Students organized the program through word-of-mouth and social media, and the route led participants through most residential areas of campus.
Dozens of Elon University students joined together Friday evening for a walk through campus to demonstrate what organizers described as their solidarity in addressing issues of cultural sensitivity, diversity and discrimination following two September incidents where African-American students were the victims of racially charged slurs.
The “Each 1 Teach 1” walk on Sept. 30 – a grassroots initiative generated by students through social media – carried the crowd through main campus, the Loy Center residential area for Greek organizations, the Colonnades and Danieley Center.
Upon their return to Moseley Center, the crowd of nearly 40 people took part in activities inside McKinnon Hall, where participants learned of their own differences in background and even the multitude of opinions on events of the past month.
“It was a good experience for students to show the power of their voice on campus, and to show that they deserve to be heard,” said Elon University junior Alicia Johnson, a strategic communications major from Baltimore. “It would have been even better if we had those students who weren’t as connected to the incident, those who you wouldn’t necessarily think would come out.”
The two events that sparked Friday evening’s program happened days apart earlier in September. In the first instance, an African-American female student was crossing North O’Kelly Avenue when a car of college-aged white men yelled the racial epithet at her. In the second instance, another African-American female student was on Williamson Avenue when occupants of another passing vehicle not believed to be connected to the university yelled the same insult.
While the walk was deemed a success, student leaders observed that many of the participants were already attuned to issues of diversity and understanding, and that more would need to be done in the months ahead to keep the topic in the forefront of public awareness.
Candice Blacknall, a senior international studies and psychology double major from Atlanta who led the evening program, said that she has noticed a divergent approach to diversity at the university. Blacknall said the university tends to focus most on ethnicity when discussing issues related to acceptance and cultural understanding. That’s not the best approach, she said, since it polarizes the community into “diverse versus non-diverse” positions.
Diversity includes sexual orientation, socioeconomic backgrounds, faith traditions and more, she said. Blacknall was quick to emphasize that regardless of color, everyone is diverse in one form or another.
“Regardless of whether you fit into a minority group, you have a diverse view of the world,” she said. “For people to be willing to engage in conversations about diversity, they need to understand that they themselves are diverse.”
Johnson, who heads the newly formed Multicultural Leadership Roundtable, which is working with university administrators to develop a solid strategic plan for continued diversity education, shared similar sentiments.
“I hope that from now on, students from every background will be able to understand that even though we are all different with our own unique qualities, we’re all Elon students, and we all have the same responsibilities to our institution,” Johnson said. “We come here, and we’re so easy and ready to say we’re in the Elon bubble, but you forget that the Elon includes everyone.”