside of the lab and classroom…a reminder that balance can truly be found, even in the most demanding fields.

Following a networking lunch, Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, President of University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans under President Obama, was the keynote speaker. He spoke of the importance of involving the humanities as an aspect of STEM education so that we can ensure the development of humanist scientists. As an example, he paraphrased from Guillaume Apollinaire’s Le Pont Mirabeau (“La joie venait toujours après la peine”), translating it as “at the end of the pain, there is joy.” The poem’s message was a reminder that it takes hard work, grit and focused determination to achieve one’s goals…but the struggle and frustration is part of the learning process. The idea of continued learning, in particular is vital – one can never stop learning, whether in the STEM fields or elsewhere.

Dr. Cham shares a laugh with participant at 2nd annual Diversity in STEM Conference

Dr. Jorge Cham, founder and artist, PHd Comics, is a case study in Dr. Hrabowski’s concept of combining humanities with STEM: He received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, became an instructor and researcher at Caltech and then created “Piled Higher and Deeper,” a nationally syndicated comic strip about life in academia. Dr. Cham discussed the importance of telling your story in a brief, accessible manner, with a maximum of 10 lines, having your “hook” to engage readers or listeners, and always ending in a punchline.

The conference was sponsored by Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Office of Research Communications, Office of Graduate Education, and the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and was developed by the UNC Council on Scientific Enrichment.

by Adrianne Gibilisco, Diversity & Multicultural Affairs

 

 

SWING Applications Open

The UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work is pleased to announce our 4th annual Social Work Introduction for the Next Generation (SWING) program. This three day on-campus event will be held at UNC-CH June 25-27, 2017. This event is co-sponsored by the School of Social Work and the Health Affairs Pipeline Partnership Initiative, a UNC collaboration aimed at increasing the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students in health careers.

We believe it is essential to encourage students to plan early for careers and be exposed to various disciplines. Social work is a profession committed to the development of the full potential of individuals, groups and communities.  The aim of the SWING program is to stimulate students’ interest in social work by allowing them to meet and learn first-hand about the work of social workers and opportunities in the field. Students will have the opportunity to stay on campus, learn tips for applying to college, engage in hands-on experience volunteering in a local community non-profit, complete a Strengths Quest assessment to identify their 5 most prominent personality traits, and much more.

We invite you to share this with academically competitive high school juniors from historically underserved, low income, or first-generation backgrounds who are interested in learning more about social work. The application process is electronic and can be accessed here. The application deadline is April 28th. Space is limited, so applying early is recommended. Students must complete the application online and upload a recommendation letter from a principal, teacher, counselor, or adviser to be considered. Students selected to participate will be notified by May 12, 2017. Students must meet the following criteria to apply:

  • Interests that are congruent with the social work profession (ie: advocacy, counseling, service, leadership, desire to help others, etc.)
  • Current high school Junior
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA (4.0 scale)
  • Planning to attend college

The goal of SWING is to have students leave with a greater understanding of and interest in pursuing a career in social work.  Participants will receive on-campus lodging, all meals, a SAT study book, and a certificate of completion for attending. Parents/guardians are responsible for transportation to and from the program in Chapel Hill, NC.

For more information, please visit http://ssw.unc.edu/swing. If you have questions, please contact Ben Balderas, Assistant Director of Recruitment, Admissions & Financial Aid, at 919-843-6284 or ben_balderas@unc.edu.

 

The 2017 University Diversity Awards

2017 University Diversity Award Recipients w/senior leadership

Recipients of the 2017 University Diversity Awards

The Pleasants Family Room in the Wilson Library was filled to capacity for the 2017 University Diversity Awards, during which individuals or groups across eight categories were honored for their work in furthering diversity across the Carolina community and beyond. Just one day after Carolina became NCAA champions for the sixth time, a winning sense still permeated the air as winners in Diversity took to the lectern to share their thoughts on progress made (and yet to be made) in that arena.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost James Dean set the tone fittingly in his opening remarks, as he likened us to a basketball team, made up of individuals who come together as a team with a common purpose that transcends their differences to achieve a greater good…and whose differences make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. As Carolina fans, we are bound together by a shared identity – we’re all Tar Heels. “At Carolina, diversity is not a talking point or a statistic,” he said. “It’s a seat at the table, a voice in the room and a hand in the decision.”

The recipients of this year’s University Diversity Awards exemplify the superior efforts to ensure our school’s mission to continue to build a diverse and inclusive campus community and culture. This year, the Awards Committee employed a blind procedure in the review and selection process in an effort to reduce unintended bias. Each nomination was “de-identified,” allowing the committee to focus on giving consideration only to the contributions and achievements of the nominees.

“This year’s recipients combined caring, creativity and hard work to develop projects that helped people at Carolina, in our neighboring communities and across our state,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “Their wide range of projects, focused on diversity and inclusion, shows how getting involved can make a difference in people’s lives. I am very proud of the example they set, demonstrating what it means to be a great public university.”

Interim Chief Diversity Office and Special Assistant to the Chancellor Rumay Alexander was particularly proud of the recipients this year. “When we take the time to better understand people, we put them in a better position to flourish,” she said. “This year’s winner’s personify how that can be done.”

