Updated: Monday, Nov. 30, 3:30 a.m.
Students covered VCUarts facilities, including the Pollack building, the Singleton Center for Performing Arts and the Fine Arts building, with fliers directed at their dean the morning of Nov. 23.
VCUarts dean Joseph Seipel had several fliers specifically taped to his office door. Some of the fliers stated “remove racist faculty right now” while others read, “Dear dean, what is more important to you … protecting money or upholding students’ rights?”
“(The) protest was extremely necessary,” said Malcolm Peacock, a senior painting and printmaking major.
Peacock said personal experiences prompted his participation. He said one example was when two professors stopped talking to him about the content of his work because it pertained to issues of black identity and history.
Furthermore, Peacock said acknowledging black rights made some faculty feel uncomfortable, and during a critique he was told there are other issues more important than the focus of his work.
Peacock said he met with the dean and his department chair on separate occasions, but saw a lackluster response on Seipel’s behalf.
After several classmates wrote letters to the dean addressing similar issues in the classroom and received no response, Peacock said he tried to file a complaint through VCU’s Office of Equity and Access Services but the proper form was not available online.
“When I called and asked about a form to file with they simply told me they would email it,” Peacock said.
A few hours later, Peacock said the Office of Equity and Access Services called him back to say they couldn’t find the appropriate form, but he could email them his report.
“Obviously there is just a huge lack of organization and lack of care for civil rights issues and the protection of those issues at VCU,” Peacock said.
After the fliers posted last week, Seipel sent an email to the VCUarts community the same day addressing the display.
“It’s common for us in the School of the Arts to say what we really think, to include it in our work, and to show it in public,” Seipel said in the email. “It is in this spirit of open dialogue and communication that we work; and it is a critical aspect to the work that we do in the arts.”
The dean then listed several ways the School of the Arts is working to better integrate diversity initiatives, including mandatory cultural competency training in the spring.
“The racism at VCU/VCUarts is deeper than classroom injustices, and our organizing will go further than hanging up posters,” said Taylor Manigoult, a former VCUarts student.
According to Manigoult, current students will not be pacified by emails; they are ready for a real change in both the classrooms and on campus.
“The response from the VCUarts administration is unfortunate, vague, and underwhelming. Student action was incited because there is an overwhelming number of students of color who have faced discrimination in the classroom not only by professors but by their peers and no one wants to address it,” said Zaira Qureshi, a senior graphic design student.
Qureshi said this is a problem because students feel their voices are not heard while having to endure mental and emotional abuse by white colleagues.
As a school that uses our bodies and identities to market diversity, can someone tell me why they do not care about our rights, well-being or trauma? Are we valuable entities to this institution or just bodies for a marketing technique we never consented to?” Qureshi said.
Peacock said Qureshi’s statements are indicative of how all students of color that worked on the protest last week feel.
The fliers went up less than a week after VCU President Michael Rao led an hour-long diversity forum in the student commons on Nov. 18.
During the forum, Rao and a group of collective black students, Black VCU Speaks, opened the discussion by sharing remarks.
“It’s clear that diversity at VCU does not include Blackness,” said junior Angelique Scott to the audience of more than 400 attendees.
The forum was held in response to students’ demonstrating in the Compass and the president’s office in solidarity with their peers at the University of Missouri, and to address issues of race on VCU’s campus including cultural incompetency, the low number of underrepresented faculty and staff and lacking counseling services and safe spaces specifically for students of color.
In Seipel’s email, he stated each faculty position at the School of the Arts will have a recruitment plan with enhanced resources and strategies focused on recruitment of underrepresented candidates.
“I will be personally reviewing the makeup of all candidacy pools for new hires at the School of the Arts and will not certify a search to continue unless I am assured that we have done everything possible to recruit underrepresented candidates,” Seipel said in the email, adding there are currently eight searches in progress.
Executive Editor, Sarah King
Sarah is a junior studying political science and philosophy of law. She is a copyeditor for INK Magazine and reporter for the Capital News Service wire. Last spring, Sarah worked as an editorial intern for Congressional Quarterly Researcher and SAGE Business Researcher in Washington, D.C. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn
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