Dismantling the Culture of AntiBlackness at Virginia Tech:

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Today in American society, daily state sanctioned violence is committed against Black bodies without consequence. The Virginia Tech Women's Lacrosse team committed similar violence without consequence when they sang the word, "Nigga" eleven times as they returned from a game on March 24, 2018. They sang a song full of racial slurs to celebrate winning an athletic contest, without consequence. Upon the publicizing of the video, VT Athletics provided a response intended to pacify, with the assumption that engaging with a Black student organization on campus would suffice. While the opportunity for dialogue may be helpful to discuss impact, it does not negate the fact that a young, and predominantly white, group of women will be given merely a slap on the wrist for the verbal abuse and anti-black sentiment displayed in an environment where they felt untouchable. The weak and inconsequential response from President Timothy Sands seven days later, prompted only by a call for response made by Black organizations on campus, coupled with the silence of the Office of Inclusion and Diversity (InclusiveVT), reinforced their notion of protection from consequence. The culmination of this, in addition to the fact that there is a self proclaimed white supremacist still enrolled at the institution that educated Steve Bannon, shows a legacy of complicit alignment with white supremacy.


As alumni of the Virginia Tech Community we are appalled at the mishandling of this situation. We are in full agreement with the Black Organizations Council, the NAACP at Virginia Tech, the Black Faculty and Staff Caucus and every Black and African American student, faculty, and staff member who feels betrayed by the lackluster response from the Administration of Virginia Tech on this and previous incidents of racism. Frankly, it devalues a Virginia Tech degree each time an incident of racism occurs at the institution without consequence. This consistent inaction undermines existing efforts to market VT as a university that seeks to recruit and retain students of color. It does this by reassuring prospective students, faculty, and staff who hold implicit and explicit bias, that there is a safe place in Blacksburg, Virginia where they need not worry about consequences. Ultimately communicating contradictory messages that invalidate our principles of community and the spirit of Ut Prosim.


The use of racial slurs among White students at Virginia Tech when they believe people of color cannot hear them has been normalized throughout the Hokie Nation. It has been normalized to the degree that publicizing the act on social media platforms was a logical progression. These moments of Anti-Blackness in the Hokie Nation are not isolated incidents. Black students have tolerated this in the classroom, residence halls, and walking across the drill field since 1953. Yet, the constant attempt to convince ourselves that “This is Home” is no more than a cheap slogan. We’re told to believe that we belong at Virginia Tech and that this is our home too. Those who have graduated from the institution, do so with battle scars of enduring micro- and macro-aggressions, implicit and explicit bias, and verbal abuse.


As we continue to reflect on the environmental factors that contributed to the actions of singing racial slurs, we identified a systemic failure in education and leadership; failure to intervene, by the coaching staff who witnessed the incident, demonstrating their comfort with being complicit with racist behavior. This could have been due to an educational deficit. Had there been a higher degree of support for inclusive excellence, such as cultural competency training, diversity of the team and antiracist leadership, perhaps these young white women would have reconsidered their actions and the possible consequences. Possible options for reducing incidents of racism could be recruiting a more diverse team, and a significant investment in training the team and coaching staff. More intentionally, there needs to be sanctioning of the lacrosse women’s team members, similar to what is done if a student is caught under age and under the influence. These actions are a critical start to dismantling the antiblack mindset that created a safe space for singing racial slurs and publicly sharing their racism via a social media platform, in the name of winning a game.


In his brief and reactionary statement President Sands says,

“If we aren’t sure if someone will be offended by a remark or an action, let’s ask rather than assume. If we learn that words or actions are offensive to others, let’s commit to understanding why. If we hear a friend say something that we know is offensive to others, let’s share our understanding with that friend”.

Because verbal abuse and the use of racial slurs against Black people is normal at Virginia Tech, we are beyond simply understanding why. We have reached a point where action must be taken to change the culture. We do not have to ask the Black and African American students at Virginia Tech why it is wrong for white people to use anti-Black racial slurs in any way. It is already well known and documented. The bigger question is why do white students want to say these hateful words in the first place in any context? Furthermore, we must ask whether a lack of consequences perpetuates the imbalance of power through which oppression is sustained, and possibly fueling the threat of physical violence? That is not a question to ask those who are impacted, but a question to ask those who engage in oppressive behavior. Ask those impacted what they need when the administration is ready to actively embrace justice and remove this element of hatred from the Hokie Nation.

