Unique Hardy, a junior at the university, said being an African American student at the University of Nevada, Reno was extremely isolating at first.
“I’ve had to deal with professors teaching students racial biases such as it being ‘perfectly reasonable’ to see black people more as a threat than white people,” Hardy said. “Whereas the discrimination I faced with my peers was [microaggressive], it’s clear to me that several white faculty at UNR don’t care to create a safe space for black students or any minorities for that matter.”
According to a public records request from the Nevada Sagebrush to the university, 689 African American undergraduate and graduate students attend the UNR while 156 African American faculty and staff work at the university. Approximately, there are a total of 21,003 students and 3,187 faculty and staff at the university
Hardy said she is from a more diverse city where she was surrounded by several cultures along with her own.
Hardy said when she came to Reno, she was stared at by her peers.
“I have definitely been stared at a couple of times, especially when I wear my natural hair when I hadn’t the day before or even when I wear colorful hair,” Hardy said in a Twitter message to the Nevada Sagebrush.
Hardy said she gets compliments at times such as people saying “love the hair”, but finds it annoying because she believes the statement never acknowledges her as a person, but reinforces how people at the university love black culture but don’t like actual black people.
“The discrimination I’ve dealt with on-campus has mostly been in social settings such as food places,” Hardy said. “If a group of my friends and I were sitting at The Den or The Overlook and we were laughing loudly or anything like that, we were given rude looks or long stares.”
Hardy said as a criminal justice major, professors made her feel uncomfortable when they discussed different topics in class.
“Professors have made comments or inconsiderate actions in the classroom,” Hardy said. “This past year, I’ve dealt with racist comments [and] actions from professors such as Laura Archer, Elizabeth Frances and Greta Woyciehowsky. Some professors have had complaints filed about them and their treatment of black students but so far, nothing has been done.”
Hardy said Archer had complaints from students who took her classes. Hardy claims Archer told students of darker complexion that their video submissions are “too dark” and Archer took away points from predominantly black students.
Hardy also said Frances made comments to her and pulled her aside after class to discuss Frances’ racist experiences her family member experienced at school. Hardy said Frances told her how Frances’ classmates still believe black people should get 3/5 of a vote.
“It was only the 2nd day of the semester and I immediately became uncomfortable because I was the only person in the classroom at the time and I didn’t feel comfortable going to her as a professor for help so I had to drop the class and wait until someone else taught it,” Hardy said.
She also claimed Woyciehowsky justified the use of Eric Garner’s death and use of force as well as gave Hardy’s class a scenario officer’s handle and influenced how the class responded by adding that the criminal was “a large black man with tattoos”.
“I became uncomfortable with attending her class because she showed us a half an hour worth of videos of black people getting shot and beat by the police,” Hardy said.
Woyciehowsky said she was unaware a student was impacted by the comments in her class and she does not tolerate any discrimination or harassment in her class. She also encourages the student to meet with her so Woyciehowsky can better understand.
“I encourage students, myself included, to learn from each other, to honestly examine societal issues and to come to together [sic] to identify viable solutions especially in a university setting,” Woyciehowsky said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “I am not sure in what context it was construed I made a personal attack or caused injury to someone while discussing these topics, I certainly did not intend to offend any of my students.”
The Nevada Sagebrush reached out to Archer and Frances but they have yet to respond.
Hardy also believes the resources she has as an African American student are great but there aren’t enough of them on campus.
“The one safe space for minorities and marginalized groups on campus all share The Center which is an extremely tiny space,” Hardy said.
Hardy also believes ASUN does not represent everyone on campus.
“I think ASUN only represents the majority, not the ones that are being ignored,” Hardy said. “They only reflect what a majority of what the student body wants which is often white voices on campus.”
President Anthony Martinez said when he developed his platform with Vice President Nicole Flangas, one of their four goals was student voice and advocacy.
”I have continued to push this goal throughout the 87th session,” President Martinez said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “We have supported Elect All People, which furthers our effort to diversify the officers that constitute ASUN. Additionally, we have the Diversity and Inclusion department to prioritize these values in our organization and our practices.”
President Martinez also sits on the presidential search committee and he wants to ensure the new administration prioritizes hiring a more diverse staff.
