A student protest interrupted the Promoting Student Success series lecture where speaker Tia Brown McNair, vice president of diversity, equity and student success at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, was presenting before a planned workshop on Jan. 13.

Terri Hughes and Myniah Vaa take part in a protest about racial equality by pumping their fists in the air at the end of Hughes's protest speech. (Kennedy Robins/ The Signpost)
Terri Hughes and Myniah Vaa take part in a protest about racial equality by pumping their fists in the air at the end of Hughes' protest speech. Photo credit: Kennedy Robins

McNair began by giving further insights on how WSU policies could better address Black and minority student concerns alongside WSU’s five-year strategic plan that was developed by WSU.

As the main author of the book, “From Equity Talk to Equity Walk,” McNair highlighted principles for applying equitable solutions for minority student populations. McNair explained universities are falling behind and need to focus on designing a learning environment that is relevant to students’ lives and building a community that includes everyone.

As she spoke on implementing and revising new policies, student protesters then interrupted the event, demanding the changes Weber State promised in meetings during the end of the fall 2021 semester. Those meetings followed Black, minority and ally students gathering for an overnight sit-in protest in the Shepherd Union Atrium to protest the white supremacy flyers that had been placed across campus and WSU’s failure to notify students, staff or faculty about them.

“We call for Weber State University to take action when it comes to equity. We, as Black students, want to feel safe on campus,” Terri Hughes, NAACP WSU Chapter President, said.

With duct tape over their mouths and face masks, students join together in favor of racial equality at WSU during Tia McNair's talk about racial justice in schools. (Kennedy Robins/ The Signpost)
With duct tape over their mouths and face masks, students join together in favor of racial equality at WSU during Tia McNair's talk about racial justice in schools. Photo credit: Kennedy Robins

The protesters asked several questions of those that were there, talking about the promises that have come and gone from the administration.

“What happened to our temporary spaces? What happened to our diversity committee?” Hughes asked. “When we hear ‘I hear you, I understand you, I feel you,’ we don’t truly feel that from this institution. All we hear and all we feel are unmet needs and broken promises. We are here today learning about ‘From Equity Talk to Equity Walk’ when all we hear is equity talk.”

McNair returned to the microphone after a round of applause.

“For those of you who might be wondering whether or not when students engage in that type of equity action, I encourage it. I think it’s something that we need to do.” McNair said. “It’s the reason why I am here and will continue to be here and to be a part and to partner with this institution. We have to be honest: The systems that we have created were never designed to serve racially minoritized students and to promote their success.”

Student Success Conference speaker Tia McNair talks about the book "From Equity Talk to Equity Walk." McNair took part in writting the book, which is about spreading knowledge to higher educations about racial equality. (Kennedy Robins/ The Signpost)
Student Success Conference speaker Tia McNair talks about the book "From Equity Talk to Equity Walk." McNair took part in writing the book, which is about spreading knowledge to higher educations about racial equality. Photo credit: Kennedy Robins

McNair turned the conversation toward real changes that could be made and how the strategic plan might make real changes.

“It is not going to change overnight. I am not naïve,” McNair said. “What we are doing now, in a more intentional way, is trying to really focus on questions of equity and pioneer practices as an example.”

McNair asked educators to figure out why the current system is working well for some students and not for others. The design of the plan at WSU was intended to show aspirational goals and hold the school accountable for their statements in the plan.

“It is so important for us to realize that when we see differences in our student outcomes, it’s because something we have designed is not working as intended,” McNair said.

Greg Noel, a counselor at Weber State’s counseling center, attended the event to support minority students and call for change within the university’s policies, bringing up his own concerns during the Q&A section of the lecture.

“I have the experience of being both a student and a professional within the Utah system of higher education, and we have a lot of work to do, a lot of work with equity,” Noel said.

During the Student Success Conference, students took the oppurtuinity to stand in protest for racial equality at Weber State University. (Kennedy Robins/ The Signpost)
During the Student Success Conference, students took the opportunity to stand in protest for racial equality at Weber State University. Photo credit: Kennedy Robins

Jennifer Greenlee contributed to this story.

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