It is time for the Virginia Tech administration to take meaningful action against the normalization of antiblack behavior among students, faculty, and staff on campus. That means applying the code of conduct to students in violation and upholding the principles of community by educating leadership in all areas of the institution from a framework of antiracism. This starts with enabling the Office for Inclusion and Diversity to lead by designing and implementing a protocol for response to issues of this nature and collaborating with Student Conduct to develop a plan of action in handling violations. It most certainly means going beyond encouraging people to dabble in the culture of the oppressed communities they continually abuse without remorse. As alumni, we recommend you invest in inclusive excellence that makes Virginia Tech students, faculty, and staff, especially those most impacted, feel not just safe, but supported and protected at all times during their college education. With this in mind, it is time to go beyond boundaries and follow the lead of many similar institutions by offering a Residential Learning Community that centers the leadership development of students who identify as Black and African American. They deserve to feel as safe as those who felt comfortable building affinity around singing racial slurs. Black and African American students need to know from the moment they arrive at Hokie Camp and Orientation, that the university not only values them statistically, but seeks to retain and encourage them to persist as fully engaged students who are free to take up space on campus as they see fit. In the meantime, they can rely on the continued support of Black and African American alumni, allies, and accomplices around the world. We are engaged, and committed to being with you in solidarity.

Sincerely,
Concerned Black Alumni, Allies, and Accomplices

Sienna S. Abdulahad, M.A.Ed. Class of 2017,  
Virginia Tech Black Graduate Student Organization, Former Vice President 
Virginia Tech Intercultural Engagement Center, Former Graduate Assistant 
Office for Inclusion and Diversity, Former Graduate Assistant 
 
Stephanie M. House-Niamke, M.P.A. Class of 2017,  
Student Coordinator of the 2015 Tim Wise events  
Office of Inclusion and Diversity, Former Graduate Assistant  
Office for Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives, Former Graduate Assistant 
Diversity Scholar, Class of 2016 
 
Sapna S. Singh, Class of 2016 
Student Government Association, Former Director of Equity and Inclusion 
Society of Indian Americans, Former President 
Asian American Student Union, Former Vice President 

Tara A. Wright, Class of 2015 
NAACP Chapter at Virginia Tech, Former Director of Social Outreach 
Minority Association of Pre-Med Students, Former Director of Social Outreach 
 
Rudney Danquah, M.Ed, Class of 2015 
Black Organizations Council, Former President 
2014 Order of the Gavel Inductee 
 
Tanushri Shankar, Class of 2016 
Student Government Association, Former President 
Class Systems, Former Class of 2016 Female Member at Large 
Virginia Tech Women’s Center, Former Intern 
New Student & Family Programs, Former Hokie Camp Counselor 
 
Layla Mustafa, Class of 2016 
NAACP Chapter at Virginia Tech, Former President  
New Student & Family Programs, Former Hokie Camp Counselor 
Black Student Alliance, Former Director of Outreach (PR)  
 
Curtis Rowlette, Class of 2016 
Student Communication Advisory Board  
Student African American Brotherhood, Graduate Advisor 
Black Graduate Student Organization, Secretary                                                              
Richard Parks, Class of 2016 
Silhouette Literary and Arts Magazine, Former Business Manager 
Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design, Former Student Ambassador 
 
Morgan Esters, Class of 2015 
Black Organizations Council, Former President 
NAACP Chapter at Virginia Tech, Former President  
2013 Order of the Gavel Inductee 
New Student & Family Programs, Former Summer Academy Mentor 
 
Tara Shockley, Class of 2016  
Black Organizations Council, Former President 
2015 Order of the Gavel Inductee  
New Student & Family Programs, Former Orientation Leader & Student Orientation Coordinator 
 
Danny Strock, Class of 2016 
Student Government Association, Former Vice President 
New Student & Family Programs, Former Orientation Leader & Student Orientation Coordinator        
 
Samra Mekonen M.Ed, Class of 2015 
Black Student Alliance, Former President 
2014 Order of the Gavel Inductee 
 
Warigia Kahiro, Class of 2016 
Black Student Alliance, Former Director of Marketing and Public Relations  
 
Miguel A. Martinez, M.A.Ed. Class of 2015,  
Virginia Tech Intercultural Engagement Center, Former Coordinator 
Graduate School Diversity Scholar Recipient - Latino Research Symposium Project 
 