Mark Katz at Lectern - Copy

Mark Katz

The first recipient, Mark Katz, received the Faculty Award. The Ruel W. Tyson Jr. Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, teaches in the Department of Music and is also the Director for the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at UNC-Chapel Hill.  Presenter Jennifer Ho, Professor of English & Comparative Literature and Associate Director of the Institute, described Katz as “being absolutely inclusive in who belongs at IAH. As a campus leader, he has modeled for others what an administrator and faculty member can do by taking serious the charge to be always mindful that we want to not just create opportunities, but actively encourage the minoritized among us to have a voice and a seat at the table.”

Addressing the audience, Katz described himself as a “privileged white guy with tenure, employment and funding” and suggested, “others in positions of privilege should step up and listen to those who are suffering from injustice and help. You’ll realize how little you have to lose and how much we all have to gain.”

The Staff Award, presented by DeVetta Holman Nash, Assistant Director of Student Wellness, went to Dexter Robinson, Academic Advisor within the College of Arts and Sciences. Nash noted that Robinson, part of the first cohort of Carolina College Advising Corps and Co-Founder of Carolina United, believes in meeting students where they are, and empowering them to make decisions once they understand all of their options and resources.

Robinson humbly noted, “I’m quite quiet and didn’t prepare any remarks because, realistically, I’m doing my job. I’m an alumnus and this is just part of being a Tar Heel.”

Kenneth Ward, presented with the Alumni Award at the 2017 University Diversity Awards

Kenneth Ward and Rumay Alexander

Michael Dominguez, Assistant Professor in the School of Education, presented the Alumni Award to Kenneth Ward (class of 1984), who taught public school for 15 years and currently serves as the executive director of College Bound in Washington, DC. His work there has equipped inner city males and females with the skills they need to be successful in life and has given hope to many young people that are not only underserved, but also hopeless.

Ward, following so soon after Robinson’s understated delivery, boldly announced, “Like Dexter, this is my work and I feel like I shouldn’t say anything…but that’s just not my personality!” After much laughter from the audience, he gave thanks to the Committee and others, singling out his mother and grandmother, in particular, for encouraging self-pride and ensuring that he was well educated. “I became valedictorian and understood that this blackness was not why I was here, but my mind was why I’m here…and I’m brilliant!” he quipped. “I try to pass this on to people so they feel good about themselves, no matter their weight, their gender, whatever,” he added. “I’m of the first generation to go to college and complete it, so I know the challenges and that’s why I do this work. People still are made to feel that they don’t belong, so we work to change that. It’s what we do when no one’s looking.”

Monica Richard, Orange County Human Relations Commission Chair, presented two awards: the Community Member Award and the Community Organization Award. The Community Member Award recipient, Rev. Ryan Spurrier, of UNC Wesley, ensures that the origins of denominations founded by African Americans are presented and has facilitated open and frank conversations about LGBTQ issues in his church services. A nominator wrote, “UNC Wesley’s worship services have incorporated elements that speak to the lived experiences of homelessness and humanize the people students see each time they walk down Franklin. Ryan has crafted sermons that include homelessness as topics and has challenged students to reflect on their own privilege and consider what they can do to help neighbors in need.”

Upon receiving his award, Rev. Spurrier joked, “I hope you didn’t get hung up on the fact that I earned my degree at Duke!” As the laughter subsided, he noted, “Diversity begins in selfishness. Looking deeply inside ourselves to know what we have to offer…and to know what we lack and need to receive allows us to look at each relationship with equal sharing so that each person can thrive and life can be full. Students wrestle with questions of justice, so this is a reminder of the opportunity that we have every day to speak to the lives of students who are changing the world.”

The Black Alumni Reunion was lauded for its development from a modest group to a model reunion, consistently benchmarked by universities across the nation for its methods of engagement and fundraising, and its ability to provide funds for merit-based scholarships to Carolina’s first-year African-American students. Regina Newell Stephens, Chair for last year’s BAR, noted, “Last night, during the game, as the camera spanned celebrations around the country and we saw face after face of people who shared a passion for our school, we didn’t notice our differences – we saw a Tar Heel and loved them just for that.” As the audience nodded in agreement, she shared that BAR has grown so much since its earliest beer keg iteration in the 1980s. “Well over 1,000 alumni unite every year to celebrate culture and shared experiences, but it’s so much more than a weekend party. Every year, we celebrate support and lift up current students with scholarships and networking. Each one reaches as many as we can.”

The Graduate Student Award followed, with April D. Aviles, a Master’s student at the School of Public Health, presenting the award to Stephen Krueger, a Master’s student at the School of Information and Library Science, where he is the graduate representative on the Diversity Committee and leader of the school’s diversity group, Checked Out. Krueger has leveraged these positions to promote the Diversity Advocate Certificate and ensure a more welcoming space for LGBTQ+ students. He has also worked with faculty and administrators to develop a special topics course on Information Services in a Diverse Society, which was added to the curriculum.

Upon receiving his award, Krueger said, “Social justice work feels like shouting into a void…but visibility matters and this recognition goes a long way towards making us feel less alone in our work and identities.” Then Krueger, who is transgender, made it personal. “There are elements of state and national issues that drives us towards invisibility…this is a state whose laws do not respect my humanity.” It is the demonstration of UNC’s own faculty that gives him hope. “I’ve seen the Dean of my own program celebrate freedom of speech by reading a book aloud about transgender teenagers. I feel seen…and it means a lot. Visibility matters.”

