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Black students at Western say they were overlooked, underrepresented at community forum

By Julia Berkman Following the community forum held on Friday, Dec. 7, Black Western students say their needs were overlooked at the event and their questions left unanswered by administration. In order to clarify their needs and demands in reaction to the forum, a group of Black students released a statement on the night of Sunday, Dec. 9. According to students Fatuma Hussein and Shaneen Walter-Edwards, the students who organized the forum reached out to students of color beforehand and asked them what demands they had for administration. However, many members of Western’s Black community said they were not aware of the finalized set of demands presented to administration during the forum. In particular, one demand calling for the resignation of Dean of Students Ted Pratt had never been approved by Black students. Walter-Edwards said Black students were told by the organizers after the forum that Pratt had been known to make problematic comments. “For the majority of the Black people that he interacts with, that’s not the type of feedback that we get from him,” Walter-Edwards said. “If he has made those statements, then we can work with him for solutions.” In the statement, students wrote that Pratt is both an ally and role model for Black students. Another problem Black students had with the forum was the lack of respect for Black voices. In their statement, students acknowledged at least three instances where questions from Black students were overlooked or left unanswered. “There were multiple instances where Black people did try to speak up, and admin did not even attempt to follow through with these questions,” Walter-Edwards said.   The statement also spoke about Black students being exploited by the rest of the community for the sake of diversity. “We are fighting against an institution that exploits us, but felt just as exploited by the same people that were supposed to support and give us space,” the statement read. Black students, the statement continued, are considered a minority within the Ethnic Students Center, which is already a space for minority students. “At times, we do not feel welcomed or included in the ESC. There is anti-Blackness within the ESC and we want it to be recognized,” the statement read. Because of that, one demand included in the statement is that no major organizing with the administration should take place without input from the Black Student Union, the African-Caribbean Club, and Queer and Trans People of Color.   Hussein noted that at the beginning of the forum, students were asked to refrain from referencing individuals or individual acts in relation to the recent vandalism on campus. “They should have talked about who was targeted. We needed to talk about acts of vandalism and safety and what to do from here on out,” she said. The forum, Hussein continued, was brought about because of the vandalism. One of the demands listed in the statement asks for the struggle of Black students at Western to be highlighted and prioritized. “Black students do not feel safe to even come to class or walk on campus. We need to work to make sure the population of  Black students will still remain on this campus,” it reads. According to the statement, organizers of the forum have reached out to those who wrote the statement and apologized for the lack of Black voices uplifted throughout the event. The statement, Walter-Edwards emphasized, was not meant to call out or attack anyone involved in the forum, but rather to draw attention to the undermining of Black voices at an event that many felt should have been Black-centered. “Time and time again, how many movements have been started by Black people and then been taken over? Honestly from the bottom of my heart, we just want it to stop,” she said.

 **Updated 12/11 at 2:20 p.m. with the most recent statement and its signatures as well as to remove an inaccurate statement

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