The Black Lives Matter movement was first created in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi after an unarmed Black man named Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. According to Black Lives Matter Herstory, Black Lives Matter is “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.” The movement received more traction in 2014 when Michael Brown was murdered by Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson.
After George Floyd died while in custody of police, protests erupted in over 140 U.S. cities and throughout the world—including Reno.
Steve Maples, the University of Nevada, Reno’s director of admissions, said the university’s freshman class of 2009 was approximately 28 percent of students of color. According to Maples, this number rose to 47 percent in fall 2019.
“We continue to strive to reach as many students of color in the recruitment process as possible,” Maples said. “Our current recruitment staff is 80 percent of people of color.”
According to public records acquired by the Nevada Sagebrush, 689 African American undergraduate and graduate students attend the university, while 156 African American faculty and staff work at the university. Currently, there are approximately 21,003 students and 3,187 faculty and staff at the university.
Dominique “Dom” Hall is a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, and president of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada. In light of the recent protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, President Hall collaborated with several organizations to create the Listen to Us platform. Participating organizations include Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Beta Sigma, Black Student Organization, Residence Hall Association, A.B.L.E. Women and Kappa Alpha Psi.
In an email to the Nevada Sagebrush, Hall explained how the ‘Listen to Us’ platform was for local representatives, including the university, the Reno community and the state of Nevada. She wants the community to listen to Black student leaders and has adopted goals to create “actionable steps” to unify the Black community across the state of Nevada.
“The joint statement was created by seven Black student leaders from seven different on-campus organizations,” Hall said. “As a whole, it took about a day to craft our statement with edits. The platform took about two days to craft, as we had several meetings to come up with goals and reform that heavily impact the Black community.”
Hall said she was approached by the speaker of the senate, Keegan Murphy, and the vice president of ASUN, Austin Brown, to write a statement regarding the murder of George Floyd.
“I did decline this request because due to previous incidents and the nature of this significantly distressing topic, I did not feel comfortable writing a statement with those who may not fully understand what it is like to be Black or fully understand Black issues,” Hall said.
Vice President Brown and Speaker Murphy told the Nevada Sagebrush they were inspired by other collegiate student governments who released statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Vice President Brown collaborated with about 25 students in an attempt to create a statement “that would convey our unwavering support to our Black students and the BLM movement.”
While they were writing this letter, Vice President Brown was in communication with President Hall about a platform that was going to be started by various Black Student Leaders on campus. Once they were informed of the platform, they decided that it was more important to listen to the voices of Black Students on campus who unfairly face these issues on a daily basis.
“At that time, we changed our letter to put in more support for the #ListenToUs campaign … a name we did not know at the time … and waited to publish our letter until the Black Student Leaders had published theirs as we did not want to compete with the important message they needed to convey,” said Brown.
Hall said she and the other Black leaders did not want ASUN officers to “overstep and take” the platform. She does want ASUN to implement the platform by supporting and assisting them through written legislation or helping the Black leaders at the legislature.
As a Black woman, Hall felt the need to use her voice as ASUN president to speak up and demand change for Black students and Black Nevada residents. Hall previously spoke at several Black Lives Matter events in the Reno area.
“The way I define public service is, sacrificing yourself for the betterment of others,” Hall said. “ I was hesitant, as I previously spoke up for Black issues, and was put on trial, and criticized for my statements. It wasn’t until I got the “go” from President Marc Johnson, and from there I spoke at the Reno Peaceful Protest and decided to write a joint statement with other Black student leaders.”
Hall hopes the university will show progress within a year. She wants to bring Kaepernick memorabilia to campus and create opportunities for him to speak on campus. Hall also hopes Residential Life, Housing and Food Services will create an African Diaspora wing in the Nevada Living Learning Community.
“I also hope we can make policy and educational reform at the Nevada State Legislature this year,” Hall said. “Additionally, after multiple discussions with Governor Sisolak, I hope he can implement our policy reforms as well.”
“Today it was my honor to talk to Dominique about the letter she and Black student leaders from
@unevadareno sent this week,” Gov. Sisolak said on Twitter. “I’m grateful for their leadership & I stand united to engage in substantive dialogue around real change. #BlackLivesMatter”
Today it was my honor to talk to Dominique about the letter she and Black student leaders from @unevadareno sent this week. I’m grateful for their leadership & I stand united to engage in substantive dialogue around real change. #BlackLivesMatter https://t.co/9YYHGtUuYo
— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) June 3, 2020
Multiple ASUN Senators have apologized for the organization’s “lack of support for black students.”
Joshua Luers, senator for the College of Engineering, sent out an apology through his Instagram account on June 18 to condemn and apologize for ASUN’s lack of support to the Black community.