Johnny Vang speaks at the 2017 University Diversity Awards

Johnny Vang

The Undergraduate Award was delivered by business administration major Thomas Shockley to Johnny Vang, a first-generation student, Carolina Covenant scholar, and son of refugees. Vang is community chair for the Health Careers Club, a member of the multicultural outreach and diversity executive committee for the Student Government Association, and works with the Health on the Block project, the Carolina Higher Education Opportunities Program and the North Carolina Health Careers Access Program to help low-income families, historically disadvantaged, and cultural minorities fight against health care disparities. Vang told the audience, “Today, we come together at a crossroads between war and peace, between disorder and integration, between fear and hope. The calling for unity on this campus, community, state and nation grows louder, but we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we do it together. We come from different places and speak with different tongues, but our hearts beat as one.”

Donna Dixon, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law and Electronic Resources Librarian at the Law Library, proudly presented the Department Award to her colleagues in the UNC Center for Civil Rights for their commitment to the advancement of civil rights and social justice, especially in the American South. The center focuses on education, housing and community development, economic justice, environmental justice, voting rights, and civic engagement. It also recognizes the importance of training a new generation of lawyers who believe in and understand the efficacy and centrality of law in eliminating racial inequality. Director Ted Shaw spoke for the group (Mark Dorosin, Elizabeth M. Haddix, Jennifer Watson Marsh, and Brent J. Ducharme) as they stood at the lectern. “I thank the Carolina community for the special place that the Center holds in the hearts of many Tar Heels.” He then pivoted to reference the fire the group has come under lately. “This is the 39th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. America has come view him in a kind of reverence that makes it appear that everyone supported him. Everybody didn’t,” he pointed out. “I think about that as we go through what we’re going through now. Some people will demonize us and mischaracterize us as a result, but we’re on the right side of history and the right side of right.”

Finally, Roy Hawke, Clinical Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy presented the Special Recognition Award to Christopher Wallace, manager of the Communiversity Youth Program. Wallace overcame the adversity of growing up in one of the state’s poorest and most crime-ridden communities in Fayetteville, NC with his father. With the help of various community support systems, he overcame this adversity through academic excellence. This inspired him to dedicate his time to helping youth and young adults identify their gifts, bridge achievement gaps and become better versions of themselves. Through his work with Communiversity, the Spirit of Excellence Tutorial Program, the YMCA, the National Youth Sports Program, Upward Bound, Project Effort, Eastside Park Community Center, Project Life Academy and the “Real Men Read” project, he has touched the lives of countless individuals and inspired them to succeed.

Wallace humbly thanked all those who modeled what a commitment to service looked like as he was growing up. “The expectation for people who looked like me would not have me receiving this award for his service to others,” he said. “The award should serve as an inspirational model of hope and dedication for the work that we’re doing in the community and for the students…Life is about how you impact others and make them feel, so it’s important to encourage others to succeed and have the audacity to be great.”

To close out the presentational segment of the ceremony, Ada Wilson, director of Inclusive Student Excellence, announced and introduced the undergraduate recipients of the Harvey Beech Scholarship (named for the first African American student to graduate from UNC, in 1952) — Nicole Ward, Afi Bello and Marquise Drayton — for “giving in the classroom academically, and also to the community.”

Vice Chancellor Felicia A. Washington’s closing remarks had the audience pondering why we celebrate diversity and honor people who make our lives richer. Riffing off of the recipients’ speeches, she noted that we get motivated by people “just doing their jobs” and that “You have to be selfish to make the biggest difference [because] if we walk around aware of who we are – warts included – we are open to receiving.” She ended by reminding us all that “Diversity should be part of the fabric – a thread in all that we do” and that “Diversity is not just being invited to the party, but being equipped, enabled and encouraged to dance once you get there.”

Thanking interim Chief Diversity Officer Rumay Alexander for “tirelessly running toward every diversity concern and opportunity at the University,” Washington then invited the audience to enjoy the pitch perfect blend of voices provided by a cappella student group, Harmonyx. The audience was swept to tears with the group’s poignant delivery of “I Feel Like Going On,” inspired by “Rise Up,” charmed by “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” engaged in a singalong with “Killing Me Softly” and absolutely wowed by “Thank you.” It was a beautiful end to the Diversity Awards – audience members of every background and experience united by an appreciation of the performance, a dedication to diversity, and a passion for ensuring that Carolina continues its work toward equity and inclusion for ALL of its community.

  • Adrianne Gibilisco, Diversity & Multicultural Affairs

 

 

 

 

2nd Annual Diversity in STEM Conference

The 2nd annual Diversity in STEM Conference, taking place on March 24, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center, will tackle many of the same concepts as the inaugural event: examining ways to bolster diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The all-day experience will focus on topics related to the impact of diversity on STEM research, funding, and development; connections between STEM faculty recruitment, retention, development, and diversity; and Women of Color in STEM fields.

