Anti-racism check-in recognizes campus efforts to make change

Christa Knipes, Arts and Entertainment editor

A great strength of Mercyhurst is that, as an institution, it is always looking to improve itself.

During Black History Month, this became especially apparent through many of the virtual events that have been held by students and staff, including an anti-racism check in.

Hosted on Feb. 15 by assistant professor of History, Averill Earls, Ph.D., and instructor of Social Work, Adrienne Riegle, Ph.D., this Zoom event was held to brainstorm ways in which Mercyhurst can move forward and improve as an anti-racist institution.

Between students, faculty and staff, approximately 50 people attended this event. Attendees were split into breakout rooms to discuss the challenges they have experienced in their efforts to make Mercyhurst become a more welcoming place for all students.

Group members also shared their successes over the past month, as well as their plans for the immediate future.

After everyone finished sharing, the group as a whole rejoined to reflect. During this meeting, the winners of the anti-racism mini-grants were announced by vice president for Mission, Greg Baker, D.Min.

These winners included associate professor of psychology, Matthew Weaver, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, Rajinikanth Mohan, Ph.D. and assistant professor of English, Joanne Hosey-McGurk, Ph.D., among other members of Mercyhurst’s faculty. Each of these projects has a unique way of providing historical context and new perspectives to the conversation around race.

One of the grant projects is an essay competition that will include essays being published beyond Mercyhurst, hopefully creating an even wider ripple effect in terms of discussing race.

Another element of this Zoom event was that senior Social Work students presented their senior projects. Over the last semester, this group of seniors contrived some ideas of how Mercyhurst could become involved in anti-racism efforts.

They created the Facebook page “Mercyhurst Anti-Racism Initiative” (MARI) on which to post their thoughts and ideas. Further, they engaged themselves in a campaign where they wrote letters to senators to pass Senate Bill 3912.

This bill is the Justice in Policing Act and calls for police reform, aiming to eradicate excessive use of force, police misconduct and bias against races in policing. Sending personal letters to officials is known to have an impact on social issues and the senior social work students even sent out templates for other members of the Mercyhurst community to join in their campaign, accompanied by a fact sheet.

Though the bill has yet to be passed, there is no doubt that the dedication and diligence of these students has had an impact on the proceedings. After the anti-racism check in, a follow up email was sent out that outlined the next steps that had been taken.

In summation, the actions brainstormed by members of the Mercyhurst community were shared both with the Mercyhurst administration, and the presidential search committee where applicable.

Each step and action has been further documented to be shared with the new Mercyhurst president when they are instated. Additionally, any ideas that were geared towards a specific department or facet of Mercyhurst have been passed along to the appropriate constituencies for consideration. In an institutional setting, it is hard to have everyone’s voices heard.

Petitions can be signed and letters can be written, but often their intended results do not come to fruition.

With this anti-racism check in, it is clear that voices are being heard at Mercyhurst and these voices are speaking about some of the largest issues an institution can face. As a community, we look forward to seeing what initiatives take place to end racism on our campus.