It was a true show of unity: Wittenberg University students, staff and community members all huddled together under umbrellas, walking side-by-side in the rain in remembrance of the struggles for equality in the past while focusing on the needs of the future.
About 50 people marched across campus Wednesday for the Concerned Black Students’ 45th annual Walkout, the first to include an invitation to the public.
It commemorates an event in 1969 when 38 of the school’s 45 black students who formed the school’s first Concerned Black Students group walked off campus after the administration failed to respond to their 13 demands for equality. With more than 2,350 students enrolled at that time, their demands included increasing the enrollment of black students and hiring more black staff members.
Today the university is smaller, with about 1,750 students. Of those, 112 are black, according to the provost’s office.
As Wittenberg has changed, so have the demands of CBS and the expectation of what the walkout should represent, said Karlos Marshall, outgoing CBS student center representative.
“That’s what this movement is about, all inclusion, all diversity, all voices need to be heard because we all have a different living experience,” he said. “Just making people aware of these issues, I think that’s the biggest thing.”
The current CBS list has 10 items. Some of them — such as having a diversity recruiting mandate, restructuring of the multicultural office and having an anonymous reporting website — administrators have already said are doable, said Moses Mbeseha, outgoing CBS president. Others, such as having gender neutral bathrooms, he said, are meant to show CBS is about rectifying all types of inequality.
“There are trans-genders, there are gay people, there are people who are still searching for their identity,” Mbeseha said. “That’s the whole point, to challenge (that level of comfort) and (say) you don’t have to be comfortable all the time but you have to be accepting.”
President Laurie Joyner attended the gathering at Weaver Chapel prior to the march, saying she was proud of the students and the strides made toward diversity and equality at the campus.
“We continue to be committed to diversity, unity, inclusion and we will continue to work toward improvements that will prevent intolerance on our campus,” she said. “And we will address any and all feelings of marginalization.”
Even if all their demands are met, Marshall said there will always be a need to challenge what makes us comfortable and ensure equality for all, which is why he said he’s sure CBS students will still be staging a walkout 10 years from now.
“My plan going forward is that it will continue to be open to the public as we bridge this and merge this gap between Springfield, as well as Wittenberg,” he said.
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