This year’s event will feature nationally recognized diversity in STEM leaders Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), who is the keynote speaker; Dr. Christine Grant, Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Special Initiatives in the College of Engineering and Professor of Chemical Engineering (NC State University), and Dr. Jorge Cham, Author/Cartoonist of Piled Higher and Deeper (PhD Comics).

Diversity & Multicultural Affairs is sponsoring the morning faculty and staff workshop with Dr. Christine Grant. The workshop will provide strategies and tools for mentoring and coaching students who are underrepresented in STEM fields. Registration is free and open to all faculty and staff at UNC-Chapel Hill. However, faculty who lead labs, interdisciplinary groups, research collaboratives, and/or have an interest in diversifying their teams are strongly encouraged to participate. Please click here to register.

For additional information, please click here.

The 2nd annual Diversity in STEM Conference is sponsored by Diversity & Multicultural Affairs, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Office of Research Communications, Office of Graduate Education, the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and the Department of Chemistry

Let’s talk about freedom of speech

Mark Merritt speaks with group during Carolina Conversations about First Amendment Rights

Mark Merritt speaks with group during Carolina Conversations about First Amendment Rights

Which of the following is considered speech protected by the First Amendment?

  1. Picketing a military funeral with the sign “Thank God for dead soldiers”
  2. Burning an American flag
  3. Wearing blackface at a fraternity fundraiser
  4. Marching in a parade in Nazi uniforms with swastikas
  5. None of the above
  6. All of the above

The answer is “all of the above.” And, distasteful as these examples are, this freedom of expression is at the heart of American democracy, explained Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Mark Merritt at Thursday evening’s Carolina Conversation on First Amendment protected speech.

Launched last year, Carolina Conversations is a University effort to engage students, faculty and staff in dialogue around issues of equity and inclusion related to race, intellectual diversity, religion, identity and culture. Merritt’s presentation was the most recent event in the series, designed to ensure that Carolina remains an inclusive and welcoming campus for all.

“The thought that you end bad speech by trying to restrict it is contrary to the fundamental premise of the First Amendment,” Merritt told the audience gathered in the Student Union Aquarium Lounge.

The First Amendment of the Constitution says that the federal government (and state and local governments, by extension through the 14th Amendment) will make no law “abridging the freedom of speech.” The primary purpose of the amendment is to protect political speech from being punished or restricted by the government.

As a public university and a state agency, Carolina is part of the government and must be vigilant in protecting free speech. But not all speech is free speech.

“If you think of the First Amendment as a series of concentric circles, at the very core of what is protected is political speech,” Merritt said. “As you get farther from political speech – for example, in commercials – the protection changes, and the ability of the state to regulate speech gets stronger.”

Sometimes it’s difficult to separate when someone is talking policy versus politics. Merritt gave an example of a faculty member writing a letter to the editor saying how important some immigrants are for the economy versus ranting about the crazy people in Washington who oppose immigrants. “Those are the extremes. What’s harder is somewhere in the middle.”

The University has been recognized for its commitment to free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The group gave Carolina its best rating – the Green Light – making the University one of only two institutions in the state with that rating and the only public institution.

Protecting free speech doesn’t mean the University and its employees have to tolerate threats, racial epithets, cyberstalking or harassment. When “Bash the Fash” flyers – showing a figure beating a Trump supporter – were being posted on campus recently, Merritt said Chancellor Carol L. Folt’s response was the right one.

“The flyer and its message are the antithesis of the values that are the foundation of our University,” Folt wrote in the Feb. 16 campus email. “It is not designed to spark civil discourse or encourage thoughtful debate. Its intentions are to incite violence, and there is no place for that here or in our society.”

The same principle applies in the workplace. “We do have policies in place about harassment in the work environment,” Merritt said. If you find a co-worker’s speech offensive, “you are free to tell them you find it offensive and why.”

Interim Chief Diversity Officer Rumay Alexander reminded the audience that they can express their concerns with CUS, her acronym for telling someone that you are concerned, uncomfortable or don’t feel safe because of their speech.

When speech sounds hateful but is protected by the First Amendment, the wisest course is to develop a tough skin and keep talking, Merritt said.

“The theory under the First Amendment – and the courts have said this repeatedly – is the antidote to that kind of speech is more speech. It’s educating people. It’s understanding what motivates them to say that,” Merritt said. “It takes time and good speech to overcome the attitudes that are embedded in bad speech.”

By Susan Hudson, University Gazette

Published February 24, 2017

A Welcoming Place for Women

When your women’s center has only five employees to serve a campus that is 60 percent female, you quickly learn the power of collaboration, says Gloria Thomas, Carolina Women’s Center director for the past seven months.

“Ideally, I’d love to serve as the hub, to be sort of the clearinghouse, the place that brings it all together and disseminates the information,” she said. “We’re looking at the ways we have the capacity to serve, not only students but also faculty and staff, and we’re going to have to do a lot of that through collaborations.”

Currently, two of the center’s staff members are devoted full-time to addressing the needs of students who have experienced gender and/or sexual violence. They also offer drop-in hours for counseling at the LGBTQ Center and Koury Residence Hall. Supporting these students is one of the center’s greatest strengths, Thomas said, and that role won’t change. Neither will the programming that supports this role, such as HAVEN training, workshops for faculty, staff and students who want to become informed allies for survivors of sexual assault, stalking and relationship violence.

