On Sept. 27, a picture circulated on social media: Three white students posed with charcoal facial masks smeared across their faces.
The picture, originally posted to Snapchat, is captioned, “drink the mf koolaid.”
The students, three first-years from Columbia College, a private liberal arts women’s college in Columbia, South Carolina, have been removed from campus while Columbia College investigates.
The college’s Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted two afternoon forums on Sept. 28. Day and evening students and others from the college community voiced their opinions. Breed Leadership Center’s meeting room was filled, with more than 150 people in attendance at each session.
Female students made up the majority of those who spoke; two parents and a white male coach from the school also participated. Many students cried as they shared their opinions from behind a podium. The audience cheered and clapped for speakers at both forums.
Some students who spoke addressed certain groups, including black students, college administration, the students who posed the picture and white people. No speaker or audience member grew hostile or belligerent, and those in line to speak waited calmly for their turn.
From left to right, Cory Johnson, Sabrina Stevens, and Demery Trantham speak during the afternoon forum on Sept. 28. Photos by Claudia Smith Brinson.
“When we were in the cafeteria today, a student said to one of my friends that there are more important things going on than Black Lives Matter. That is ugly, to say there are more important things than another human being’s life,” said Peighton Davis, a black student.
“I’m so sorry, my black queens, that our skin is a trend in 2016. And that our lips are a trend, and that we’re still taken as a joke, regardless of the countless contributions that we make to this country,” said Simone Tolson, a black student.
“It’s hitting close to home. People are tired and angry and mad. And people can only take so much. I just precaution you, white people in this room, that before you make an action, that you really think about what you’re doing and who you are affecting,” said Harley Carrigan, a white student.
“The No. 1 style offense in America is being black. The No. 2 offense is being a black female. You don’t know what it’s like to wake up and work twice as hard for half of what y’all have. We have to prove ourselves every single day: For me to walk into a job and them tell me my natural hair is unprofessional… So you know what I did today? I woke up and grabbed my pick, and I made it as big as I possibly could,” said Cory Johnson, a black student.
“Speaking to the students: I want you to know none of us here are alone,” said Deborah Jackson, a black student.
“I wasn’t mad because they said what they said. I was mad because they were wearing Columbia College everything,” said Tamara Belton, a black student.
“I won’t be filled with hate,” said Alexandria Smith, a black student.
“I’m very conflicted, and I’m going to tell you why. One of my best friends is in that picture. I don’t think she realized what was captioned in that picture, but I know she’s willing to face what’s coming to her,” said Demery Trantham, a white student.
“I’m hurt and surprised, and I want you to know I’m here for you,” said Sabrina Stevens, a white student.
“One of the things that really bothered me about this is that, apparently to a lot of people, our feelings aren’t valid,” said Morgan Summers, a black student.
More than 150 Columbia College students, faculty and staff attended the afternoon forum on Sept. 28. Photos by Claudia Smith Brinson.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted morning and afternoon sessions on Sept. 29 to listen to students. A special chapel service was also held. Along with weekly meetings to discuss campus and global events, the office will host additional meetings and “brave spaces” for students to process, heal and discuss ways to prevent instances of bias in the future.
The college’s National Advancement of Colored People chapter bussed several students to the South Carolina Statehouse on Oct. 1 for a peaceful protest and vigil for people of color killed by police this year.