Black staff fought for Calvin to speak out against racial injustice; it’s time for their white counterparts to do the same.

As Black women working at a predominantly white institution (PWI) in the Residence Life department, the one thing that has kept us in our roles here over the past six years has been our connection with students of color. Living on campus as Res Life professional staff and co-advisors of Sister to Sister affinity group (an MSDO affinity group for Black American women), we have come to know many AHANA (Asian, Hispanic, African and Native American) students who we have worked to build relationships with and support as much as we can. 

One commitment we have always shared as friends and coworkers is to help AHANA students on Calvin’s campus thrive. This was important to us because we know what it’s like to be in their shoes. Not long ago, we were college students at PWIs. We know what it’s like to feel the sting of microaggressions, the awkward discomfort of being the only black person in a classroom of white majority students and the loneliness that comes with a lack of faces that looked like ours on campus. We know what it’s like to experience racism in this country. 

So, in light of the recent racial tragedies surrounding the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, we were absolutely devastated. Devastated not because we were surprised, but because these stories are ones we’ve heard before. As we processed our own grief and frustration, our minds almost instantaneously went to our students who we figured were trying to process like we were. We checked in with our students the easiest way we could think of now that everyone is at home: our Sister 2 Sister (S2S) Instagram page (sister2sister_cu). Directed to our S2S ladies and all students of color at Calvin, we made three separate posts that simply said, “We hear you.”, We see you.” and “We love you.” From those posts, we received great feedback from our students. 

Their feedback brought to our attention that students were hurt and afraid by the deaths of so many Black Americans and by the continued racism that shows up over and over again in this country. Their feedback also brought to our attention that students felt frustrated by Calvin University’s silence. Other universities wrote statements earlier in the week to show support to their students. This was surprising to us because as an institution that values justice and the wellbeing of AHANA students, we expected more from Calvin. We wanted Calvin as an institution to speak up, to show that they stand in solidarity with their students of color who were hurting. And to show they are an institution that condemns racism.

So, in the footsteps of many black women who have come before us, we decided to do something. Again, we took to our social media, writing an open letter to Calvin University and the administration expressing the frustration of students and staff of color regarding institutional silence around the recent racial turmoil. We wrote, “We don’t need silence right now. We want “agents of renewal” that stand for and with us, lament with us, listen to us. We want to see the FEN document live up to its ideas…”.  

We shared this letter on the S2S IG page and on our personal social media platforms. The letter garnered much support from students of color and white majority students who wanted to stand with us in solidarity — more than we had expected. And, this letter led us to helping and encouraging students to do their own activism and organizing, to start conversations with some Calvin administration and board of trustees members and to create important dialogue around race and racism in the U.S. 

Overall, we hope that the letter inspires not only students, but the Calvin community and institution as a whole to step up, speak out and enact change. It should not fall on staff, faculty, or students of color to do this work alone. We need and demand our white staff, faculty, students and community members to do the same. 

We love our students of color and will continue to work to see them thrive here. And we love this university, so we will continue to hold Calvin accountable to actively live out and REVISE its ideas in the FEN document. It can and must be done.