CWC plans to continue to host the Parenting@UNC.edu website, created for student, faculty and staff parents and parents-to-be as a collective web space to find family-friendly resources. The site also includes a list of lactation rooms across campus, a cause strongly supported by the center.

Thomas would also like to add more services and programming. She would like to make the center a welcoming place for women “in all their intersectionalities and gender identities.”

“We have not seen the variety of women, women-identified and non-conforming gender identities come through our doors, not to the extent we could,” she said. The center is exploring how to create a space for and “build a sense of community for those who feel marginalized on this campus.”

That’s why the Carolina Women’s Center was one of the sponsors of the March 4 Women of Worth Spring Conference, a day of information sessions to “provide tools and resources to help combat negative representations and trends, and create a collaborative sense of community.” The event was filled to capacity.

Supporting Empowerment

The center and its new leader are looking at its other programming and figuring out what fits best with a still-evolving vision statement that will be enacted in the fall. Programs to support empowerment and equity are high on the list. Recent examples include a workshop on gender, activism and leadership and a panel of past winners of the University Award for the Advancement of Women discussing how they advance gender equity in the workplace.

Other possibilities include workshops on how to negotiate an equitable salary and how to recognize and respond to sexual harassment in an environment where it has become “normalized to say and do things that for years we’ve been telling people you don’t do and say,” she said.

“We need to give folks the tools and the courage and the power to combat these instances. We need to make sure they know how to respond,” Thomas said.

Even on a campus dominated by women, “we still need to do a whole lot more empowering,” she said. “There is an imbalance of women to men, but if you look in leadership roles or who’s awarded the most prestigious scholarships, it’s not always women, and it’s certainly not marginalized women.”

Collaboration and mentorship

As for serving faculty and staff, Thomas said she has heard women faculty members express excitement about expanding mentoring models in place in the School of Medicine to all faculty members. On Wednesday (March 8), Thomas will participate in Finding the Mentorship You Need, an event for graduate students, junior faculty and early career staff. Thomas and three other women will share strategies to identify mentors and build mentoring relationships.

Thomas plans to work especially hard to support women of color and faculty in STEM fields. The center will also continue to collaborate with the Employee Forum to advocate for professional development for staff members. She wants to recruit volunteers from the community to help with other areas of gender equity and awareness.

These collaborations will continue, but Thomas is also tapping private donors for support of future programs. “We’re doing it now in bits and pieces, but we want to be doing it more comprehensively,” she said.

The Carolina Women’s Center has lined up several events to celebrate Women’s History Month in March. To participate, visit womenscenter.unc.edu.

Story by Susan Hudson of the University Gazette and photo by Jon Gardiner of University Communications.
Published March 8, 2017.

Women’s History Month

Since the first International Women’s Day, in 1911, Women’s History Month has been celebrated – in one way or another – in the United States. It wasn’t until 1978, however, when Sonoma, California’s school district participated in Women’s History Week, that it precipitated a chain reaction of yearly events to honor women’s contributions to society. Just a year later, Sarah Lawrence College held a women’s history conference (co-sponsored by the Women’s Action Alliance and the Smithsonian Institution) that lasted over two weeks. Participants agreed to initiate yearly local celebrations. President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation in 1980, declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week and it became a month-long cultural celebration in 1987, and the proclamation has been reissued annually.

At Carolina, we honor Women’s History Month with a wide variety of events, including panel discussions, workshops, lectures, screenings and more. The following calendar includes events scheduled to take place at UNC-Chapel Hill during this month.

March is Women’s History Month at UNC

WEEK ONE

Screening: “Miss Representation”
Thursday, March 2, 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Hamilton Hall, Room 100

Join Feminist Students United and co-sponsor, Embody Carolina, as they kick off March with a screening of Miss Representation in room 100 of Hamilton Hall!  The documentary “explores how mainstream media contributes to the under-representation of women in influential positions by circulating limited and often disparaging portrayals of women.” A discussion about the topics of the film will follow. For the month of March, FSU plans to begin a tampon and pad drive to donate to local organizations. They ask that anyone who is able to please bring a donation of feminine products to the screening. Donations will be taken to the Compass Center for Women and Families. We will be collecting donations there for Compass Center for Women and Families.


Digging in Our Heels: The Herstory of Women at Carolina
Tour begins at UNC Visitor’s Center (Morehead Planetarium)
Friday, March 3, 3:00 – 4:30 PM

Anthropology PhD candidate Taylor Livingston was commissioned by UNC Visitors’ Center to research and develop this tour utilizing recordings from the Southern Oral History Collection.  The title refers to a time when women could not enroll in the University.  The tour will “travel” through the centuries, to interpret and help understanding of today’s current issues.


Inaugural Women of Worth Spring Conference
Sonja Haynes Stone Center
Saturday, March 4, 9:00 AM – 1:30 PM

This year’s theme is The Strength of Our Stories, inspired by Rupi Kaur’s poem – ‘Women of Color.’ This conference aims to center the voices of UNC Chapel Hill’s women of color and indigenous women (Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander, Multi-Racial, etc.), provide tools and resources to help combat negative representations and trends, and create a collaborative sense of community. It is our goal for conference attendees to learn to cultivate self-worth and to identify sources of empowerment for all of us to become our best selves.