“What is most important to ASUN is that you feel represented in our decisions,” President Martinez said. “If you would like to help us create solutions to combat problems on campus, I encourage you to meet with me or your senator(s) to take part in our democratic culture.”
President Martinez added as an openly queer person and someone who is Latinx, he cannot represent everyone nor speak on behalf of their communities.
“Everyone has a different story and experience, which I never want to narrate for them, which is why my door is always open to bringing in those powerful voices of the future and working together for a better Nevada and student experience,” President Martinez said.
Hardy believes the university can better support the African American community by creating stronger and better-funded resources.
“Make them more accessible to those living in residence halls and off-campus so that black students don’t feel the need to transfer after their first or freshman year at UNR,” Hardy said.
Faith Thomas, an undergraduate student, also admitted to feeling like an outsider due to her race.
“Honestly, sometimes I feel like I’m the outsider looking in,” Thomas said in private Twitter messages to the Nevada Sagebrush. “The only place on campus that I truly feel comfortable is when there is a high concentration of marginalized [people] such as the center and club meetings that I attend.”
Thomas said people have stared at her and touched her hair and skin without her consent while on campus.
“It’s always so jarring for me whenever it happens because I feel like a zoo animal and I’m not that like I understand that there’s a difference between you and me, however don’t come into my personal bubble and feel entitled to my space,” Thomas said.
Thomas said as an African American lesbian woman, she feels discriminated against on campus.
“It might not be somebody calling me a slur to my face but it might be somebody holding up progress in the work that is being put down by me and those who think like me,” Thomas said.
Thomas believes the only resources for African American students is at the Center.
“There aren’t that many black professors on campus which I think is a huge problem especially if this campus is all about pushing diversity and inclusion,” Thomas said. “ All of the black professors on campus have given me nothing but support through my academic career here and I am truly thankful for them.”
She also said although campus does not deserve her here, she is needed.
“I want to make it easier for those who are to come after me seeking a safe space while they’re away from home,” Thomas said. “I think it’s important that…marginalized groups have a haven to call their own especially when they are the minority.”
Thomas also emphasizes how more African Americans and other people of color need to be included in the conversations revolving around diversity at UNR.
“In order to claim diversity and inclusion, black and brown people need to be included in the work that is being done toward making more safe spaces because without those voices and without that perspective, it won’t really be as diverse as you wanted to be,” Thomas said. “It’s important that when these conversations are hard it’s not just faculty or staff or ‘the important people,’ students need to be at that table especially if you want to foster change. “
Undergraduate student Sydney Banks said she has had a lot of interaction with primarily white students discussing issues that are really personal to her.
She said in her sophomore year, she had a policing class and was one of three African American students in the course. In class one day, Banks said the class discussed how Kevin McReynolds, a former African American football player, and his friends were stopped by the University of Nevada Police Department. During the stop, UNRPD Officer Adam Wilson joked about shooting McReynold if he was noncompliant.
Banks said her professor asked the class if the incident was a “race issue or a size issue”.
“I remember feeling nauseous because I wanted to speak up and had no idea how it would turn out,” she said in a private Twitter message to the Nevada Sagebrush.
Banks said she raised her hand to argue the incident was a race-related issue but she said her classmates then talked over her and told Banks she was wrong. Bank said one peer yelled and accused her of being “one of those people who try to make everything about race.”
“I wanted to cry,” Banks said. “I wanted to yell back too. I wanted to leave. [B]ut, I knew I couldn’t do anything. I calmly explained to her that I’m not going to let her box me into a corner and make me into the ‘angry black woman’ trope. This cop knew that his statement was motivated by race because he as a cop knows the social climate between cops and black people in America. As a black person, I refused to let someone tell me I was wrong about foul interactions with police and fear it’ll go wrong.”
Banks said her classmate glared at her for the rest of class.
“I stayed behind after class and cried,” Banks said. “I was so angry that no one stood up for me or with me. I was upset that a professor allowed her to yell at me. [S]ince then, I don’t mind being boxed into a stereotype so long as no one ever yells at me again.”
Bank said at first she began to change the way she acted to avoid being “the angry black woman” until she realized she was angry.
