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"You Just Have to Experience It": Racism in Residence Halls

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

Photo courtesy of Meredith College

Over the course of this summer, the @DearMereCo Instagram account has given the BIPOC community a platform to anonymously submit their experiences with racism at Meredith College. Several of these stories concern racist actions that have occurred in the residence halls or Oaks apartments. One recent post describes a student’s experience at their first hall meeting. The post emphasizes that Meredith’s phrase “you just have to experience it” and also applies it to instances of racism within Meredith’s residence halls and throughout campus.

As of this article’s publishing, the Residents Housing Association (RHA) and the Office of Residence Life have not released official statements on social media or otherwise that address the instances of racism in Meredith’s residence halls. RHA President Megan Gale, ‘21, responded to The Meredith Herald’s invitation for an interview by stating, “RHA is planning to make some comments on their Instagram page, and a more detailed plan will be available there.”

The Herald was able to interview Director of Residence Life Heidi LeCount, and she explained the Office of Residence Life’s reasoning for not addressing the instances of racism on social media. “I almost felt like I didn’t know what the appropriate thing was to say,” LeCount said. “We could have explored that, and we did consider that but because we didn’t do that at the time, we included some information in the newsletters that just went out to everyone. It was a good opportunity for us to say that this is our stance, and that [the residence halls and Oaks apartments] is a community of caring.”

All Meredith on-campus residents were sent a letter on July 20 from the Office of Residence Life, and a section of it addressed their commitment to combat racism. To quote the letter sent to the Oaks residents, “The Residence Life staff endeavors to create an inclusive environment that embraces and values all members of our campus community. As we prepare for the fall semester, we are enhancing Residence Assistants and full-time staff training with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. This includes gaining a better understanding of issues affecting groups and individuals who experience marginalization.”

LeCount stated that she has not read many of the @DearMereCo posts due to extensive time spent on room assignments. For the posts she has read, she described her initial reactions and concerns. “It’s troubling that a student would treat another student in a very disrespectful, discriminatory way,” LeCount said. “It’s also hard for me to understand that as much as we try to [inform students about] how to reach us – we have an email, we have duty people, we have people on your floors, we try to be visible – that students are like, ‘I don’t know who to talk to.’”

LeCount continued by emphasizing the need for Meredith’s BIPOC community to find people and resources on campus that they can turn to, as well as the continued need to encourage people who experience acts of racism to speak up.

“If you’ve had a bad experience, talk to the people who can help you,” LeCount said. “I want students to feel empowered to have a voice, to not sit silent, to not feel marginalized, to not feel like they’re not a valued member of this community.”

Additionally, LeCount acknowledged the fact that there has been a more diverse residence life staff for the last several years and pointed out that Residence Life reaches out to Meredith International Association (MIA), Black Student Union (BSU) and the Office of International Programs to gather a more diverse applicant pool for the RA and CA positions. In the interview portion, diversity issues are also addressed.

“I can see where we would want to heighten some of that this year,” LeCount said. “If somebody doesn’t answer in the best light, it doesn’t mean that she is not going to be hired, but we might say…is this person trainable? I have no tolerance for [blatant racism].”

However, when LeCount was asked directly about how Residence Life would address allegations of racism in residence halls now and in the future, she pointed us to student leaders, including RAs and CAs, who have been working on new training covering diversity and anti-racism.

The Herald reached out to several RAs and CAs to highlight their individual efforts to promote inclusivity and anti-racism in Meredith’s residence halls. Their conversations revealed the amount of dedication and planning student leaders, like RAs and CAs, are putting into the fight to end racism throughout Meredith’s campus. The insights offered by these RAs and CAs reflect their perspectives and are independent of the views of the Office of Residence Life.

Looking at the student leadership in the Office of Residence Life, Residence Assistants (RAs) and Community Assistants (CAs) are required to participate in training related to diversity and inclusion. RA and Herald writer Jeanine Carryl, ‘22, emphasized the fact that although RAs and CAs are trained and evaluated in these areas, it really does depend on each of them to promote anti-racism in their respective halls.

“Diversity has always been something that was discussed. However, as RAs we are given more independence as to how we want our hall to run,” Carryl said. “It’s still up to the RA to actually take those words into action.”

Additionally, CA Rachel Hefner, ‘21, commented that this is an area for growth she sees within Residence Life. She noted that RAs have many expectations; according to her, “some RAs take [those expectations] and do three times what they need to do, and some RAs don’t do that.”

Hefner also gave more insights about the brevity of the diversity and inclusion workshops included in her years of RA and CA training, citing only about 45 minutes over the span of the week-long training. She said, “In the past, just point-blank, we needed more [diversity and inclusivity training].”

Hefner spoke optimistically about her hopes for updated RA and CA training in the future. She emphasized the work that she, RA Shila Alexander and Assistant Dean of Students Tomecca Sloane are in the process of developing, including a new education platform that focuses on supporting marginalized communities and subsequently filters these conversations into other training.

When thinking about and considering the impact that RAs and CAs can have on promoting anti-racism in their halls, Carryl believes that the impacts are powerful and innumerable.

“An RA who promotes those values can definitely change a person. That’s the whole point of RAs. It’s building community, it’s teaching your residents, it’s learning from their experiences and how everyone can grow as human beings,” Carryl said. “RAs wear many hats, and if it comes down to having to have these deeper conversations, we are more than ready to listen and educate ourselves on these topics.”

RA Génesis Martínez, ‘21, shared a similar sentiment, saying, “By being approachable, trustworthy, headstrong and proactive, residents will be more likely to feel empowered to approach RAs about racist stories and incidents.”

Martínez commented on her predictions for the upcoming semester at Meredith. She said, “I genuinely believe there could either be heated tension or genuine understanding, or even both when we come back to campus after the Black Lives Matter movement.” Educated, aware and proactive RAs will prove to be important now and in the future due to the rising awareness of racism on campus and the changes in campus culture that will occur as a result.

Author’s note: The Herald is committed to transparency with students, staff, alumni and the public. The views expressed by the individuals in this piece are exclusively their own and are not representative of beliefs or opinions held by The Meredith Herald staff.

By Hannah Porter, Staff Writer, and Madison Sholar, Contributing Writer


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