WEEK TWO

Gender, Activism, and Leadership
Student Union Room 2420
Monday, March 6, 5:30 – 6:30 PM

Lead by Kate Kryder, Co-Curricular Leadership Program Coordinator, Student Life & Leadership, “Gender, Activism, and Leadership” is part of the Gender Week events schedule, presented by the Carolina Women’s Center.  Students will discuss how to effectively build coalitions and sustained partnerships around issues of gender equity. This interactive session will help students build relationships and create attainable goals and action items.


UAAW Luncheon: Pursuing Gender Equity Every Day
Sonja Haynes Stone Center Hitchcock Multpurpose Room
Tuesday, March 7, 12:00 – 1:30 PM

In the spirit of celebrating the University Awards for the Advancement of Women (UAAW), the Carolina Women’s Center is gathering together previous winners to learn how they pursued gender equity in their everyday roles on campus. Bob Pleasants (2011), Laurie McNeil (2010), Jenny Ting (2013), and Terri Phoenix (2015), share how they worked to improve gender equity at UNC Chapel Hill from their positions as faculty or staff. What inspired their action? How did they decide what to do first (and next)? How, in effect, did they become leaders and change agents in their corners of the university? We hope this discussion will inspire you to ask yourself, “How can I work towards gender equity?”

Lunch will be provided. Please register HERE.


Finding the Mentorship You Need
Student Union Aquarium Lounge
Wednesday, March 8, 3:00 – 5:00 PM

Maria Erb (Co-Director, Office of Diversity and Student Success with the Graduate School), Susan Girdler (founder of WISDOM), Gloria Thomas (Director, Women’s Center) and Ada Wilson (Director of Inclusive Student Excellence) share how they found mentorship and share strategies to identify mentors and build relationships with them. This event targets graduate students, junior faculty, and early career staff. Light refreshments will be provided.

WEEK FOUR

Screening: No Más Bebés
Chapman Hall, Room 201 (205 Columbia Street)
Tuesday, March 21, 7:00 – 9:00  PM

The film tells the story of a little-known but landmark event in reproductive justice, when a small group of Mexican immigrant women sued country doctors, the state, and the U.S. government after they were sterilized while giving birth at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Sponsored by the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.


Screening & Panel Discussion: Equal Means Equal
Stone Center
Thursday, March 23, 6:00 – 8:00 PM

The Carolina Women’s Center and ERA-NC Alliance are hosting a free screening of the documentary Equal Means Equal, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A. Panelists will include:

  • Gloria Thomas, Director, Carolina Women’s Center
  • Marena Groll: Co-Chair, ERA-NC Alliance
  • Leisha DeHart-Davis, Associate Professor, UNC School of Government
  • NaShonda Cook, Educator, Durham County Public Schools

For more information, go to http://equalmeansequal.com/


Diversity In STEM Conference
Sonja Haynes Stone Center
Friday, March 24, 10:00 AM – 4:30 PM

This 2nd annual conference is focused on examining ways to bolster diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The all-day experience will focus on the impact of diversity on STEM research, funding, and development; connections between STEM faculty recruitment, retention, development, and diversity; and Women of Color in STEM fields. It will feature nationally recognized diversity in STEM leaders:

  • Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, President of UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) since 1992, is a consultant on science and math education to national agencies, universities, and school systems. He was named by President Obama to chair the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. He also chaired the National Academies’ committee that produced the report, Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads (2011). Named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME (2012) and one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report (2008), he also received TIAA-CREF’s Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence (2011), the Carnegie Corporation’s Academic Leadership Award (2011), and the Heinz Award (2012) for contributions to improving the “Human Condition.” UMBC has been recognized as a model for inclusive excellence by such publications as U.S. News, which the past eight years has recognized UMBC as a national leader in academic innovation and undergraduate teaching.
  •  Dr. Christine Grant is an Academic Resilience Strategist who partners with individuals and organizations to empower women and men in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).   She has degrees in Chemical Engineering (B.S., Brown; M.S. and Ph.D., Georgia Tech). An international speaker, Grant conducts career coaching, professional development workshops, and keynotes across the U.S., in Ghana and Australia; her consulting company, CoolSci Productions, LLC (drchristinegrant.com) designs custom, targeted programming for corporate and academic environments. A Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular engineering at NC State; she’s one of less than ten African-American women in the U.S. at that rank.  Her research has focused on surface and interfacial phenomena. She is the Associate Dean of Faculty Advancement in the NC State College of Engineering.  She has led in her profession as: a Fellow and Board of Directors member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE); a Visiting Senior Scholar at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); an Expert in the NSF Engineering Directorate; and a visiting faculty at Caltech, Duke and UPenn.  Grant’s been recognized with several awards for broadening the participation, promotion and retention of underrepresented minorities (URM) and women in STEM including: the AAAS Mentor Award and the NSF Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). Her book, “Success Strategies from Women in STEM: A Portable Mentor” is the culmination of Grant’s over 30 years of experiential leadership, coaching and mentoring.Although attendance is free and open to all faculty and staff at UNC-Chapel Hill (faculty/staff from other institutions will be wait listed) REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. To register, please click here.