“ASUN has not been serving our marginalized students; more often than not, it’s been a rare occasion that we weren’t serving ourselves,” Sen. Luers said. “I understand why you feel that ASUN is not here for you. We have [not] been doing out jobs and we have been plagued with apathy. This ends now.”
Another student who worked on the Listen to Us platform was Mike Brooks.
Brooks is a recent graduate and was previously involved with the Phi Beta Sigma Greek organization. Founded in 1914 at Howard University, Phi Beta Sigma is a traditionally Black fraternity, which is a part of the Divine 9. The Divine 9 are the collective and traditionally Black sororities and fraternities. They also include Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity.
The university has a total of 4 Divine 9 organizations.
“As one of the few historically black organizations, we thought it’d be beneficial to use the platform we have built,” Brooks said.
Brooks also said Phi Beta Sigma has had a decent following and is active on campus.
“It was a collective decision to come together and discuss what issues we thought needed to be addressed,” Brooks said to the Nevada Sagebrush through an Instagram message. “A good amount of people were ‘missing the point’ of the protests. We felt like we could articulate the sentiments we believed we shared with people in Ferguson, Minneapolis, Dallas and so on.”
Brooks said he had not felt like an outsider because of his race at UNR.
“I attended a [Historically Black College and University] and a top-ranked school prior to attending UNR,” Brooks said. “I personally do not like giving others the satisfaction of pushing me out of a space that I am fully entitled to be in.”
Brooks said he hopes the university will follow through on its promises. He also said he hopes the student population at the university will push their representatives to make comprehensive reform.
“It is long overdue,” Brooks said. “While we were not sure how far this would go—we have been fortunate. … students on this campus shouldn’t feel like they aren’t a part of this campus. Although being a person of color can be discouraging at times. There are more good people than bad in this world. We … have to support one another if we want to make substantial progress.”
Other student groups have supported the Listen To Us campaign.
Hillel Student President Ariella Scharrer spoke in a Facebook video about its support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“A Jewish identity is a multi-racial and ethno-religious identity,” Scharrer said. “We Jews may present as white, black, brown, and every shade in between; we even have names for the differences. We, as Jews, have an obligation to use whatever privilege we have to walk hand in hand with all who are oppressed; today that is with Black Americans. We recognize our privilege and will do everything in our power to stand with those who are oppressed, or who want our alliance.”
The university’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer Eloisa Gordon-Mora sent several emails regarding the university’s response to the “Listen to Us” campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement.
In an email, the university outlined the following action items: conduct a public review of the university’s policing standards, review training and protocols, conduct a public review of the African Diaspora Program, bring thoughtful and prominent recognition celebrating Colin Kaepernick, explore test score alternatives for use in first-year math and English course placement and institutional scholarship criteria, support the establishment of an undergraduate and graduate trustee position and pursue the establishment of a living-learning community in the residence halls focused on Black culture.
In an email to the Nevada Sagebrush, Gordon-Mora said The Center: Every Student, Every Story received a significant budget increase a few years ago and recently received donations to be used specifically for the African Diaspora Program.
The Director of The Center, Jose Miguel Pulido Leon, said in a phone interview that President Johnson and Vice President Shannon Ellis increased The Center’s operational budget to around $50,000 during the 2018-2019 academic year.
Leon said prior to his arrival to his position, The Center had fundraised. However, it has since replaced fundraising efforts with state funding. Leon also said a donor came forward with an offer to contribute additional funding for the African Diaspora program this year.
The Center is planning several events for the upcoming school year, one of which will discuss “The State of Blackness.” The event was originally planned during February for Black History Month, but will move to early fall. The Center also plans to increase training for implicit and explicit biases. Some departments they plan on working with include orientation leaders and Residential Life and Housing staff.
Gordon-Mora said two unnamed students in the Center for Student Engagement have worked for eight months on proposals to honor Kaepernick.
In an email to the Nevada Sagebrush, the Director of Student Engagement, Sandra Rodriguez, explained how two students began an inquiry eight months ago about the possibility of raising a statue of Colin Kaepernick on campus to honor the social justice work he has carried out.
“After meeting with a few administrators, the vice president of student services asked if I would advise the students through the complexities of a project that will, in all likelihood, take at least two years to complete,” Rodriguez said. “Wenei Philimon and Lauren Harvey are spearheading this project and putting together a team of students for the initial phase. Eventually, the overall proposal will call for additional membership of faculty, staff, and community members.”