“I’m angry I have to work [five] times as hard as everyone else in the room just to get half the recognition,” Banks said. ‘I’m angry I have to justify my angry [sic]. If that means my classmates force me into a stereotype fine, but I think that says more about them than it says about me.”
Dominique Hall, a junior and ASUN senator, said in her two and a half years at the university, she’s felt awkward being an African American student.
“As a student government officer, there were times I’d be discriminated against as a mean/loud person just because of the color of my skin,” Hall said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “Other officers would assume I was angry when I would only be expressing my thoughts in a similar manner as the rest.”
Hall believes the university does provide some resources for African American students, but not an adequate amount.
“As a low-income, first-generation black student, the financial aid office comes is a great resource with [its] programs, as well as free counseling at the [c]ounseling center. However, from a black standpoint the university is lacking,” Hall said.
She also believes the university can better help African American students by making things equitable not equal.
“Provide more resources and incentives to make black students feel comfortable in staying on-campus,” Hall said. “As well as addressive hate and bias incidents against black students and not sweeping it under the rug.”
Hall does believe ASUN is slowly starting to represent African American students due to increased representation. She does believe ASUN can lead to a decrease in representation of African American students if the demographic isn’t hired in positions or don’t graduate.
“It’s clear administration doesn’t know how to address black issues on-campus without tokenizing certain students/ times of the year…,” Hall said. “ I believe it’s up to the students to seek change, which shouldn’t be the case but it is.”
Dr. Paul Mitchell
Paul Mitchell, a journalism professor at the university, came to Reno from Philadelphia.
“I’m not afraid to talk about what’s happened to me, but I’m also not afraid to talk about the positives, I always tell people where I’m from,” Mitchell said in an interview with the Nevada Sagebrush. “There aren’t a lot of positives back there and I’ve seen it first hand, guys I grew up with, the community that I grew up in.”
Mitchell is happy he grew up in Philadelphia.
“I was fortunate that I saw different ways of life in Philadelphia,” Mitchell said. “Philadelphia has a rich history of African Americans and freedom of African Americans, but Philadelphia has major challenges. And so, knowing what I know, it’s just you’re always discriminated against but it’s just this is at a higher level discrimination.”
He also recalled an incident when he was teaching in Missouri.
“When I was at [Missouri], I had a white student who told me if her father knew she was being taught by a black man, he would pull her out of school,” Mitchell said. “So, it wasn’t like the first time I had heard, or seen something like that.”
Mitchell also recalled a time he was at the upper quad at UNR with two women and was mistaken as an athlete rather than a professor when one of the women claimed she saw Mitchell participate in a game. The other woman then introduced Mitchell as a professor.
“It blew her mind that someone who looked like me could potentially be a professor on this campus,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also added when he first came to the university, the majority of African American students were athletes. Mitchell believes more African American students are more diversified and aren’t just athletes currently.
“I think Colombia, Missouri prepared me to live in Reno, Nevada,” Mitchell said. “Also when you work in the newspaper department like I did, you’re going to have to move, move to these small communities and—for the most part—don’t see people who look like you. And my second newspaper job, that happened, and there I was discriminated against in the newsroom.”
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Chief Diversity Officer Eloisa Gordan-Mora said the Officer of Diversity and Inclusion works very closely and regularly with student serving units to establish interconnected goals.
“A student’s university experience, the Black/African-American student experience, in this case… is always impacted by multiple university settings and areas that go from the classroom, the support services provided, the affinity/social clubs experience, to the internal and external, overall community experience,” Gordan-Mora said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush.
She said ODI aims to be a strategist coordinator of concerns, efforts and needs, to create more integrated and mutually supporting goals.
Gordan-Mora said for African American students, ODI works with the Center and Lykes to see how they can help complement the African Diaspora program.
“As a matter of fact, now that we have a full staff, one of our two Outreach Coordinators, Daniel Scruggs, is particularly focused on Black/African-American student organizations,” Gordan-Mora said. “He was chosen for this position precisely because of his proven commitment and experience working on these areas, as a former undergrad and now as a grad student.”
Gordan-Mora said she attended the Black Scholar Dinner hosted on Friday, Feb. 21. She said an “overwhelming” amount of students here spoke about how they felt displaced and didn’t see people who looked like them often.