    Sponsored by Diversity & Multicultural Affairs, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research, Office of Graduate Education.

WEEK FIVE

FILM SCREENING & DISCUSSION: Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women
Carroll Hall 111
Monday, March 27, 6:00 – 8:00 PM

The UNC Injury Prevention Research Center presents Dr. Jean Kilbourne’s film, Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women, and invites you to think critically about popular culture and its relationship to sexism and gender-based violence. Dr. Kilbourne was named by the New York Times Magazine as one of the three most popular speakers on college campuses. Dr. Kilbourne has been researching how advertising creates and maintains distorted and destructive ideals of femininity, which exposes a pattern of damaging gender stereotypes.

Light refreshments will be provided.

Five decades of striving for progress

When Preston Dobbins arrived in Chapel Hill in the summer of 1967, he was adamant about stepping away from the civil rights activism that he had devoted years to while living Chicago.

“By the time I started here, I really had absolutely no interest in any kind of political things,” Dobbins said in a 1974 interview at Carolina. “As a matter of a fact, I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t get involved in anything here. … Just pretty much settle down and enjoy doing nothing but being a student.”

The plan lasted a month.

By the end of the fall semester, Dobbins found himself establishing the Black Student Movement — an organization that has played a role in nearly every significant advances for minorities at Carolina, including the founding of the department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies and the creation of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.

“We’re very fond of talking about this as the people’s University,” said James Leloudis, professor of history, associate dean for Honors Carolina and co-chair of the Chancellor’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History. “Perhaps the greatest service that the Black Student Movement has brought to this campus is demanding that we fulfill the promise of those words and holding us accountable. I think what they’ve done for the last half-century has fundamentally changed Carolina and made this a far more inclusive institution. They’ve been on the front line every step along the way.”

Now, as the Black Student Movement enters its 50th year, student members continue to push the University forward and provide a voice for black issues to make Carolina inclusive for everybody.

“You come to college to get an education, but Carolina is a place a lot of people call home,” said Tre Shockley, the current president of the Black Student Movement. “You want everybody to feel at home at Carolina. I think the BSM has a large role in making Carolina an inclusive institution.”

It’s a role that began a half-century ago with a vote at a UNC-Chapel Hill NAACP meeting.

‘Center of every major black piece of Carolina’

In 1967, Dobbins was unimpressed by the campus chapter of the NAACP, questioning the group’s function and lack of action.

Black students at colleges and universities throughout the country were standing up for their rights and a place on predominately white campuses. Carolina— where less than one-half of 1 percent of the student body was black — was falling behind in the movement, Dobbins thought.

Many black students felt the same dissatisfaction as Dobbins. It was an issue he was determined to resolve.

“I took it upon myself to talk to the people that I knew about what I perceived the situation to be with the NAACP and that is that there was really nothing going on and it did not represent the interests of black students on campus,” said Dobbins, who become the group’s first chairman. “We resolved it by actually voting to abolish the NAACP. The discussion proceeded to what group should we form and it was the BSM.”

It wasn’t long before the Black Student Movement took its first action.

In December 1968, the group delivered 23 demands to then Chancellor Carlyle Sitterson. The demands included the creation of an African-American studies department; an office responsive to black students’ needs; and changes to the admissions process to allow the entry of more minority students.

When the administration initially dismissed the demands, protests and sit-ins followed. Faculty members and Carolina student-athletes Bill Chamberlain and Charles Scott offered their support for the Black Student Movement.

Within the year, the Faculty Council endorsed a proposal for a curriculum dedicated to African-American studies. By 1970, UNC-Chapel Hill offered a bachelor of arts in both Afro-American Studies and African studies.

“There was some resistance to having a black studies department,” said Will Mebane, the chairman of the Black Student Movement from 1973 to 1974. “It hadn’t been identified as a full-fledged department and we were back and forth on that. That was a contentious issue. It wasn’t enough to have black studies courses, but we needed to have a full-fledged department.”
It wasn’t until 1975 that faculty members issued the first proposal to create a department dedicated to those studies. Twenty-two years later, the department was created and is now called African, African American, and Diaspora Studies.

While the Black Student Movement backed the faculty in the pursuit of a department, students also turned their attention to raising awareness for the creation of the Black Cultural Center.
In 1988, a temporary Black Cultural Center was opened in a cramped room in the Student Union. But the lack of a freestanding center was a point of contention for the Black Student Movement and the campus community.

After four years in the temporary center, the organization requested the construction of a new building, leading to protests and marches — including one led by Carolina football players during which 800 students marched to South Building.
After years of support from groups inside the University and public figures, including director Spike Lee, the privately funded Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History opened its doors in 2004.

“BSM was really at the center of every major black piece of Carolina from the beginnings,” said Chris Faison, president of the Black Student Movement from 1999 to 2000, and currently the coordinator of male mentoring and engagement in the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling. “Had it not been for the BSM, a lot of the things that exist would have never been there.”

‘On the front lines’

But the group’s activism wasn’t just working for the benefit of black students, but rather the black community as a whole.

“I don’t know of another group in the history of Carolina that has had more influence on the life at Carolina in every aspect from food service workers to the trustees,” Mebane said.