Rodriguez said the students are currently in the process of authoring an internal request seeking permission to engage the project formally through university channels. The initial document will be sent to President Marc Johnson, the Facilities department, Development & Alumni Relations, and Legal Counsel. The document will include a vision for the project, a timeline, and project infrastructure that will include several committees, legal implications and budget proposals.
Over the next six months, the students will be seeking support in the form of a resolution from the various governing bodies on campus to include the Graduate Student Association, the ASUN, Faculty Senate and Staff Employees Council. They also want a resolution from the Alumni Association and from the Student Athletic Board composed of student athletes.
Rodriguez said she believes it is important that a project of this significance have the support and input of the entire university community and beyond. She emphasized that this project will take a long time to complete and will require a lot of fundraising.
“I know the collective effort will produce the outcome this community desires,” Rodriguez said. “Patience and diligence will ensure the project comes to fruition. Where compromise will inevitably be necessary, there are two points that must remain intact for the student leadership. This initiative will center Black students, faculty, and staff voices. In addition, the project will remain a student-led initiative.”
Gordon-Mora also mentioned there is a new Facebook group dedicated to try and create a statute of Kaepernick on campus. The Facebook group was started by UNR alumni James Newcomb, Anastasia Salmon and Jennifer McMenomy with the purpose of creating a campaign to show there is interest in such a statue.
The Facebook group, UNR Alumni Campaign For Statue of Kaepernick Kneeling in Mackay Stadium, has over 1,400 members. The Nevada Sagebrush reached out to the group for a comment, but as of publishing, they have not responded.
Gordon-Mora told the Nevada Sagebrush that President Marc Johnson said there hasn’t been any reason for removing Colin Kaepernick’s face around campus.
“Kaepernick’s image remains present in Wolf Pack athletic facilities, more present than another other former student-athlete,” Gordon-Mora said in the email. “There is a large picture of Kaepernick in the lobby of Cashell Fieldhouse, the Wolf Pack’s football facility that is titled, ‘A Nevada Football Player’ and explains the qualities the program wants in its athletes. Additionally, a large picture of Kaepernick is in Nevada’s strength center, along with other Wolf Pack alums who reached the NFL.”
Gordon-Mora also said there is a picture of Kaepernick also included in the coach’s hallways as part of the program’s “Best of the Best” section, in the football trophy case at Legacy Hall, featured in a mural of alums inside the Basin Street Club at Mackay Stadium, the Wolf Pack memorabilia case at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and more.
“Shortly after Kaepernick’s graduation … the [u]niversity started a “Kap Was Here” marketing campaign that included hanging banners of Kaepernick on light posts around campus,” Gordon-Mora said. “They were not taken down as a result of Kaepernick’s actions. That campaign was slated for a specific time period before another campaign began, therefore those banners are no longer on campus as the University has annual campaigns that switch out the themes depicted on the banners.”
Gordon-Mora wants to create an institution-wide strategic plan of diversity and inclusion.
“This is a standard of all our peer institutions and critical because it will allow us to move the university-organizational logic from an outcomes outlook to a [diversity, equity and inclusion]-centered strategy,” she said. “By that, I mean that DEI will become a clear organizing principle throughout our university—academic units, student services, administration. As it stands, all of those areas need to be more functionally and organizationally connected, with respect to DEI.”
Gordon-Mora also said the University of Nevada, Reno Police Department is reviewing its policies to provide greater safety for all our students, faculty and staff. She said there have not been discussions related to defunding UNRPD or cutting ties with the Reno Police Department.
“Particularly, in terms of more clearly focusing on the longstanding and urgent need to address the practices that continue to impact our African American community and other communities of color historically subjected to racial profiling and police brutality, the police unit has advanced a series of conversations with different campus sectors—students, faculty, administrators—to create a series of reforms,” Gordon-Mora said.
UNRPD’s Chief of Police Todd Renwick confirmed with the Nevada Sagebrush that Police Services was reviewing policy and focused on #8CantWait to update or reform.
According to the #8CantWait project website, the campaign is aimed to review and change policies so they immediately reduce harm, highlight community safety and defund the police.
Policy changes called for by the #8CantWait include: banning chokeholds and strangleholds, require de-escalation techniques, require a warning before shooting, require an exhaust of all alternatives before shooting, intervene, ban shootings at moving vehicles, require the use of force continuum and require comprehensive reporting.
Gordon-Mora said the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has begun the work of organizing the academic units. She said the various colleges are designing an action plan arising from the Climate Survey’s findings. Gordon-Mora said she believes it is an essential need for ongoing faculty and staff development on such areas as diversity in the classroom and the workplace, microaggression and implicit bias, cultural awareness and more.
