Gallatin senior Brenah Johnson and CAS senior Nia Robinson were first-year roommates when they noticed that their experience was different from that of their Black peers.
“We had each other as support, but our other Black friends did not,” Johnson said. “Our first instances of racism were second hand, hearing from our friends who had to change dorms because their first roommates were anti-Black.”
During their time at NYU, both students came to believe that the university does not adequately provide for its Black students.
“There is nothing to protect us,” Robinson said. “Literally no systems in place. What do you do when your professor is racist and wants to take it out on your grades? Microaggressions in classroom discussions?”
Johnson herself worked in housing as a Residential Assistant and noticed that the housing system did not meet the demands of Black students.
“As a former RA, we spoke a lot of language around being diverse and forming communities, but we never talked about its application and how different students may want to be included in different ways,” Johnson said. “Housing felt like the first place to make a tangible start.”
These experiences prompted Johnson and Robinson to start the student-led task force called Black Violets, a group calling for measures to protect Black students on campus. The group has gained traction through various petitions advocating for more Black professors in the Department of Politics and first-year exploration floors dedicated to Black housing, among others.
The petition for Black housing has gained attention in the Student Government Assembly. Steinhardt sophomore Shamon Lawrence — the incoming Alternate Senator-at-Large for Black Students and Students Experiencing Food Insecurity in SGA — is passionate about the initiative.
“I found out about Black Violets and the work they were doing through their petition and I wanted to be on the forefront of asking for these important structural changes,” Lawrence said.
Since then, Lawrence and Black Violets have been in contact with Jesse Maloney, the President of Inter-Residential Housing Committee, and first-year exploration floors dedicated to Black students are on track to becoming a reality in fall of 2021.
In an email to WSN, university spokesperson John Beckman addressed the petition.
“We appreciate the petition authors’ position,” Beckman wrote. “Res Life staff have reached out to the authors of the petition to discuss how we might move forward with their goals. Given the COVID-related challenges to the student housing system for 2020-2021, these conversations would be aiming towards 2021-2022.”
Johnson and Robinson believe that NYU could be doing more at a much faster pace.
“We will be leaving NYU, this is both of our last years,” Johnson said. “We just don’t want anyone else to feel the way many of us had to. With everything really being changed from the bottom up due to COVID, I believe that NYU admin should make this a priority if they really care about Black lives and students.”
They also criticized NYU’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the national conversation regarding race.
“With all that is going on this summer and NYU itself having their own instances of racism, they continue to send out these blanket statements about scholarships and Juneteenth and changing their banner black for Black Lives Matter,” Robinson said. “But they still do not make the university equitable or make the structural changes we as Black students have been asking for.”
Despite this, they remain optimistic for the future.
“We are hoping this will have a ripple effect, potentially towards campuses abroad where racism is even more pervasive,” Robinson said. “If NYU prides itself as an inclusive global network, they cannot shy away from issues of racism. This along with the way the national conversation is moving, I think NYU really has no choice but to tackle these issues head on.”
Email Mina Mohammadi at [email protected]