Kent State town hall meeting addresses allyship and privilege in the college community

As the nation continues to protest against racism and police brutality, the Kent State community is tackling the conversation through regular town hall meetings to promote awareness of these issues on campus.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, the entire Kent State community was invited to join a Zoom town hall meeting which addressed how to become an ally and how to equip oneself with the tools of empowerment to confront racial injustices.

Amoaba Gooden, interim vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Lamar Hylton, vice president of Student Affairs, facilitated and began the conversation but left early to attend the Black United Students and Undergraduate Student Government town hall meeting. They handed the conversation over to the direction of Christopher Woolverton and Julie Mazzei.

With more than 200 participants, Woolverton, a professor of environmental health sciences, challenged those in the meeting to ask themselves why they are joining the conversation.

He said, “I am here because I want to make sure that I can do everything I can to change a system that has so dramatically abused Black people.”

Mazzei, an associate professor of political science and graduate coordinator, said she joined the discussion because she knows her Black students and colleagues do not have the same campus experience she does and wants to see a change for them.

She said there are a few important pieces to becoming an ally:

  • Understanding the relationship you have with the oppressed and oppression

  • Conducting regular self-reflection

  • Acknowledging that you do not know enough

  • Collaborating with others who want to be allies

  • Amplifying Black contributions and voices

  • Sharing the recognition of implicit biases and challenging those biases

“Being an ally is not a feeling,” she said. “Being an ally is an action.”

Woolverton continued by addressing the subject of privilege, a term he describes as an “unearned package of benefit,” and stressed that it is vital that we not glorify it, but to use it for the benefit of others. He encouraged participants to do their research and understand the struggles of people of color. He said privilege can be used to shower Black men and women with good, so that damage can be reversed.

“Using privilege is more than just sharing the good things that shower us,” he said. “It’s about teaching other white people that they have something that other Black brothers and sisters don’t.”

Mazzei and Woolverton said professors have a responsibility to their students and insist that though there are policies that need to be changed, they need to ensure they aren’t complicit in their failure to respond as it does more harm to the student. In response, a participant added that the longer we sit on these issues as a community, the more they will become systemic problems.

“Neutrality is not a thing when it comes to racism,” Mazzei said.

Two additional town hall meetings will be held in the coming weeks. These will be student-led to discuss and address some of the racial issues Kent State faces.

Contact Tramaine Burton at [email protected]