“The number one goal of all of this is to make lasting change. I’ve said it a thousand times and I will say it again, I want to come back in 25 years for the alumni picnic and see that these changes are still standing and that Black students are still benefiting,” explained Lauren Morrison a senior at Loyola Marymount University (LMU).
This summer as protestors mobilized on the streets of America’s cities against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Black students at LMU came together on a community healing Zoom call. The purpose of this call was to create a safe space for Black students to rant and vent their frustrations.
“Within that call, we said, ‘well we are dealing with a lot of stuff at the university that is definitely not okay, and we should probably address,’” Morrison said, “And then we just kind of mobilized and decided we should bring back the name #BlackatLMU and form committees for the things we wanted to address with administration.”
The current form of #BlackatLMU was born. It is not a club or a registered service organization on campus. “Instead, envision #BlackatLMU as the overarching idea propelling LMU’s Black organizations to strive for inclusion and promotion within LMU,” their website states.
Morrison serves as one of the five undergraduate students that act as liaisons between the Black student body and administration. She and the rest of her committee meet monthly with President Snyder and members of his Cabinet to bring forward concerns and address perceived failings within the university.
Part of her job on this committee was to help draft up a 16-page demand document for LMU to address. Within this document #BlackatLMU demanded items such as establishing a Black space on campus, allocation of capital campaign money to fund Black initiatives, and increased recruitment of both Black students and staff.
“Initially, we received way more support from the university than any of us expected. I think when we released the demands, we expected more push back than we got,” Morrison said.
However, while the university has been willing to work with #BlackatLMU, the process has not been entirely smooth sailing. The university’s first response to the demands received backlash as they released a letter that was not addressed to the Black community but rather the wider LMU community.
“While they were accepting of the demands and acknowledged there were things that needed changing, I don’t think they necessarily understood how we wanted those changes to happen or how we wanted them to respond,” Morrison explained, “By addressing it to the whole community they only put out a vague response that didn’t address a lot of the things that we asked for.”
However, after hours of Zoom meetings spent working through this misstep and explaining they were asking for a timeline and clear point by point response to each demand in the document, the administration worked to improve their response.
LMU created a website for #BlackatLMU to design and also published a point by point response on the Office of Intercultural Affairs (OIA) website. In this response, LMU color-coded each demand and their response by green, yellow, and red depending on their timeline or if they found the demand feasible.
“Each semester, the university will report on the progress that has been made in addressing the demands,” said Jennifer Abe, Vice President for Intercultural Affairs at LMU and the university point person for the #BlackatLMU student leaders.
While this was more in line with what #BlackatLMU envisioned as a response, they believe there is still a lot of work left to be done. As of now, only nine of the demands have been marked green, which signifies completion or that the demand is currently being fulfilled. One of these being the promotion of Charles Mason to the assistant director of admissions. Mason has worked at LMU since 1990 and is responsible for helping to establish the Black family barbeque and the Black student overnight program through the admissions department. In the demand documents, #BlackatLMU explained that Mason has played an “integral role in the recruitment of Black students and that he deserves a title that reflects.”
“I am humbled by it. I appreciate it. Every time I see them I say thank you,” Mason said in response to his promotion, “I have devoted myself to helping students and I am passionate about the mission of LMU. This allows me to continue to serve and enhance the university. To promote visibility in underserved communities and in the Black community specifically.”
Mason is not directly involved with #BlackatLMU but sees himself, Black faculty and staff, and the wider community as mentors and a source of support for the students of #BlackatLMU.
“They are leaders. They exemplify the values of LMU,” Mason explained, “The students are like our children. We are there to help them, inspire them, and support them. Because they didn’t have to take on this challenge. They didn’t have to take on this mission. They could go to class and do papers and take exams, but they felt compelled to do more.”
However, while #BlackatLMU has made significant progress, as of the last update to the site on Nov. 23, 12 demands are still marked yellow or red, meaning that the demand either needs modification or that it will not be addressed by LMU at this time.
“They definitely need to work to bring these demands to fortition. So far, I think we have fulfilled some of the demands by establishing a Black space on campus and getting Mr. Mason promoted, but there are a lot still unfulfilled,” Morrison said.
One of #BlackatLMU’s demands that still remains out of reach is the allocation of $100 million in capital funds to Black initiatives. On their website, LMU explained that the number is not currently feasible with their current level of donation.
“I want to see that donation, because money talks. It is the root of most of our problems and I feel like if we could get that money, we could do a lot,” Morrison explained, as it is still one of her top priorities.
While not every demand has been fulfilled, there is a lot of gratitude and pride from the community of what the students of #BlackatLMU have accomplished so far and in what they are striving to do.
“Candidly, we the Black faculty and staff, alums, and the LA Black community see them as young people who are heroes and sheroes,” Mason said, “I am very involved in the LA community in general, and specifically the Black community and there are people who are in leadership roles, elected officials, and community activists who ask me about the students of LMU and they are thoroughly impressed. They acknowledge them as being amazing young leaders and I think that needs to be known.”
#BlackatLMU has also recently gained another advocate with Jeffery Dolliole who was hired on as the new Office of Black Student Services (OBSS) director, after the previous director, Nathan Sessoms resigned in July. Dolliole took over the role on Nov. 23, after a nationwide search by a dedicated committee of both students and staff. Dolliole is a double alum of LMU, earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the university.
Just before starting his new role, Dolliole sat down for an interview with the #BlackAtLMU magazine. This magazine was established over the summer as a medium to amplify Black voices, Black stories, and Black creatives on LMU’s campus.
“We are in a space in history when the things that you all are doing, are going to create a new change and new wave in what higher education is…. we pretty much have a free canvas. We can create the college experience we have always dreamed of as African American students,” Dolliole told the magazine, “I am excited to see what creative and innovative ideas are brought up and partnering with you all to see them to fruition.”
For now, the work continues. It will not be a sprint to the finish line, but one that will take continual work on both sides. There is not one simple fix or an easy answer, but rather it is something that will take work and constant communication.
“A lot of times it is dealing with the nuance of understanding that the ideas and things that are brought up today, won’t come to fruition until later down the line, but we understand that we have a huge impact on making that change,” Dolliole told the #BlackatLMU magazine.
LMU has stated their support and dedication to continue to listen and work with the students to create a better environment and community for all of their students.
“We want an ongoing relationship that is not just about responding to crises, but about making LMU into an anti-racist institution that provides the kind of education that future students will seek,” Abe said.
For now, #BlackatLMU and the administration plan to continue to work together and try to create a better, more inclusive space for Black students at LMU currently and in the future.