COLUMBIA — Tension resonated at the University of South Carolina on Monday as student protesters marched to the administration building and demanded the university address concerns over racial and gender inequality.
Labeled USC 2020 Vision, the organization of primarily minority students unveiled 12 demands it wants USC President Harris Pastides and other top administrators to address. The group provided a link late Sunday night on its social media account about the petition, which has amassed more than 250 signatures.
At 11 a.m. on Monday, the group showed its solidarity.
About 200 students, along with some faculty and staff, sat on the footsteps of Longstreet Theater. Dressed in black, the group held a silent protest for a few minutes before walking in pairs, arms linked together, down Sumter Street, through the Horseshoe and to the courtyard of the Osborne Administration building.
The protest follows recent student-led protests at the University of Missouri and Yale University.
Crowding the building, many from the group read aloud the dozen demands requested as university officials stood nearby. Pastides was out of his office attending a meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana that addressed diversity, inclusion and free speech.
In Pastides’ absence, academic affairs Vice President Joan Gabel spoke and said Pastides was already set to work with different committees to address USC 2020 Vision’s issues and move forward.
Gabel asked if the group’s leaders would be willing to meet inside to further their conversations, but student Karli Wells rejected the offer.
“We came here together, and it’s all of our university and so we all want to be a part of that conversation,” Wells said. “We no longer want to be in the position where we’re restricted to small pockets of people speaking for us.”
The two sides did agree that addressing the racial and gender discrimination at a town hall meeting was workable.
“That, we can absolutely commit to,” Gabel said.
But the group continued to press for a timetable of when its concerns would be addressed. Chief Diversity Officer John Dozier said campus administrators heard their concerns but could not give a specific date.
“This university wasn’t created overnight,” Dozier said. “It will take time and efforts like this, where we’re in open dialogue with one another to make the positive changes to make sure every single one of us feels like we’re included, that we’re engaged, that we belong, that we’re valued, and we’re going to do that work, we’re committed to that.”
Student protester Nona Henderson said individuals have had talks in the past with the university about the injustices minorities experience on campus — and they’re tired of being pushed to the side.
“We’re not wanting to have conversations anymore,” she said. “We’re acting out of those conversations.”
Students complain that the number of minority students accepted to USC remains low and ask for recruitment of more minority faculty.
Clarie Randall, an organizer of the protests, echoed that frustration and said that the group has been working on its goals and concerns for a long time.
“This didn’t ‘come out of nowhere’ like some people have told us they felt,” Randall, a junior, said in an email. “I have been involved with this cause since I got to campus. I joined activist spaces as a freshman and have continued to as the opportunities have arisen.”
Antoine Thomas and Sarah Martin write for The Carolina Reporter, a publication of the USC School of Journalism.