Students protest racism, transgender policies, dorm conditions at Salem College

Students at Salem College, a private women’s college in Winston-Salem, began a sit-in Monday to protest what they say are racist attitudes and policies, anti-transgender admissions policies and poor living conditions on campus.

More than 100 students at the college of about 1,100 participated in the protest at its outset, according to reports, occupying the campus’ Main Hall.

Jordan Green of Triad City Beat spoke with Leniece Linder, a senior majoring in political science and communication who and president of Black Americans Demonstrating Unity.

From his story:

“Salem College has living conditions that are intolerable,” Linder said. “The showers are cold. The food is inedible from mold and it’s not properly cooked. There’s no wi-fi. There are majors being offered that don’t exist. Salem has promised a lot of people that you can create your own major. They say they offer computer science, but we don’t have that. We do not have German. We do live with termites, roaches and rats in the dorms. There are windows that are painted shut and others that don’t close. Birds are free to fly in and out of the rooms.”

A hand-drawn paper banner hung above the entrance with large type reading “Strong are thy flaws, oh Salem” — a spoof on the college’s official song “Strong are thy walls, oh Salem” — with individual grievances inscribed like messages in a school yearbook.

Although the living conditions affect the entire student body, Linder said the campus also suffers from a social climate that is harmful to students of color and LGBTQ students.

“There’s racism that’s micro-aggressive and actual racism,” Linder said. “Professors are saying, ‘Do you know your father?’ and when they talk about black students they say ‘those students.’ There are professors telling black and Hispanic students: ‘You will never make it through pre-med, so you should just stop now.’ There are students calling Muslim students ‘terrorists,’ telling Hispanic students ‘go back to your country’ and calling African-American students n******. The school has no transgender policy. That’s a way to not have to take any action on transphobia.”

Students leading the protest have said they aren’t interested in negotiating an end to it until they see action on items they have presented to the administration.

The document expressed frustration with what students said was years of talking about these problems with administration and getting nowhere.

“You’ve had your chance to ignore this, but now it’s in your face,” the document read. “’Pay attention. It’s past time you take steps to implement the rights, policies and demands necessary to alleviate the inequity and discrimination that permeate every facet of Salem College.”

The students called for diversity training for the board of trustees, faculty and staff, better representation of minority groups in faculty hiring and “a visible and intensive effort given to the renovation, restoration and upkeep of residence halls.”

The students are also calling for the college to admit transgender students who identify as women or non-binary.

Though Salem is still officially a women’s college, men 23 and over are currently admitted to the college’s continuing education program and its graduate programs. The college has no official admissions policy with regard to transgender students.

From the TCB story:

The students presented administration with a 10-page list of demands, including a requirement for diversity training for members of the board of trustees down to general staff, hiring people of color for faculty positions proportionately to the makeup of the student body, “a visible and intensive effort given to the renovation, restoration and upkeep of residence halls,” and admission of students who were assigned as male at birth and who identity as women, along with students who were assigned as female at birth and identify as non-binary while feeling that they belong in a “community of women.”

Karina Gonzalez, a visitors guide who is studying sociology, and Lorina Morton, who is studying creative writing, said they met with two deans.

“They asked to talk about the ‘call to action,’” Gonzalez said. “We said, ‘We will talk to you when we see action.’”

Morton added: “We presented the document at 11:30; they came to talk to us at 12. It’s a document that you can’t digest in a half hour. One of the deans asked, ‘How long are you planning to stay here?’ We said, ‘We’ll stay here until we see action.’ She said, ‘Get comfortable.’”

Despite what sounds like some tense exchanges, the administration seems to be taking the protest seriously and remaining fairly hands off – so far.

In a statement released Monday, the college said:

“Earlier today, a group of students presented members of the administration with a 10-page call to action, which we are reviewing. We offered to meet with the students to discuss the contents of the document. They have advised us that they prefer to continue their sit-in until action is taken. We respect their rights to express themselves in a peaceful manner.”


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