In the late 1960s, Carolina’s food workers didn’t receive overtime, full-time status, promotions — or even name tags. Carolina students, including many members of the Black Student Movement, came to their aid in 1969 by staging picket lines and raising money for the workers to support a strike.

After nearly a month, North Carolina Governor Robert W. Scott sent the highway patrol to reopen Lenoir Dining Hall and the strike was ended. The strike resulted in the University paying the workers nearly $200,000 in back pay and raising the workers’ hourly wages from $1.60 to $1.80.

The Black Student Movement also aimed to influence change for faculty members, including Sonja Haynes Stone, who headed the University’s African and Afro-American Studies curriculum.

When Stone was denied tenure, those tensions — mixed with tensions over a lack of an office for minority affairs — led to 200 students marching to South Building and holding a sit-in.

The protests helped lead to the tenure of Stone in 1980 and the founding of the Office of Minority Affairs, which would eventually become the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.

“If [the Black Student Movement] had not done that, then we would not be considered one of the preeminent schools with diversity particularly with black students, black tenured faculty,” Faison said. “A lot of the things we hang our hat on are a direct relation to the Black Student Movement and its leaders advocating for those issues.”

That history is a point of pride — and driving motivation — for today’s Black Student Movement members who continue to inspire change on campus. Today, their efforts have contributed toward the University taking a comprehensive approach to examining campus history and renaming Saunders Hall in May 2015.

“Our mission is the same thing it’s been in the past: it’s drawing attention to the issues within the black community at UNC and making UNC more inclusive and a better place for the minority community,” Shockley said. “I see the role of the Black Student Movement as being vital in the success and well-being of the black community at UNC. That’s students and faculty.

“I’m extremely proud of what the BSM has accomplished in the last 50 years. We have been successful to this point, but there’s still work to do.”

By Brandon Bieltz, University Communications
Published February 17, 2017.

Black History Month lecture examines American quest for justice

13th Annual African American History Month Lecture with keynote scholar and lecturer, Brenda Stevenson. Wednesday February 8, 2017

Seeking justice has been at the core of the American experience from the very beginning.

It led to freedom from English tyranny in 1776, and today it leads the charge for racial equality.

For Brenda Stevenson, that constant challenge has become as American as apple pie.

“The powerful rally cry of ‘No justice, no peace’ isn’t so different from ‘No taxation without representation’ or ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ – popularized refrains that led a generation of patriots to the founding of this great nation,” she said.

Stevenson, the Nickoll Family Distinguished Professor of History at UCLA and a fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences, discussed the violence against black women and the struggle for justice for all races in her talk “When Do Black Female Lives Matter? Contested Assaults, Murders and American Race Riots.”

Her presentation was the keynote address of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s 13th annual African-American History Month Lecture at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.

Chancellor Carol L. Folt introduced Stevenson and shared that the two-hour lecture was a chance to learn from history and understand how it can be used to shape the future.

“There are times in history where we turn to stories and the telling of those stories to learn, to teach and to inspire,” she said. “Those are the times that we use our learning from the past to affect the changes that we want to see today. The telling and the sharing of history are vital to advancing diversity and inclusion.”

Held Feb. 8, the event was hosted by the Offices of the Chancellor and Provost; the College of Arts and Sciences and its departments of communications, music, history and African and African American diaspora studies; the Carolina Women’s Center; the Center for the Study of the American South; Diversity and Multicultural Affairs; Delta Sigma Theta; and the Stone Center.

The lecture was just one of Carolina’s many Black History Month events. Throughout February, University organizations are hosting lectures, panels and other events to celebrate the observance.

Stevenson, an author and frequent commentator on National Public Radio, is an expert on African-American history, black women and families and race relations.

She is also the recipient of the Ida B. Wells Award for Courage in Journalism and the Southern Historical Association’s John W. Blassingame Award, given for distinguished scholarship and mentorship in African-American history.

Lecturing on the case of Latasha Harlins – a 15-year-old black girl who was killed by Korean-American female storeowner Soon Ja Du in 1991 – Stevenson discussed how the lenient sentencing of Du ignited the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

“The shooting was devastating but was also profoundly different from the usual violent scenario across racial lines that typically garners public exposure,” she said. “The people involved, Soon Ja Du and Latasha Harlins, were female, not male. Du was Korean, not white. She was a mother, wife and shopkeeper. Not a policeman, deputy sheriff, security guard or homegrown terrorists with a white sheet over her head.”

When the judge sentenced Du to five years probation, 400 hours of community service and paying for funeral expenses, the community took to the streets to protest the injustice.

The media’s attention to the case, Stevenson said, further exposed the vulnerability of the most defenseless group in the United States – the women and children of racially, culturally and politically marginalized communities.

But that vulnerability had been a trend for decades prior, with injustices toward black women and children sparking tensions. It’s a vicious cycle, Stevenson said, that falls on all of society to break.

“It’s something that we have to continue to voice, continue to write about, continue to march and protest about and sing about and write poems about,” she said. “These are things that we really have to do. It’s everyone’s responsibility. It’s not just black women’s responsibilities. It’s not just black people’s responsibilities. It’s everybody’s responsibility to do that — everyone who lives on Earth to do that.”

Story by Brandon Bieltz and photos by Jon Gardiner, University Communications
Published February 10, 2017