Doing the work: Becoming agents of social change

Beloit kicked off Black History Month with a keynote from Dr. Atiera Coleman’10, Rock County equity manager and former associate dean at Beloit College.

Beloit College won’t accomplish its goal of “Becoming Better” unless the work of anti-racism is incorporated into all departments, programs, and aspects of life at the college, with every member of the community committing to playing a role.

Dr. Atiera Coleman Dr. Atiera ColemanThat was the message from Dr. Atiera Coleman’10, former associate dean for Student Success, Equity and Community (SSEC) and co-director of the Weissberg Program in Human Rights & Social Justice, during her live-streamed keynote kicking off Black History Month. Coleman is now the Rock County equity manager.

Dean of Students and Chief Diversity Officer Cecil Youngblood opened the event by naming a few recent “firsts” in the college’s history: Dr. Debra Majeed and George Williams, the first two Black tenure-track faculty; Stacie Scott, the college’s first Black vice president of finance; and Erica Daniels, the first Black chief of staff and secretary of the college, who also spoke at the event.

Before introducing Dr. Coleman, President Scott Bierman emphasized that the progress that the college makes with Becoming Better is dependent on our continued commitment to “doing the work.”

The six goals of Becoming Better aim us at the heart of the college’s mission: to uncover, lay bare, and dismantle systems of oppression, structural racism, and anti-Blackness where we find it — to work for serious, lasting institutional change while we prepare students for lives of purposeful consequence,” he said.

Dr. Coleman outlined the plan’s six goals and the college’s progress toward them, and identified areas for improvement. She explained the history of student demands, which began in 1969 and have been reiterated and re-issued by students various times since then. The most recent demands, issued by Black Students United in 2019, became a template for the Action Plan’s goals.

Since launching the plan, various institutional changes have already been implemented to combat anti-Blackness and racial bias on campus, including (but not limited to) naming Grace’s Place as a safe space for Black students on campus and adding equity advisors to help ensure parity within the college’s hiring processes, departments, and programs.

Coleman concluded her keynote by emphasizing the importance of not only doing the work, but ensuring community members check in with themselves while doing so.

“We must ensure that we are taking care of ourselves and monitoring our own capacity so that we can maintain the strength to support others and actually become better,” she said.

The video, Becoming Better: Room to Grow, followed Dr. Coleman’s speech.

Daniels closed out the event by honoring Beloit College students, faculty, and staff who contributed to the cause, even before it was called “Becoming Better”: Sammy Ransom, one of the college’s first Black basketball players; George Hilliard’36, whose photo was erased from a campus brochure; Clarence “Skip” Ellis’64, an early computer pioneer; Michael Young’69, president of campus group Afro-American Union and supporter of 1969’s Black Demands; and and Daniels’ great-aunt, Lois “Bugs” Hopson’48.

She also named campus leaders, faculty, and staff who are doing the work today, including Daksha Howard, SSEC program coordinator; Pasqual Wisdom, facilities; Regina Hendrix, director of Help Yourself; health and society and political science professor Dr. Ron Watson; and critical identity studies professor Dr. Sonya Maria Johnson — to name a few.

“We are living in historic times, and when you think of the work of anti-racism and Black history, it should not come across your mind as if it’s an old film in black and white. The work of anti-racism, in this day and age, is in high-definition, 4k resolution,” Daniels said.

February 17, 2022

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