The Faculty Senate Chair Brian Frost commented in the June 4th Faculty Senate meeting on the protests, vigils and mourning going on across the country and the city of Reno.
“Since the beginning of May, our world has once again changed—at least I hope it has changed because this story has played far too many times to continue,” Frost said. “Words, at least my words, cannot come close to adequately describing the horror and helplessness felt as we watched the murder of George Floyd by a uniformed police officer while other officers looked on and bystanders pleaded with police to stop.”
Frost said he believes the “horrific and unconscionable” images of police violence against peaceful protesters are gut-wrenching and abhorrent and frankly really hard for many of us to understand.
“The prevalence of cell phone cameras and the bravery of both professional and citizen journalists have made it clear for the world why people like Colin Kaepernick … a graduate of the University of Nevada … knelt in peaceful protest,” Frost said. “Many across the county vilified these peaceful protests and emboldened the racists among us; all of which continue to expose the systemic racism ingrained in our country.”
Frost wants the world to do better.
“We can and must do better be better,” Frost said. “We need to let our Black faculty, staff, and students know that we see you, that we hear you, and that we stand with you. I would encourage you all to read the letters that have been put out by some of the black student leaders … on this issue.”
Frost also attended the June 11 Board of Regents meeting. Here, he spoke to the Council of Chairs about the state of the university and the world.
“With the push for workforce development, which our institutions are uniquely situated, we must also remember that a college education is more than skill training,” Frost said. “Our institutions develop free and creative thinkers with tools that can be used to tackle both our largest scientific problems such as climate change and the novel coronavirus but also to tackle the ignorance and vileness of racism—the oldest of viruses in our society. Higher education can be a pillar of support in the hard and difficult work ahead in overturning centuries of systemic racism.”
Frost does not believe higher education is perfect and recited the #BlackinTheIvory campaign on Twitter. The #BlackinTheIvory campaign aims to amplify Black voices in academia.
“We are not always going to get it right, but we need to be willing to have the difficult conversations and recognize that we are part of the problem,” Frost said. “We need to confront our own biases … implicit and explicit … and be better. We must elevate the voices of our Black faculty, staff, and students and let them know that we see you, we hear you, and we stand with you.”
Executive Director of Residential Life, Housing, and Dining Services Dean Kennedy said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush that housing is in initial conversations of what the Africa Diaspora living-learning community will look like by talking with several students, student leaders, faculty, graduate students, and staff.
Kennedy does not know how the Africa Diaspora living-learning center will work yet.
“We will be basing the expectations for this community on feedback from students, student leaders, staff within and beyond our department, and faculty largely based in the Gender, Race, and Identity department,” Kennedy said. “This level of investment is critical when creating a strong and lasting community.”
There are currently 13 living-learning communities spread throughout the Nevada Living Learning Center and Great Basin. These living-learning communities include the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources, College of Science, College of Engineering, Women in Science and Engineering, Honors Residential Scholars Community, College of Business, College of Education, First Year/First Year Undeclared, Gender, Sexuality and Identity, Health Science, Indigenous, Journalism and Latinx.
Kennedy said the Residential Life live-in student, graduate and full-time staff training is robust related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. He said ResLife will “dive deeper” into listening and learning about racism, power, oppression and privilege this year.
Kennedy also announced the department is reviewing and potentially updating their Vision, Mission, Values, and Commitment to Equity statements and created an Inclusive Excellence/Multicultural Competencies Task Force who will work on the following items: developing a plan for assessing their inclusivity as a department for staff and students, developing a set of multicultural competencies applicable for all staff and those unique to individual positions and weave these competencies into position descriptions and personnel evaluations and developing a professional development curriculum to help all their staff feel more comfortable/confident in diversity-related topics.
“I will share ‘residential programming’ is not nearly as effective as staff members developing strong relationships with their residents,” Kennedy said. “Building relationships with residents, talking with them about race, power, privilege, oppression, equity, and inclusion, is a much more effective way of educating through supportive, caring environment. This is because we know students learn more when talking with other students compared with attending an educational event.”
Kennedy believes and said he witnessed culture and climate change occur faster and deeper through interpersonal interactions.
The Residential Housing Association President Kayla Snowden is a Black woman who said she has witnessed negative racial occurrences in UNR’s residence halls.
“I can only imagine the fear that incoming [B]lack students to our university must be feeling during a time like this,” Snowden said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “I believed it was important that our [B]lack students know that I, as well as RHA as a whole, support them and will do everything in our power to make sure they are safe and protected in our residence halls, as we always have.”
Snowden said RHA plans events each year that promote diversity and inclusion. She plans on continuing these events in the future as well.
Taylor Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @taylorkendyll.