Updated: Sep 21, 2022
As black students at Belmont reflect on the latest instance of police brutality — the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in late May — they have been working to process the grief and other emotions that have filled the last few weeks.
Elements of race are everywhere – from the emotions black students feel to the makeup of Belmont’s student body. Black students have sought to make their voices heard as they explore emotion, faith and the collective toll of continuing hate crimes in the United States.
“It’s just been really hard for me; I feel angry, I feel grief, I feel sorrow, so there are just so many emotions,” said junior LaTaija Halliburton. “And I kind of felt this hopelessness, like, how can I help? How can I help get rid of this racism and this police brutality that’s going on?”
Halliburton, a psychology major, said she understands the mental toll on the minds of black people processing yet another murder at the hands of the police. She also said it’s important to educate the privileged on these matters, so they can be more aware of why racism and brutality take a large toll on the black community.
“It’s very important to talk about the trauma and grief that we feel from events like this. Even if you have to bring in speakers from Black Lives Matter, I just feel like there should be more awareness at our school.”
Halliburton’s desire to see change within the Belmont community is founded in the reality that Belmont is not a diverse community. The lack of racial diversity across campus has left students like Halliburton wondering when and how they will get the inclusivity they have been looking for.
Of the 8,481 students that attend Belmont University, only 456, or 5.4 percent, are African American. This data indicates that for any given group of students, African-American students are outnumbered roughly eighteen to one when it comes to class sizes and university-wide activities.
For students like senior Vakia Robinson, being a black woman surrounded by white counterparts can take a toll on her sense of belonging at Belmont.
“I know, at least for me, there is always this internalized need to prove myself to my professors and peers,” Robinson said. “I know that I deserve to take up space just as much as any other student there, but I want everyone else to know and acknowledge that too.”
Acknowledgment of racism and education about race can go a long way toward helping college students understand race. Belmont’s statement on the murder of Floyd came one week after the incident occurred. For some students, acknowledgment came too little, too late.
“To attend a university that prides itself on Christianity and the virtues that come with it, love being one and justice being the other, I find it to be quite paradoxical that Geroge Floyd was killed a week ago and the university is just now speaking up,” said Robinson.
Junior David Perry said Christian faith is essentially rooted in justice and equality, which are critical topics in the ongoing discussion about race.
“On some level, the Bible was about, quote-unquote, ‘social justice of the time’ and freeing people from these binding debts that they’ve had for years and years and years and years,” said Perry.
Perry suggested one way to embrace black Christians at Belmont would be to infuse conversation about race and systemic oppression into required religious programming.
“I think that in the same way that you’re going to see ministries for Bridge Builders to be advocates for and to have an ongoing dialogue with LGBTQ students, I think that maybe there could be something that we could do or start-up to where University Ministries also does the same for black students, and potentially people of color depending on what the needs are at the time,” said Perry.
Perry’s life experience has been informed by the intersection of race with all aspects of American life. He sees a connection between his origins in his hometown in Texas and the Belmont community.
“As far as Belmont goes, being a primarily white institution, it very much reflects the makeup of my hometown because I’m in Flower Mound, Texas, which is extremely predominately white … and then my church at home was predominantly black, a black Baptist church. And so it’s always been interesting living in kind of a dichotomous world.”
A “dichotomous world” is perhaps the most appropriate way to understand the condition of black people in predominantly white spaces. Of course, there are gray areas in all aspects, but to fail to acknowledge the contrast between the experiences of black students and non-black students is to invalidate them — a course of action that serves no one.
Through the injustice that has gone on for centuries, the black community has lacked a key component towards changing the course America has been on for so long: support from the privileged.
On a campus surrounded by beneficiaries of white privilege, senior Eric Jordan would like nothing more than to receive support from his peers both on and off-campus.
“Support your black friends who plead for help for their community. Whether that’s something revolving around student life or whether it’s out in the community. If you feel there is nothing you can “contribute” then ask how to support them in these ways,” said Jordan.
Floyd’s murder has arguably sparked a social revolution in the United States, and Belmont’s black population wants the whole community to know the importance of being engaged listeners on social issues.
“Leaning into discomfort is, I think, one of the best things anyone can do,” Perry said. “Just sit there and nod for a second after someone finishes telling you their experience. Just sit on it for a few extra seconds and then follow up with another question.”
This article written be Julieann Challacombe and Evan Dorian.