“As a Puerto Rican woman, and somebody who worked for many years in such an incredibly richly diverse place like NYC, I can personally, perfectly understand what they are talking about,” Gordan-Mora said. “But in the case of these students, and unlike me, they are young people, leaving familiar settings for the first time, so it is absolutely no surprise that they would want to leave after the first year.”
Gordan-Mora said there does need to be more resources for African American students.
“…Core Elements focused on diversity and inclusion, and something that is currently being addressed, to a more research-based understanding on how to better support incoming, African-American students, whose first-year experience and beyond, is known to be more challenging than for other students, even from other underrepresented/minoritized groups, on specific areas,” Gordan-Mora said.
Gordan-Mora identified the mistakes higher administration has made but believes students, faculty and administration need to work together to better the university.
“Errors have been committed, and in terms of the higher level administration, have been recognized, but what I would be more interested, moving forward, is how to create more cross-cutting alliances—at all levels of the hierarchy—to achieve a broader sense of ‘we’,” Gordan-Mora said.
She said she is here as an ally for students, faculty and staff to work together for a more “democratic” university experience.
Assistant Vice President and Chief of Police Officer Todd Renwick confirmed Officer Wilson was still a part of UNRPD. Renwick could not comment on disciplinary actions between the officers.
In 2017, Officer Antonio Gutierrez, a UNRPD officer, dressed as Colin Kaepernick and wore blackface for a Halloween costume. This was the same year Officer Wilson joked about McReynolds.
“These two officers had to face not only their fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement everyday, they had to face their community everyday,” Officer Renwick said. “I can assure you that there have been students who have come in wanting to talk about those events.”
Officer Renwick also said he has offered students to speak to the two officers. He also said the situation happened around a half a dozen times with student groups and faculty.
Officer Renwick said UNRPD has gone through training with the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Anti-Defamation League and training with student groups.
“[Officer Wilson and Officer Gutierrez] faced many different groups immediately after those events. We’ve continued training, we’ve continued a different approach with our university community.
Officer Renwick also discussed how he has lunch with different student communities and organizations. At these lunches, Officer Renwick said the student organizations and himself talk about issues or get to know one another to build relationships.
“We’re really trying as a department to build that trust—those relationships, open up the dialogue,” Officer Renwick said. “We’re ready and prepared to continue tough dialogue to progressively move forward. If we can’t have tough dialogue, then there’s a problem.”
Officer Renwick does not believe there are racial tensions between UNRPD and African American students.
“I believe there are individuals with concerns or issues, but I don’t feel that way and I don’t think our officers feel that way,” Renwick said.
Officer Renwick also confirmed UNRPD attends Black student Organization when invited, and offered the ‘brown-bag lunches’ with African American student groups.
“We have actively opened up the door and sent the invitations,” Renwick said.
Coordinator for the Center and Head of the African Diaspora Program Jody Lykes said the African Diaspora program is to help build community and give resources to African American students.
“The African Diaspora program is the umbrella for clubs, organizations, faculty, resources that are meant to build black students on campus, retain black students on campus, graduate black students on campus…” Lykes said in an interview with the Nevada Sagebrush.
Lykes said he heavily works with the Student Services division on campus, but the program is aimed for African American students.
Lykes believes there is not enough safe-spaces for African American students.
“I don’t even think there are spaces that can be made safe based on policy, procedure, institutional functioning for people of color either,” Lykes said. “I am very thankful for the Center and what we can do. It is a multicultural model where we do serve everyone. I think for black students, there are some things we need to focus on specifically for black students.”
Lykes said the university is not in danger of over-serving African American students on campus.
Lykes also said the African Diaspora program has not recently done training in classrooms.
“I’ve done a lot of presentations in classrooms for diversity in general, but not necessarily blackness,” Lykes said.
Currently, Lykes has worked with different organizations to create events for Black History Month. Some of these events include: 1,000 Black Girl Display, Day of Silence, Dr. Simone Brown Lecture, Library Trivia Night, Roll Bounce, Afro-Indigenous Paint and Sip, Black Business Student Association Networking Night, Cypher, Black Talent Showcase and a lecture from Professor Aisha Durham.
Taylor Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @taylorkendyll.