Murphy G. Massey, Class of 2016 
College of Science Dean’s Leadership Council 
American Medical Student Association, Former Volunteer Director 
Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, Former Exec Board 
Yates Mentor  
 
Joycelynn B. Acheampong, Class of 2017  
Housing and Residence Life - Slusher Hall, Former Resident Advisor 
Black Organizations Council, Former Vice President 
Mu Alpha Chapter - Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Former Chapter President 
Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, Former Vice President 
Students of Hip Hop Legacy, Co-Founder & Former Executive Board Member 
 
Shekila Melchior, PhD, NCC, Class of 2017 
Office for Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives, Former Graduate Assistant 
School of Education, Former Graduate Assistant 
The Residential College at West Ambler Johnston Hall, Former Graduate Residential Fellow 
Bouchet Honor Society Scholar 
Outstanding Doctoral Graduate Student for the College of Liberal Arts 
Spring 2017 Graduate Student Commencement Speaker 
 
Joe Frazier, M.A. Philosophy M.S. & Sociology, Class of 2016 & 2013 
Assistant Director, Cultural and Community Centers @VT 
Faculty Advisor, NAACP at Virginia Tech, Asian American Student Union, Muslim Student Union, Jewish Student Union 
Black Faculty Caucus, Member 
NAACP at Virginia Tech, Former Political Action Chair 
Student African American Brotherhood, Former VP 
 
Jabari Byrd, Biochemistry, Class of 2016 
MAOP Graduate Scholar 
George Washington Carver Graduate Scholar 
Current Graduate Assistant in Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences 
Student African American Brotherhood, Former President  
 
Sifonobong Inyang, Class of 2016 
African Student Association, Former President  
NAACP at Virginia Tech, Former Treasurer 
Student African American Sisterhood, Former Treasurer  
 
Martha Haile, Class of 2016 
NAACP Chapter at Virginia Tech, Former Historian  
Students of Hip Hop Legacy, Co-Founder & Former Executive Board Member 
National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), Former Membership Chair  
 
Jamila Velinor, Class of 2015 
Black Organizations Council, Former Events Chair 
Black Student Alliance, Former Special Events Chair, Former Vice President 
 
Deonte T. Easter, Class of 2018 
Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, Former Vice President 
College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences, Ambassador for Recruitment 
 
Bria Fletcher, Class of 2014 
Black Student Alliance, Former President 
2014 Order of the Gavel Inductee 
 
Gwendolyn Coleman, Class of 2016 
Epsilon Sigma Alpha Fraternity, Former Pledge Officer, Former Vice President 
Black Student Alliance, Former Director of Marketing 
Virginia Tech Women’s Center, Former Intern 
Health Education, Former Peer Educator 
New Student & Family Programs, Former Orientation Leader & Student Orientation Coordinator 

Whitley M. Johnson, M.A.Ed, Class of 2009 & 2016 
Multicultural Programs & Services, Former Intergroup Dialogue Coordinator 
Office for Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives, Former Graduate Assistant 
Diversity Development Institute, Former Graduate Assistant  
Diversity Scholar, 2015 Cohort 
Student African American Sisterhood, Former Graduate Advisor 
Former Yates Project Ambassador  


Jacquelyn R. Thomas  
Cranwell International Center, Forner Graduate Assistant 
Multicultural Programs and Services, Forner Graduate Assistant 
Office for Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives - Donaldson Brown Graduate Life Center, Forner Graduate Assistant 
Virginia Tech Black Graduate Student Organization, Committee Chair 
 
Brandee Bryant, Class of 2017 
Black Student Alliance, Former Hospitality Co-Chair 
Black Organizations Council, Former Philanthropy Chair 
Association of Black Psychologists, Former Treasurer 
 
Kyle Eldridge, Class of 2017 
Black Student Alliance, Former Director of Outreach 
Black Organizations Council, Former Community Engagement Ambassador Chair 
Student Government Association, Former Member at Large 


We can start the process of embracing antiracist leadership by inviting scholars and trainers to educate the entire Hokie Nation. A few recommendations are listed below.

Kimberle Crenshaw | Michelle Alexander | Shaun Harper | Ibram Kendi | Cheryl Harris

We have also provided a list of institutions with Black and African American cultural Residential Learning Communities.

The University of Iowa | Cal State LA | University of Florida | University of San Francisco | UC San Diego



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